At the end of most of his gigs, and in conversations with other musicians or friends, Ben Puchalski gets the question: “Dude, why aren’t you bigger?”
Puchalski, these days, answers with a shrug, and that’s not because he’s a little tired of answering it, even though, truth be told, he kinda is.
“I definitely am trying,” he tells BandWagon with a laugh. “You always try to increase your fan base no matter how long you’ve been doing it.”
Puchalski’s been doing it a long time. He just might be Greeley’s longest-running, currently active performing musician. As Ben Pu, he plays several, multi-hour gigs per week in Greeley alone, on the strength of his wizard-level guitar skills, voice and huge repertoire. He’s even turning 40 on March 5, something he’ll celebrate with other musicians in a gig at the Moxi Theater in downtown Greeley.
He’s definitely big here, but Greeley, or even Northern Colorado, if we can assume Puchalski reaches at least that far, is not the world, or America, or even the West. And yet he feels good about where he is. He’s a full-time musician, for instance, and still gigs regularly either by himself or with his band. Gigs with “the Crew” aren’t as frequent now that the two other guys in the trio live in Denver, but he’s probably still known more as Ben Pu & Crew.
More than a decade ago, he quit his last “job-job” as a coordinator and social work rep at the long term care facility Good Samaritan, and he’s grateful he can play music for a living.
“Knock on wood,” he replied when asked about it, as if he still knows how fleeting and precious the opportunity to survive playing music can be. “Every year is staying just as busy,” he said.
With that in mind, the gig at the Moxi will be fun – a chance to play with the Crew and others, have a good time and celebrate what, so far, has been a successful career, even if he never made it as big as Hootie and the Blowfish. The Blues Party House Band (from Greeley’s weekley, open blues jam event) will open the show and Juice Box will close. He’s not closing, he said, because he wanted a chance to talk to friends and hang out while the vibe was still strong.
“This is just for fun, so we’ll play anything and everything,” Puchalski said. “Covers, originals, maybe some old ones or some dance covers too. The Blues Party always brings a good vibe anyway, so we want to keep that going. It’s been a bit with the Crew, so I can’t wait to see those guys and play and hang out with them a while.”
Puchalski is hoping to put out a new album by the end of this year, having written a lot of songs during the pandemic.
“I’ve got a lot of new music,” he said, “but I wasn’t digging the sound when I was recording. I’ll jump back into it. I’d like to get into the new songs – hopefully soon.”
Like any artist, he has bad days, slow months and the doubts those times bring, but he remains grateful for his fans. It hasn’t crossed his mind to stop playing and get a job. Not even during the covid lockdowns.
The pandemic, in fact, wasn’t just a good time to write songs: it was an affirmation of his loyal fan base. Puchalski put on virtual gigs and did well with them through donations he accrued during the shows. He still puts them on now, both because they were successful and because he wants to give his fans a chance to see him, even if some of them are still nervous about coming out around crowds.
“I’ve had a lot of good fans, especially through the pandemic,” he said. “Without those people tuning in…they really kept me afloat. They still come out. It’s unfathomable really. I’m very thankful for that.”
And that solid fan base is a reason why Puchalski isn’t willing to change his life much just to “get big,” as they say in the industry. He knows what it takes. He’s opened for ZZ Top and other big acts, but you have to keep that ladder-climbing going and stand out from all the new acts coming to Colorado. You have to tour and keep releasing new music. Plus, he’s a self-managed artist, so it’s up to him to book all those gigs. The booking side alone takes a lot of time, and it’s not as fun as writing songs or gigging.
Yes, he wonders at times – maybe especially as he approaches this landmark birthday – what he’s doing. But then he plays a gig.
“It only takes one or two good gigs every month to reinvigorate you,” Puchalski said. “Then you’re jumping right back into it.”
Ben Pu & Crew perform at The Moxi Theater Saturday, March 5th for Puchalski’s 40th birthday bash. The Blues Party House Band and Juicebox will also perform. Tickets at BandWagonPresents.com