It’s a logical progression for a musician, much like a chord progression: East Jordan to Detroit to Traverse City to St. Petersburg, Fla., to Switzerland to Finland and back to Boyne City.Or at least it was for Boyne City musician Nelson Olstrom.
Olstrom, who grew up in East Jordan, began playing the guitar when he was 8 — an uncle played country music, and “it was a fun thing to do on the weekends,” said Olstrom.“When I was really young, I was inspired by The Beatles, but my uncle was the closest thing to anyone who played guitar,” he said — so he began by learning country music.But by the time Olstrom was 16, he was playing what he called 1970s folk rock: Crosby, Stills & Nash and the Grateful Dead.
In his early 20s, Olstrom bounced from Detroit to Traverse City to Florida, settling in Florida for 12 years.There he met a friend who went to Europe and began busking. Olstrom soon followed.He played ski resorts and cruise lines. The Viking Line, said Olstrom, ran between Helsinki in Finland to Stockholm in Sweden, and he, along with 35-45 other entertainers, kept European revelers entertained as they journeyed between the cities.Olstrom and the other entertainers were housed in a section of cabins with its own lounge.“The creativity would be really inspiring,” he said of the other musicians, magicians and dancers. The musicians ranged in genre from blues bands to Hungarian and Spanish music. “Of course, competition was taken out of the equation: nobody did the same thing,” said Olstrom.
In 1997, after three and a half years in Sweden and a year and a half in Finland, Olstrom returned to Northern Michigan. Now, as well as giving lessons, Olstrom plays acoustic events for Boyne Highlands, Boyne Mountain and other local venues, pulling on a catalog of 650-700 songs as well as 25-30 originals.Among his influences, he counts Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, John Mayer, Eric Clapton and James Taylor — and now, he’s pursuing a goal of furthering his songwriting. “Being able to create a thought or image in two to four words, that’s a goal of mine,” he said. “Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen are masters of that. When you get to the end of a Petty song, he really didn’t say that much, but he created a whole story. Sometimes two words say a paragraph.”