When she lost her beloved sister, friend and bandmate, Karee Miller Jaeger found herself at a crossroads.
Miller Jaeger and her sister had performed together since they’d played their first gig at a family wedding in Minnesota. More recently they played together in Mandatory Air. Onstage they came as a package. They were the Miller sisters.
“We always talked about different people calling for us to do different solo gigs,” Miller Jaeger said. “And we’d always say, ‘We don’t want to do it alone.’”
But in the past few months, almost a year since Candice Miller Kwiatkowski died by suicide, Miller Jaeger has resolved the conflicts she felt about playing without her sibling and exposing her vulnerability onstage. She has decided to return, gigging with a new band called Sister Karee and the Other Brothers.
That group, composed of Miller Jaeger and a number of members of Mandatory Air, pays homage both to Miller Kwiatkowski’s memory and the bond Miller Jaeger and her sister developed with the band’s other members — Justin Smith, John Pansewicz, Marshall Davis, Jason Baggett, and Mac Munro — throughout years of performing on both sides of the Tetons.
Because the Miller sisters came from a family of eight and had three brothers, Miller Jaeger didn’t feel comfortable calling her bandmates “the brothers.” Instead she settled on “the other brothers.”
“We have brothers, but we feel that [in] the life that we have lived with our Mandatory Air bandmates, they have become brothers to us,” Miller Jaeger said. “And I do speak for Candice because these words have come from her mouth ... They are family.”
Now, with her family at her side, Miller Jaeger will take the stage tonight at the Fox Creek Fandango at Victor’s Linn Canyon Ranch. The Fandango, a community event the Miller sisters began curating in 2008, has been on hiatus since 2017. It will return this year with a celebration of life for Miller Kwiatkowski.
For Justin Smith, who has played with and been friends with the Miller sisters since they arrived in the Tetons, performing with the Other Brothers feels like “a natural extension” of the work they did together before Miller Kwiatkowski’s death.
To help other people dealing with depression and other mental conditions of their own, Miller Jaeger and Smith want to elevate the conversation about mental health and wellness. And though Smith said “it’s not a flag” the Other Brothers are going to “raise up at their shows,” that cause is something he and Miller have begun to underscore in conversations with friends and family. It’s also something that donations and funds raised from T-shirt sales at this year’s Fandango will support. Proceeds from the event will benefit Climb Wyoming, a nonprofit that supports struggling single mothers (Miller Jaeger is an advocate for the organization), and Red Door, an organization that offers therapy and other services.
“I don’t want it to be taboo,” Smith said.
To read the full story about Sister Karee and the Other Brothers, pick up a copy of this week's Scene section.