Paul Metsa Crafts Theatrical Blue Guitar Highway

Paul Metsa.

Paul Metsa.

Three years ago, Paul Metsa took a lifetime of playing music, and the experience of growing up on the Iron Range, and turned it into a book, Blue Guitar Highway.

Metsa's Americana music finds a new venue this weekend, when he premieres a theatrical version of the book at the Phoenix Theatre in Minneapolis.

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Debuting at the old Brave New Workshop location is especially sweet for Metsa. "My first job when I moved to Minneapolis was taking tickets at the old ETC theater," he says.

Taking the book to the stage was "really kind of an outgrowth of readings I have done at bookstores over the three years [since the book was published]," Metsa says. "I would just read and play."

Eventually, Metsa began exploring taking the next step with the material, and talked with friend John Clark Donahue about adapting it to the stage. While the veteran theater director was able to help, he was unable to work with Metsa through the entire process.

Enter Jim Stowell, a veteran actor, director, and writer -- including co-writing the book for the first Church Basement Ladies production -- who joined Metsa to hammer the material into a show.

"I'm the time keeper. 'This takes this long and we have this long.' It's built out of the structure of the book, from when he is a kid to pretty much the present day," Stowell says.

Of course, Metsa has a lifetime of experience with the stories. "It's like getting 10 pounds into a five-pound bag," Stowell says.

Metsa compares working with Stowell to the various producers he has worked with through the years. The director has helped to mold the ideas into a coherent evening.

"The play is revealing itself as we go along. One of the threads is my relationship with my father. I'm not pulling any punches. It's not Father Knows Best, but it is still a bit of a love letter to my mother and my father," Metsa says.

Metsa's career has taken him to thousands of gigs over the past 35 years, not to mention a string of albums infused with rock, blues, and folk. He's shared the stage with famous folks (including Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen) while delving into his own signature musical style.

The book emerged from years of writing and gigging. Metsa decided to mold that material into a look at his personal and performing life. He eventually found a home with the University of Minnesota Press. Metsa was pleased not just to have the work published, but by "the same university that I had dropped out of because they wouldn't let me join the music department."

Metsa is looking forward to his two-night stand at the Phoenix, and hopes to eventually take the work on the road. For the time being, "the most exciting thing for me is to have an audience without pool tables, or fights, or anyone driving their Harley into the bar," he says. "I hope to have a freewheeling experience between the audience and myself."


Blue Guitar Highway 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday Phoenix Theater 2605 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis $15-$20 For tickets and more information, call 612-377-2285 or visit online.