Saturday, December 4, 2021


Martin Zellar gets political
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Musician Martin Zellar is the new head of the Mower County DFL. But for fans, he's still best known as the front man for the Gear Daddies, and leader of Martin Zellar and the Hardways. (MPR Photo/ Erin Galbally)
Martin Zellar's one of the state's most respected rock musicians. He rose to fame as the front man for the Gear Daddies. When that group disbanded he formed Martin Zellar and the Hardways which he continues to tour with today. But music isn't Zellar's only passion. Recently he's returned home to his native Austin to head up the Mower County DFL.

Austin, Minn. — Growing up in Austin, Minnesota Martin Zellar couldn't wait to leave. But these days Zellar's made peace with Austin. He and his wife and two sons recently moved back after a brief stint in Texas. Now Zellar says he embraces the daily rhythms of small town life.

"I love the fact that you can hear the factory whistle blow six times a day for morning noon and evening shift, " says Zellar. "I love the fact that you can hear trains running all the time. It's a working class town and there's a lot of dignity in that."

Zellar sits at his kitchen table. He says while Austin's still a blue collar town, politically things have begun to shift. He says the raging debate over the place of religion in politics, same sex marriage and immigration have started to erode the local DFL's dominance.

"I would say Austin, you know, is like one those counties that used to be dark blue but is definitely moving towards a lighter shade of blue. So it's not a forgone conclusion anymore that Democrats are going to win," he explains.

It's now Zellar's job to revitalize the party. So far in his new role as the chair of the Mower County DFL he's met with at least one major success. He helped Democrat Jeanne Poppe wage a difficult campaign against a Republican incumbent. Poppe won and now represents Austin in the state legislature.

Zellar says he's been political for as long as he can remember. But this is the first time he's held a formal position. He's amused when asked if he has any plans to run for office himself.

"No," he laughs. "I have the greatest respect for anyone who is willing to do it and God bless them but to me it seems like a thankless task at times. I think too many times."

He says he's sensitive to the fact that some people might perceive his role with the Democrats as a kind of publicity stunt. Zellar says nothing could be farther from the truth.

"It's not how I define myself by and large as a musician. I mean I define myself as a father, as a husband, as a son of a woman who spends three quarters of her money on drugs she needs to take. I define myself, as the brother of single mother who is working literally seven days a week and can't pay the bills, can't afford health care," says Zellar. "I have the same issues and concerns and 99.9 percent of the time I have the same life as everybody else."

On weekends, though, when Zellar takes to the stage performing throughout the Midwest, his celebrity remerges. Zellar says he's hopeful the Gear Daddies will regroup for a concert in the near future. In the meantime Zellar says he hopes to head into the studio soon to record a new album. He says he has plenty of songs written and just needs to make time to record them.