The Grammy award-winning Okee Dokee Brothers, a family folk duo with Colorado roots, release their debut picture book through Sterling Publishing on May 17. Can You Canoe? is named for the acoustic adventure album that launched the Okee Dokee Brothers’ career in 2012; the book takes readers on a cross-country journey from the rolling hills of Appalachia to our very own Rocky Mountain canyons and campfires.
Singers and songwriters Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing – known as the Okee Dokee Brothers – grew up together in southeast Denver. Mailander and Lansing aren’t biological brothers, but they always felt like kin, hence their band’s name. “Growing up, our families encouraged a lot of outdoor adventure, and we’d go into the Rocky Mountains for hikes and campouts,” explains Mailander.
Lansing’s family had a place near Breckenridge, and Mailander’s owned a farm on the eastern plains. “We’d go out to those places, too, and explore,” Mailander adds.
The childhood friends went to high school together in Denver, and after college, they both moved to Minnesota, where they began producing music geared toward adventure-loving families. The Okee Dokee Brothers found their niche with so-called adventure albums, in which they head out into the wilderness and write songs about their experiences.
“Justin and I were on a road trip down the Great River Road, which follows the Mississippi River south, and we saw some canoers. We’d never realized you could canoe there, and we felt inspired to take our own trip down the Mississippi,” explains Mailander.
During their month-long canoe trip, the duo realized that “it was a great way for us to unplug and write songs out in nature,” recalls Mailander. Can You Canoe? was the first release in the Okee Dokee Brothers adventure trilogy, and the album won a GRAMMY in 2013. “After we did the Mississippi album, we hiked the Appalachian Trail for thirty days," he recalls. The result was Through the Woods.
A third album, Saddle Up, is slated for release this week; it tells the tale of a thirty-day horseback journey with stops in Colorado. “The stories in our forthcoming album are inspired by exploration through five national parks and camping along the Continental Divide,” Mailander explains. Melodic tunes cover tales of Western wildlife, Navajo stories, Southwest-style Spanglish, the issue of guns in Western lore, friendship and much more.
Mailander and Lansing don’t just tell audiences about their adventures — they show them, too, with accompanying DVDs depicting their trips and now an illustrated version of all three adventure albums.
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The book has four songs from each album — all illustrated, complete with the lyrics. “A CD comes with the book, so families can listen to the songs while reading the lyrics,” Mailander points out, noting that the hardcover book is targeted toward ages five to ten. “We throw it out there as family entertainment. Younger kids can engage with content that might be a challenge for them. For an older kid, our lyrics might seem a little simple, but they inspire the youth in all of us to resonate with the universal messages inside those songs.”