Kings of the Forest

One big, swinging local legend plays another

You can call Don Shelby many things: Emmy-winning journalist, hoops fanatic, necktie-tying god. But not necessarily an environmentalist—surprising, perhaps, as he was one of the first and loudest TV anchors to address climate change directly. “I don’t use that word to define myself,” he says over an apple fritter at a Caribou near his former employer, WCCO-TV. “My interest in sustainability is science-based; I work with facts. I’m not in the fuzzy, socialist, pointy-headed environmentalist camp. I’m more of an ecologist.” Which helps explains why he wasn’t put off when asked to appear at the Ted Mann Concert Hall on April 26 and 27 in the VocalEssence production of Benjamin Britten’s opera, Paul Bunyan. Without irony, he will voice the world’s most famous deforester. “It’s true that Paul Bunyan cut down trees,” he says. “But the trees grew back so another generation could enjoy them. He was as much of a conservationist as anyone because he was using a renewable resource and building the quality of life we have.” We’re talking about fiction, of course. But if there’s anything that gets Shelby worked up, it’s protecting our quality of life—particularly the outdoors, which he calls his “cathedral.” Since his TV sign off two years ago, he’s gone into good-neighbor hypermode, serving on 13 boards, many with green ambitions. He wrote a basketball book called The Season Never Ends. He penned 70,000 words as a columnist for MinnPost. He does radio bumps for Bring Me The News. And lately he’s been acting. He went rococo in heels and fishnets as the narrator in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, pulled a Holbrook in a one-man Mark Twain show, and now Bunyan. All Shelby asked was that he be allowed to portray Bunyan as a real lumberjack character, not just a disembodied narrator. So Bunyan is really his kind of guy? “Sure,” he says. “I own seven chainsaws myself.”