Ocooch Mountain Music

Haakon Nelson, photos by Ben Steinquist

Parker Forsell and Pete Engen
Parker Forsell and Pete Engen

Ocooch Mountain Music thrives in the mindset that “folk” music should refer to unamplified sound that reflects the particular skills and traditions of the people in a specific area. And in this mindset, they are on a crusade to compile and release the music that reflects the Upper Mississippi River Valley. The melodies that twist around the lush hill are infused with the water and sand, with themes that can be as heavy as the humidity, as comforting as wood smoke in the winter.

Several years ago, after traversing the western United States, founders Pete Engen and Parker Forsell returned to this area with a newfound appreciation for the distinct art of the region, and they wanted everyone to share in it.  

When asked about how they achieve this, Forsell said they focus on "booking and managing several bands while also helping to organize events like the Mid West Music Fest, Bonfire Fest, and the People Fest." In fact, festival organizing is an area that the newest addition to their team, Tim Lochner, is particularly skilled at. 

Jaybone Bell
Jaybone Bell

Along with promotion, Ocooch Mountain Music also produces the music they release, with titles from Mike Munson, Jaybone Bell, and the Latsch Sessions. Furthermore, Forsell said that video production is an area that Ocooch is looking to focus on at future shows at their Winona headquarters. "We would like to start to do more in-house shows there, not like a venue, but in a more intimate sense." 

This summer and autumn present a full menu from the company’s artists, with such shows as "Dog Days: Boats and Bluegrass" on July 28-31 at Ed's No Name Bar in Winona, Minnesota, the Fish Hook Festival on September 9 at La Crosse's Loggers Field, and recording another edition of their Latsch Sessions. The sessions are named for the Latsch Shelter, a public lodge structure on Prairie Island in Winona, where the recordings take place, locally known as a place where musicians could play to the most welcoming of audiences.  

Through this campaign of diversified offerings, where every media is used to popularize the sound of the Driftless Region, home to the Ocooch Mountains, the people at Ocooch Mountain Music are paying tribute to the traditions that have accumulated, as well as showing the progress going forward. The main graphic on their website could serve as their mission statement: a bridge arching over the Mississippi River, bringing people to various parts of the valleys, with the water below as the constant element in it all.

Ocooch Mountain Music Minds at Work
Ocooch Mountain Music Minds at Work



Dog Days: July 28-31, Winona, MN

Fish Hook Festival: Sept. 9, La Crosse, WI

Latsch Recording Sessions at

Boats and Bluegrass: Sept. 22-24, Winona, MN

Boo Grass: Oct. 29, The Root Note, La Crosse, WI

Haakon Nelson  author

Haakon Nelson, a local experimental musician, was born in La Crosse, raised in Winona and returned to La Crosse four years ago. His writing has appeared in Virus! magazine and TheQuietus.com. He is a father of a 13-year-old son and a drinker of much coffee.