Instruments hang like sentries from the living room wall, each on their own individual hook, each with their own story, some purchased, some gifted and some willed to the members of Grey Eagle’s Slew Foot Family Band.

Just inside the front door sits a stack of CDs awaiting placement in their jewel cases for the band’s fourth album to be released Nov. 29. The stack rises from the desk next to the computer they used to mix the music themselves. From the back of the front entry closet hang the formal dresses and vests made by the Becker children to wear for their upcoming Christmas performances and just inside the living room sits the sewing machine and extra fabric.

What first began as a way for the youngest children to further their fiddle practice 14 years ago has morphed into a full-time family band with year-round music performed by the eight Becker children, ages 10 to 25. They play more than 200 shows a year. This season they’ll perform as many as 46 Christmas shows; during the summer they average 8-15 performances a week.

A performance by Slew Foot doesn’t include just toe-tapping tunes but full costume changes, multi-instrumentation, original arrangements of music, clogging and dancing.

“I think they’re their best friends,” said Karen Becker, mom of the band. “They’ll always be there for each other.”

And they always have been. 

Becker children don’t just perform together, they were – and the younger ones still are – homeschooled. They do their school work hours a day, with the youngest rising at 6:30 a.m. to get his bookwork in – on his own accord. Mom Karen makes time to sit with each child, helping them when they struggle.

“That’s a gift, it’s a blessing to be able to,” she said. “Sometimes you wish you had more time with each one.”

She knows the learning style of each and has watched their personalities grow as they study their school work, perform daily chores, garden and can their own food. Those same learning traits also show up in the way they perform, with one of the kids working on choreography, one on graphics, some arranging.

“Everybody has a different skill set,” Becker said.

When a road trip calls, they file into a 15-passenger conversion van, trailer of instruments in tow, and head to the next destination. They pack a cooler, and sometimes their dog, Snoopy, too.

“It’s a lot of laughter when you’re crammed in the van together,” Becker said.

The CD player doesn’t work and Becker admits there’s lots of arguing melded with silly situations, road construction and tight schedules as the family traverses the Midwest playing their music. Typically, they play within a three-hour radius of home, though they used to make trips as far as Omaha and Sioux City, Iowa. 

“Each year it just grows on its own,” Becker said. “We don’t have a website but someone hears it here and gets us to the next place.”

Their music spread organically from the get-go. They started out with a few of the kids playing fiddle in a local nursing home and as they went back, the requests started to come. Assisted living facilities still make up a large chunk of their performances but they also do festivals, community events, church services, fairs, concerts in the park and veterans events.

The band includes a combination of fiddle, guitar, banjo, mandolin, upright base, harmonica, Irish whistle and snare. Though Becker doesn’t often perform with the band anymore, she tells jokes and serves as the emcee as the members change costumes or instrumentation for the next song.

The group doesn’t only play Christmas music. Throughout the year they play a variety of songs including jazzy Glenn Miller tunes and old rock and roll like “Rockin’ Robin,” patriotic music, Irish music, folk and inspirational tunes. 

“Originally they thought they’d be really heavy with bluegrass and then decided variety was good,” Becker said. “You never know who you’re going to be playing for so you want to make sure everybody gets touched.”

The group arranges its own music from the comfort of their living room.

“Everybody gets a tune in their head and everybody sits around and starts plinking and developing it as it goes,” Becker said. “It’s a lot of work and it doesn’t go without arguing.”

Their father, Duane, is the one who tries to jokingly break up the arguments or makes comments in passing about the quality of a practice – something he said the kids don’t find too funny, though he tries. He accompanies the band on trips depending on his schedule at the family business; he used to be in charge of the younger boys when the band was in its early years but now, they participate too.

Breanna Becker, who’s 24, said the band is a bond.

“We definitely spend a lot of time together and we get to know one another so well,” she said.