Metsa’s Cats Under the Stars to reunite on the Iron Range

Popular 1980s Minnesota band "Cats Under the Stars," which started on the Iron Range, is set to reunite 40 years after its founding for a show at the Lyric Center for the Arts in Virginia, Minnesota on Thursday, June 18.

Popular 1980s Minnesota band “Cats Under the Stars,” which started on the Iron Range, is set to reunite 40 years after its founding for a show at the Lyric Center for the Arts in Virginia, Minnesota on Thursday, June 18.

Paul Metsa, the Minnesota folk/rock troubadour, will reunite his signature band from the 1980s, Cats Under the Stars,” for a reunion concert in the Iron Range town where they formed 40 years ago.

Cats Under the Stars will perform 7 p.m., Thursday, June 18, at the Lyric Center for the Arts at 510 Chestnut Street in downtown Virginia. The cost is $10.

This reunion, along with the recent release of venerated Range musician Rich Mattson’s new self-titled CD with the Northstars, are good examples of the creative cauldron in the region that existed during the 1970s that would go on to influence the rest of the state.

The press release follows:

Cats Under the Stars, one of the most popular Twin Cities bands of the 1980’s and formed in Virginia, MN in the 1970’s return to their hometown to kick off their 40th anniversary tour on Thursday, June 18th at the Lyric Center for the Arts in Virginia, MN where they played their first gig under their name, Cats Under the Stars on the bandstand in Olcott Park on August 17, 1975.

Paul Metsa, leader of the band, met Tim O’Keefe on the first day as seniors at Roosevelt High School. After several rehearsals, they dubbed themselves Metsa and O’Keefe (the first Finnish-Irish blues duo playing the Upper Midwest College Coffeehouse circuit.) They hooked up with Jack Pasternacki and Skip Nelimark in 1974 as Hot Walleye changing their name a year later. They started out playing acoustic blues, folk, ragtime, and country and also started playing in electric ensemble as well.

O’Keefe and Pasternacki joined Metsa, who had moved to Minneapolis to start a solo career in 1978, in 1980 and started playing in a swing trio wearing tuxedoes and singing 3 part vocal jazz tunes from the ‘30’s and 40’s. In 1981 they started playing electric again specializing in reggae, blues, rock and roll, and New Orleans Music. They recorded 45 rpm single, “Louie, Louie” on Monkey Business Records. The trio opened up for Ry Cooder at the Guthrie Theater in 1982 and appeared on Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion in 1983. After several hundred shows, they disbanded in 1984. Metsa released his first original LP Paper Tigers in December of 1984 and recruited O’Keefe and Pasternacki to play in the Paul Metsa Group.

In the late 1980’s they went their separate ways. Metsa went on to release a dozen original recording projects, won 7 MN Music Awards, performed at Farm Aid V and the Tribute to Woody Guthrie at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Bruce Springsteen, Pete Seeger, and others. His memoir Blue Guitar Highway (UofMN Press 2011) was critically acclaimed and he now hosts his own weekly radio show the Wall of Power Radio Hour in the Twin Cities on AM 950 and can be streamed live at

Tim O’Keefe has become a master percussionist studying abroad and has performed at such venues as the Museum of Modern Art and Asia Center in NYC, the National Gallery in Washington DC, and concerts in Jordan and Israel. He is featured on many recordings and major motion picture soundtracks. He has composed music for many theater and dance productions and tours nationally with the award winning Rose Ensemble. He is also active as a guest lecturer/teacher with world music classes at regional schools and universities.

Jack Pasternacki, though spending the majority of time in the private sector, played for several years with the Paul Metsa Group, the Ranchtones, and Bar Stool #9. He is the Cats “utility outfielder” who doubles on both bass and guitar.

The Cats longstanding drummer Joe Luoma (who will be joining the boys for other shows in the future as he is in Ireland most of June) is considered to be one of the the finest collector of vintage drums in the world. In fact, he designed a drum stick while playing on the Iron Range, referred to as a Branch or Hot Rod, hundreds of thousands of pairs have been sold and these sticks are played by nearly every popular drummer of our time.

The Cats are really looking forward to kicking off their 40th Anniversary in their hometown. As Metsa says, “After 40 years more or less, the best years for this band are still ahead of us, we are playing better than ever. To know, work, and play with friends as good as this, is what life is all about!”

WHERE: Lyric Center for the Arts, Virginia, MN , 510 Chestnut St.
WHEN: Thursday, June 18th, 7 p.m.
TICKETS: $10 at the door (partial proceeds for the Bess Metsa Memorial Garden)


  1. wow, you talked about everything but their time as Cats. I saw these guys once or twice when I lived in Mpls in the 80s…was looking forward to reminiscing about that time

  2. Nemo Noone says

    What about Jeff Cerniak?

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