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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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A New Adventure For Brule:
by Jay Kirschenmann - The (Sioux Falls, SD) Argus Leader
Native American band spending less time on the road and more time on stage in Branson But musicians make time for another Sioux Falls show at Pavilion

Branson audiences have embraced South Dakota's Native American band Brulé so well that all 18 cast members and their families moved there.

"The grandchildren are enrolled in the schools here," founder Paul LaRoche says by phone last week from the RFD TV Theater, where he performs in Branson.

"We are loaded up pretty heavily next year, too, so after this next show in Sioux Falls, we probably won't be back to South Dakota for a long time," he says.

The band plays Saturday at the Washington Pavilion of Arts and Science, presenting the full stage show it uses in Branson: Brule and AIRO - American Indian Rock Opera.

LaRoche says the show is done with respect to his culture, using feathers, paint and traditional sounds without exploiting native traditions. The show is the story of LaRoche's reunion with the reservation and how he tries to bridge cultures.

"It's a theme of reconciliation," he says.

Adopted at birth off the Lower Brule Sioux Indian Reservation, LaRoche discovered his heritage in 1993 after the death of both of his adoptive parents. He was reunited with a brother, sister, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.

The discovery of his true heritage prompted powerful feelings he expresses through his music, the story told by the band he founded, Brulé.

His daughter, Nicole LaRoche, still plays flute in the show as she has for 17 years. And his son, Shane LaRoche, still plays guitars and other instruments but also servers as cameraman for recorded shows the band produces and then broadcasts on the RFD TV international network.

People who come to see the live show at the RFD TV Theater in Branson often are surprised that it's not a country music theme, says a theater spokeswoman Kendra Puckett.

"The audience takes a chance, see it, then tell me how glad they are that they saw it," Puckett says. "It is a great show."

LaRoche says the production has a feel that falls "somewhere between Vegas and Broadway," but geared toward a more down-home market.

"And doing 150 shows in Branson so far helped us get the bugs out and refined the story line, tightening up the show," LaRoche says. "Success has happened so slowly that we've had a chance to appreciate it, and it kept us from getting too big of a head."

The 55-year-old band founder says his group's popularity has grown slowly throughout the years. But a new fan base quickly has grown since the Branson shows began, a success story that's great for business but takes away from the performers' personal time.

"We loved our times in the Black Hills - we used to spend our whole summers there, but we didn't this year," LaRoche says. "It felt funny, but you have to be willing to step out of the comfort zone in this business."

His daughter plays the metal, orchestral-style flute, while male musicians in the show play native wooden flutes, as dictated by native tradition. The band is focused on other innovations, including using electronic programming with keyboards, drums and dancers in costume.

"We've carefully merged contemporary instrumentation with traditional sounds of the drum and flute," LaRoche says. "We're still under the watchful eye of many a Native American community. What we do is on a fine line that we push but don't break. If we break it, we lose all the support of the culture."

While Brulé's records never were sold by major record companies, LaRoche estimates that he's sold about two million CDs at shows during the past 17 years.

The downfall of the major-label recoding industry has been a boon to the band.

"As the record industry has almost completely imploded, being an independent artist is a blessing," he says. RFD TV, the second largest independent cable TV network, lets him shoot a show in its Branson theater and then broadcast it on the RFD TV network.

"It's a huge opportunity, reaching up to 400 million homes internationally," LaRoche says. "They're doing for us what a major label record company might have done in the old days."

While its popularity rises, Brulé still holds tightly to the fans it gained during the past two decades.

"Our career on the road less traveled has been good to us, building a foundation of fans as the years go by," LaRoche says.

"A person doesn't get rich doing this, but the rewards come in other ways," he says. "Total up all the folks who have stuck with us, and it has been enough to pull us along from year to year."

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