Mandan News

Making a musical home for themselves

The Emter family performs during their annual Country Christmas Concert in 2009. Photos courtesy of Emter family

By Brian L. Gray

It was three years ago that the Emters, a family of musicians who toured constantly for many years with their musical act, made the decision to step away from the road for good and make a permanent place for themselves.

The location the family chose was located 12 miles west of Mandan. There the family made plans to build their own theater, and soon got to work to construct a 104′ by 48′ facility that seats a capacity of 250 people.

The final product became known as the Emter Family Theater. Two times a year, in winter and summer, the theater comes alive with the sounds of live music, as the Emter Family – now 17 strong – perform on the stage they built with their own hands.

The Emters began their annual Country Christmas Concert last weekend, a show that is held for four consecutive weekends, with four shows taking place from Friday through Sunday.

Roger Emter, the father of the family band, says each year the concert’s song lineup changes by one-third to one-half. All told, the group has a repertoire of about 500 songs to choose from. “But I don’t have any say in what songs we perform each year. That’s a decision my wife makes – I just sit back and wait for her to tell me which song we play next,” he jokes.

The 17 members of the band, which span three generations and range in ages as young as 2, perform a wide variety of songs – everything from traditional tunes to old-time polkas, waltzes, gospel, variety and original music. “We don’t stick to just one type of music,” Roger says. At one particular concert, he says, people get to hear as many as 15 different instruments played by the family.

The Emters are celebrating their 20th year of performing music this year. In those two decades of performing, the family band has done over 1,500 shows in 25 states.

And to honor the milestone, the family released a DVD of live music this year, which was edited from over 200 hours of footage. They are available for sale at the Christmas concerts.

The band also releases a live CD each year, which is recorded from their shows at the theater from the previous year. Roger, who also works as the sound technician for the band, handles the audio recording for the CD himself.

The Emters’ Country Christmas Concert continues for the next three weekends, through Sunday, Dec. 19. They begin at 7 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, with matinee shows at 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

You can reserve tickets by calling 426-0539 or 426-9596. For more information, you can go online to emterfamily.com.

Roger says the family is also looking to add dinners as a prelude to the concerts eventually. The theater, Roger says, gives the Emter band many possibilities as they look to the future.

Having the theater has allowed the family band – who live all around the Midwest – to come together, instead of having to deal with the stress of going on the road to perform. Roger says his kids all have full-time jobs, and most of the five children have families themselves.

“I do miss going out on the road. Those were fun years when we traveled. We saw a lot of beautiful things in this country I never thought were out there. But doing that these days is not really not possible to do anymore with 17 people,” he says.

“We have not performed as a whole band outside of this area in about 10 years, despite many requests,” Roger says. “We often perform in smaller groups, but getting everyone together to travel would be near impossible. That’s one of the reasons we built this theater, so we would have a permanent place to perform anytime.”

A look at the inside of the Emter Theater.

The Emter family.