The Okee Dokee Brothers — Justin Lansing and Joe Mailander — are the Grammy award-winning duo who have crafted their signature Americana folk music sound since releasing their first album, “Can You Canoe?” in 2012. They’re on tour with their sixth album, “Brambletown,” under their belts and will perform songs from all six albums at Tempe Center for the Arts on Friday, Sept. 29, at 6 p.m.

But how did these two become a folk pair who write music, play the acoustic guitar and banjo, and perform upbeat rustic folk and bluegrass tunes that all ages enjoy?

Long before they became The Okee Dokee Brothers, Justin and Joe met in pre-school, growing up outside Denver and exploring the outdoors together when they weren’t in elementary and high school.

“We sang John Denver songs around campfires in the Colorado mountains with our families, with each other, and as camp counselors,” says Joe. They hiked and visited farms together with their families, too. As they matured, their outdoor adventures developed into rafting down their neighborhood creek and discovering trails through the Rocky Mountains.

All those experiences and shared memories gave them an appreciation for the outdoors and helped them connect with nature and find inspiration in the environment.

The two started making music together in high school. Justin learned the banjo while Joe switched from the piano to the guitar. Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, and Joni Mitchell inspired their songs for the folk-rock band they formed.

“We put together a family set based on some of our bluegrass songs, and we noticed that the traditional songs got kids moving when we would play the family sets,” says Joe. “That’s when we started writing more family versions of the traditional songs.”

The duo’s first four albums were written during outdoor journeys — one on a monthlong canoe trip down the Mississippi River, another horse packing the Continental Divide, another hiking the Appalachian Trail, and one during a winter dogsledding trip. The albums lightly follow these outdoor expeditions with songs about the beauty of nature (“The Bullfrog Opera”), fishing with friends (“Muddy River”), and wandering through the forest (“Through the Woods”).

“We wanted to unplug from the internet and hustle and bustle to slow our minds down,” Joe explains. “We listened for the voices of nature. There’s always something singing out there. You can hear the river, leaves, and trees, and there’s always a song floating around. The question is whether you’re open to hearing it. That’s why we spent so much time out there: to be open and let those messages come through.”

“Through The Woods,” “Saddle Up,” “Winterland,” and “Songs For Singin’” are the albums sandwiched between “Can You Canoe?” and “Brambletown.” All their albums include an illustrated book of lyrics and chords to make singalongs easier.

The duo’s songs are catchy and packed with funny and uplifting lyrics. Their family-friendly music is appropriate for kids and appeals to adults of all ages, as they play at school assemblies, libraries, park concerts, and family festivals nationwide.

“We want to encourage kids to go outside and get active and be content with less material things and more adventures,” Joe says. Their commitment to quality lyrics and music earned them a Grammy Award for “Can You Canoe?” and Grammy nominations for their albums “Through the Woods” and “Saddle Up.”

While Justin and Joe have put month-long outdoor expeditions for musical inspiration on hold while they raise families in separate states, the two talk daily to work on songs and meet on weekends in cities across the U.S. for performances.

“We harmonize, and our signature sound is switching verses and singing choruses together,” says Mailander.

Okee Dokee Brothers fans can also get two books by the duo. “Can You Canoe? And Other Adventure Songs” includes lively illustrations and a sing-along CD highlighting their trips throughout the Appalachian Trail, the Mississippi River, and the Continental Divide. The second book is a story inspired by the folktale “The Fisherman and His Wife” about the things we wish for compared to what we truly need.

“Everything we do, including the show and our albums and our friendship, has to do with engagement,” Joe says. “We want kids and their families to dance or sing along. It’s an intergenerational experience. The lyrics are written so everyone can understand them and follow along.”

Learn more about The Okee Dokee Brothers at

Get tickets to see the bluegrass and American roots music duo at

This content is sponsored by Tempe Center for the Arts.