Native American Flautist Performs at Buffalo Trails Extravaganza

Darren Thompson plays one of his wooden, hand-made flutes for the crowd at the Buffalo Trails Extravaganza. (Record Photo by Cole Benz)

Among the performers at the Buffalo Trails Extravaganza at the Granary on Sunday, was Darren Thompson, a self-taught, Native American flute player.


Record Editor

Thompson, who hails from Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe Reservation in northern Wisconsin, graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee with a degree in criminal studies, something he said he has yet to use in his professional life.

During his time in college, he became interested in the nearly lost instrument of the Native American flute. He is self taught out of necessity because, as he said to the crowd, he didn’t know anyone who knew how to play the ancient wood instrument. Let alone anyone who could teach him.

As his interest and talent grew, he became a sought-after commodity because his abilities and because of the scarcity of musicians. According to his biography on his website, he has shared the stage with many award-winning artists throughout his career.

He also has been invited to many prominent Native American events throughout the country, including the Grand Opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

The instruments Thompson performs with are created by himself. He often visits museums that display original versions of the flutes. He studies them, and makes measurements and designs plans for his own. He takes his research back and recreates the flutes and says he “makes them sing again.”

Thompson took his flute making to the next level this year. Partnering with famed flute maker Jon Norris, the duo produced Thompson’s signature flute. The instrument is built from eastern red cedar and features a crane’s head at the end of the flute.

Thompson’s latest endeavor brought him to South Dakota, where he plays nightly for tourists at the Crazy Horse Memorial in Custer County between Custer and Hill City. He said from Memorial Day through the end of September he plays 160 concerts for crowds.

He played a few songs for the crowd in Hettinger, giving a brief explanation about either the instrument or song (or both) before he started to play.

Anyone interested in learning more about Thompson and his music can visit his web site at You can also catch him on national television this fall as he will be making an appearance on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

Along with his music, Thompson is also a journalist and film maker, and recently participated in the inaugural Standing Rock Film Festival.