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A bluegrass band of brothers

The Birtzer brothers write songs about lost love and restless hearts and perform them in front of enthusiastic audiences from Minnesota to Missouri, but only one of them is old enough to drive to the show.

The Birtzers -- 17-year-old Shane, 15-year-old Clay and 14-year-old Luke -- are three fifths of Sawtooth Bluegrass Band, one of the state's best known and perhaps unlikeliest bluegrass bands.

There are plenty of reasons Sawtooth never should have happened. The band's other two members, brothers Jesse and Ethan Moravec, live an hour away in Rochester. The Birtzers grew up listening to classic rock -- Shane's favorite song when he was 4 was AC/DC's Highway to Hell -- and didn't start listening to bluegrass until about seven years ago. And when they did, they weren't sure what they thought.

"I didn't think I was really into bluegrass the first time I saw it," said Luke Birtzer, whose music collection these days includes Frank Sinatra, classical music and classic rock, among other things.

Eventually the music grew on them, though. And a few years ago Jesse Moravec started taking mandolin lessons with Matt Thompson, the Birtzers' step-father and a member of Monroe Crossing, Minnesota's only full-time bluegrass band.

The band grew from there.

Most of the original songs were written by Luke and Clint Birtzer and Jesse Moravec. They are about not wanting to settle down or about pining for a lost love, though none of the band members have experienced much of what they're writing about. Still, what they're coming up with seems to work. The band played a multi-show run over the summer in Branson, Mo. and will return there next summer.

"They have a real feel for the genre," Thompson said. "They're not just putting words and melody together."

Sawtooth won the 2008 Minnesota Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Association Race for a Place Band contest and Clint and Jesse took second overall in a Minnesota State Fair competition for duos. Clint has also finished as high as second overall in a state fair guitar flatpicking competition.

The band has done well enough financially that Shane has been able to buy a car, but not well enough for him to get anything better than a well used Chevrolet Corsica.

For a full story see next week's edition of the Rosemount Town Pages.