I recently visited with Joe Kezar, owner of Kezar Music in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. Joe owns and operates a full-line music store with a wide variety of acoustic and electric instruments, as well as providing music lessons for guitar, drums, and violin. He started out in the spring of 1991, buying a business that had been owned and operated by the Larson family since 1922. At that time the business was known as “Larson Music.”
Prior to buying the business, Joe spent a year in Alaska working at a music retail store and playing night clubs in the evening. Coming back from Alaska, he saw a notice in the local newspaper that Jon Larson was going out of business. He said to himself, “now here’s my chance.'”
Joe grew up on the family farm just outside of Thief River Falls, where he learned to work hard. He also learned to play several instruments and developed a strong love of music. Joe followed his heart rather than conventional wisdom. “I remember my high school counselor in the early 1970’s. That was when computers were coming on the scene, and he said, ‘computers, that’s what you need to be looking at.’ I said, ‘I want to farm, and I want to play music.’ He just kind of shook his head, but here I am doing it.”
Joe is now coming up on 28 years of owning and operating Kezar Music and has a small hobby farm just outside of Thief River Falls. He is doing exactly what he told his high school counselor he wanted to do all those years ago.
Kezar Music is a full line music store. “We have the band and the orchestra, the combos, drums, amps, guitars and pianos, lessons, repairs, and all the accessories,” Joe said. “Everything from a grand piano to sheet music.” In addition, Joe has a full-fledged coffee shop in the store that features fresh-roasted coffee, cappuccinos, lattes, and other coffee beverages.
Joe provides music lessons for several instruments. “Most of my students are beginners, but we’ll have some players that will come in for a couple lessons to learn a new technique.” Most students start around the age of 8, but Joe has had older students, too. “Some of them just want to learn chords, but I kind of stick to the notes because it helps them down the road,” Joe said. He teaches his students to read notes because he feels it is important, but is quick to note that many world-famous musicians do not read music. “None of the Beatles read music. Glen Campbell is another one that never read a note. He did the studio tracks on all of the Beach Boys albums and the producer would just lay out the charts or hum him a bar…and done. He was that good,” Joe said. Joe also emphasized the importance of a couple of years of piano lessons. “I tell every student, if everyone could have just two years of piano, that would be so helpful. I don’t care if you want to be a musician or a sound engineer, everything is based off the piano.”
When Joe bought the business, it was located in downtown Thief River Falls. After operating in the downtown location about eight years, Joe purchased a vacated church building located at 315 Duluth Ave N. He remodeled it and opened for business in the new location in the spring of 2000. The old church retains a lot of character and seems to be a good fit for Kezar Music and its owner.
When asked what advice he would give to people thinking of starting a business, Joe said, “be prepared to work a lot.” For Joe, hard work is a good thing and part of a lifestyle that started during his growing up years on the farm. “It was hard work and I wasn’t afraid of it,” he said. “I liked it.”