Gear Daddies return to Mainroom

The Gear Daddies, a Minnesota based country rock band, will play three shows at First Avenue this weekend.

Photo courtesy of Gear Daddies

The Gear Daddies, a Minnesota based country rock band, will play three shows at First Avenue this weekend.

Jackie Renzetti

The Gear Daddies seized the hearts of Minnesotans in the 1980s. 
 
The Austin-based country-rock band, which features Randy Broughten, Nick Ciola, Billy Dankert and Martin Zellar, parted ways in 1992 but reunited for a couple of shows in the late ’90s. Since 1999, they have regularly played multiple shows a year. This weekend, they’ll play three shows at First Avenue, two of which sold out. 
 
“We’d go to First Avenue, we’d go to the Fine Line, we just would follow the Gear Daddies [wherever they] were playing,” said Carla Christiansen, a longtime fan of the Gear Daddies who now teaches physical education at Apple Valley High School with Broughten. 
 
As 21-year-olds, Ciola and Zellar pulled Broughten and Dankert together to form the band in 1985. Originally, they met Broughten as their substitute teacher but got to know him through playing gigs together in different bands. A mutual friend recommended Dankert, who was then a high school senior, and the band was born. 
 
The name derives from 1960s slang, in which “gear” meant “cool,” and “daddies” meant “people,” Ciola said. Zellar read a book about the Beatles in which a fan referred to them as “gear daddies,” and the idea stuck with him. 
 
“We were just kids having fun,” Ciola said. “Our first big thing was just to play in Minneapolis somewhere, and we were happy to just do that. And then we slowly built up, and then all of a sudden, we took off.”
 
Ciola credits their big break to First Avenue and former Minnesota Daily arts and entertainment reporter Jim Walsh. Ciola said he recalls playing at a “New Band Night” at 7th Street Entry that Walsh reviewed favorably. After that, First Avenue booked them as an opening act several times a week and the band ultimately scored a headliner gig in the Mainroom.
 
The band had a busy seven years. When they weren’t playing gigs around Minnesota or touring the country, they recorded three albums. In 1991, they played the
Late Show with David Letterman. 
 
They ultimately parted ways in 1992 when they no longer saw eye to eye with their record label Polygram. They released their third album with a different label and moved on separately. 
 
After the amicable breakup, Zellar formed his solo act, Martin Zellar and the Hardways, for which Ciola played bass. Dankert went to college, and Broughten started teaching again and playing in local bands, including the Cactus Blossoms and Trailer Trash. 
 
Now, all four members are daddies with families. The band reunites for two to six reunion shows each year. 
 
Prior to their yearly reunions, they played one gig in 1995 and another show in 1999, Ciola said. In 1999, they drew a crowd of roughly 20,000 people.
 
“All of us were just amazed. We couldn’t believe that they had so much interest. That’s why we’re still doing these,” Broughten said. 
 
Christianson said she thinks the band does a good job of connecting with fans, particularly with inside jokes for longtime followers. Both Christianson and Broughten said they see younger people in their 20s and 30s at shows in addition to older folks who were around for the Daddies’ glory days.
 
“I was so excited when it happened,” Christianson said of the announcement of their upcoming First Avenue show. “We were working at school, and my best friend went online to buy tickets, and they were sold out right away before she could get them. I was super bummed.”
 
Luckily for Christianson, they added two more shows. 
 
“I think now we’re thankful, flattered, confused by it,” Ciola said, “because people do actually come out and love us still. It’s pretty humbling, actually. So we just do it with no grand plans; we’re just playing till people stop showing up.”