Pat Lennertz

Pat Lenertz has been playing music professionally since his high school rock band, Bad Mojo, debuted at a Fargo coffeehouse in May 1999. (Photos/contributed.)

“It’s all About Connections”

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

Exactly 25 years ago, Pat Lenertz stepped into the spotlight at the old Funky Monkey Coffeehouse next to the Bison Hotel in downtown Fargo. With three friends at his side, the 17-year-old Moorhead High School junior – strapped into his first electric guitar – was about to wail on “Got My Mojo Workin’.”
It was the blues classic that inspired the name of his fledgling band, Bad Mojo. The mojo, however, was good that night in May 1999, for he’s still at it.
The 42-year-old Moorhead man, often singled out as one of the area’s top guitarists, ranks among the most respected pillars of the local music scene. Music has been his passion since he started out singing in the St. Francis Catholic Church choir at 7, as well as his profession.
By day a therapist at CCRI, Pat and his guitar perform less often these days than when he and his bandmates were traveling four states and, in his words, “burning the candle at both ends.” But his love for music, and for playing with fellow musicians before appreciative audiences, remains as strong as it was during those first thrilling moments on stage: “There’s just nothing like that beautiful energy transfer,” he says. “It’s all about the connections.”
Singing has been the focus of Pat’s life since his birthday candles numbered the low single digits. But when his parents, Michael and Joanne Lenertz, gave him his first guitar at 15, his dreams took flight. “I already had a love for music, and I felt this impulse and desire to play,” he remembers. “So they got me a guitar. It was just a cheap Gremlin … I was kind of known for getting brief passions, then drifting off to something else.
“But that guitar was different. I was hyper-focused on it. That’s how I think about my life now – what came before the guitar, and what’s come after it.”
Fifteen or so guitars later, music remains his first love. Pat and the aptly named Pat Lenertz Band perform what he describes as an amalgam of blues, rock, country, reggae, funk and jam music. He has nurtured his particular love of the blues since high school, when his late friend Cody Conner – “a real musicologist,” he notes – shared his collection of 200 bluesy CDs.
Along with classmates Trevor Pearson and Matt Monson, the two teens spent the years before and after their graduation in 2000 playing local venues. That included local bars, even though Pat, at 17, was the oldest. “When we played at the Legion in Moorhead, they were strict with us,” he confides. “During the breaks, we had to stay on stage by ourselves and drink our sodas.”
After graduation, he reports, “I wanted to try music. That was all I had in mind.” He enrolled at MSUM as a music major, “but it just wasn’t the thing for me,” he admits. Instead, he went on the road full time with Bad Mojo. For the next five years they played back-to-back dates across a four-state area. He formed a second band, the Legionnaires (“as in the disease”) in 2004, who practiced six days a week and played around the area through 2011.
“Bad Mojo either rehearsed or played gigs six nights a week for five solid years. Now that’s unheard of,” he observes. “We all have lives.”
The bands’ success, however, didn’t translate into making a decent living. “I knew I needed to have another plan,” he says now. “I’d been working in group homes during the day, so I went back to college to study social work.” He completed his bachelor’s degree at MSUM in 2011, then earned a master’s in social work at the University of North Dakota three years later.
Two weeks later, he was offered a job at CCRI, the Moorhead-based nonprofit that provides innovative living solutions, individualized mental health services and a wide variety of social activities for people with disabilities. He first worked in ARMS (Adult Rehabitation Mental Health Services), meeting and coaching clients with mental health challenges in coping and life skills.
“I didn’t realize it at the time, but I think they were grooming me a bit,” he says with a smile. After completing his education, he spent several years as a therapy trainee. Five years ago, he gained licensure as an independent clinical social worker. He now works with some 40 adult clients with a range of mental health diagnoses, from major depression and anxiety to OCD, schizophrenia and PTSD. He uses cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy and trauma-informed approaches to help them improve their quality of life.
“Some graduate out of our care. Some continue,” he says. “We celebrate when good things happen and stand with our clients when they fall.”
Pat has developed a reputation, both in music circles and at CCRI, for going above and beyond to nurture connections. That’s reflected in his ready willingness to share his musical skills for all kinds of good causes. “If someone asks me to help, music is something I can do,” he notes.
That has taken all kinds of forms. He plays at funerals. He’s often up front at benefit concerts. (The band’s next, a concert to fund medical needs for Community Action, is scheduled for August.) He has helped provide band instruments for children who can’t afford them. And in what may be one of his most memorable gifts of music, he entertained nursing home residents and others isolated by the COVID-19 pandemic by playing music through a PA speaker from a flatbed trailer pulled from site to site by a semi driven by his friend . “It was really something when we went around corners,” he grins.
Today, Pat’s musical schedule is far saner than the furious pace of his early years as a professional. “The band plays maybe eight or ten times a year – more in the summer,” he reports. The four regular members of the Pat Lenertz band now include pianist Mike Jenkins, bassist Travis Atwood and his old friend, drummerTrevor Pearson. They regularly welcome guest guitarists onto the stage.
He and his friends have performed four Grateful Dead tribute concerts a year since 2007, adopting the moniker The Quarterly. More will be coming up in months to come. “We’re the best Dead tribute band in North Dakota,” he says in a mock boast. “Also the only one.”
Pat performs as a solo artist, too. He played regularly in local taprooms during what he terms “the height of the brewery boom” from 2014 to 2020. COVID put an end to that scene, “but I was needing a break anyway,” he concedes. He’s back again at Swing Barrel Brewing Company, though, on June 8. Featured in his repertoire that night will be the theme song they commissioned in honor of their newest beer, a parody of the rock classic by Asia, “Heat of the Moment.” Its title, of course: “Wheat of the Moment.”
The musician reflects that his 25 years – so far – on stage have satisfied the dreams that propelled his youth. “I feel fulfilled,” Pat declares, looking back at years of performing original songs and the classics he loves. “I play less these days, but I get to play all the fun stuff. It’s always got to be fun.”

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