A few years ago, The Current’s program director Jim McGuinn decided to head up north from St. Paul to Duluth for the All Pints North beer festival, and the event’s organizers excitedly asked if he could bring our van to park on the festival grounds. Each year since, The Current’s involvement in what we’ve come to call “The Current Goes to Duluth” summer weekend has grown — and this year, it ballooned to a virtual music festival lasting four days and spanning six venues. As Brian Oake explained at the outset, “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.”
One huge change between last year and this year is that The Current now has a broadcast signal in Duluth: 90.9 FM, with a weekly Duluth Local Show hosted by Mike Novitzki. (8-9 p.m. Sundays in Duluth, later archived online.) Several of us drove up from St. Paul to hang out with Mike and the Duluth posse for a few nights, and we were pleased to reunite with many of our friends at local venues and breweries.
The action started Wednesday night (July 20), as Mike hosted a pierside concert by Haley Bonar at the historic Glensheen Mansion. The next day the rest of us arrived, checking in and making our way to Zeitgeist Arts for a New Belgium Micro Show featuring P.O.S. This wasn’t just a regular P.O.S show seen at close range: playing for fewer than 100 people at Zeitgeist’s cozy Teatro Zuccone, the Doomtree star chatted amiably (and, at times, pointedly) as he ran through a loose, career-spanning set.
We called it an early night on Thursday, since it was up and at ’em early on Friday morning for a live broadcast from Lake Avenue Restaurant and Bar. Oake and Riley signed on at 6 a.m., and the restaurant — right in the shadow of the Aerial Lift Bridge — quickly filled up.
Our first musical guests were The Murder of Crows; Gaelynn Lea and Alan Sparhawk performed two haunting songs and then stuck around to have breakfast and watch their friend Charlie Parr play his own set, later in the morning. City Council president Zack Filipovich came by to update us on efforts to repair storm damage; Red Herring Lounge owner Bob Monahan updated listeners on the weekend’s shows; and Brian and Jill talked beer with Lauren Salazar (New Belgium) and Jacquie Berglund (Finnegans).
After hosting her shift in St. Paul, Jade zipped up to Duluth in time to DJ for two hours at a Bent Paddle happy hour — spinning tunes as we sipped brews and gawked up at the massive silver tanks. After fortifying ourselves with dinner at Pizza Luce, we were ready for the weekend’s most intense night of music: simultaneous shows at the Red Herring and Luce. I ran back and forth between the two, succeeding at catching at least part of every set.
The night kicked off at the Red Herring with ethereal electro-folk songstress Ingeborg von Agassiz. In addition to originals, she paid homage to her influences by covering Hank Williams (!) and Kate Bush. After her streamer-clad keyboard left the stage, next up were Fraea — who saved their hit (“Criminal”) for last, but had no problem filling a set with appealing electro-pop. After that, the Red Herring took a break from “electro” as Silverback Colony roared into a set of chunky heartland rock, complete with a rousing version of CSNY’s “Ohio.”
I detoured to Luce, where a big, young crowd were basking in the waves of stormy sound from Duluth band reflectivore. The crowd — their cans of Fulton, which sponsored the show, wrapped in tallboy coozies — pressed forward as headliner deM atlaS leaped onto the stage with his signature mix of passionate energy and laconic cool. Still, deM found the energy after his show to climb the hill to the Herring as Mark Mallman closed out the night — and I mean closed. out. the. night.
Playing almost until bar close, Mallman reeled off originals from his new album The End is Not the End alongside covers like “Wooly Bully,” which came and went in a Mitch-Ryder-like medley. Musicheads in the house gloried as Mallman conducted his band by calling out chords: “A-B-C-D-E-F-G! A-B-C-D-E-to-the-F-to-the-[falsetto] geeeeeeeeee!”
— Local Current (@LocalCurrent) July 23, 2016
Did I mention that was just Friday? Still to come was Saturday, with tents flapping in the field at Bayfront Festival Park for All Pints North. Though storms threatened, the day remained largely dry and happily cool as bagpipers sounded the call for the gates to be opened. Beer fans flooded the field to enjoy standards and rarities from dozens of craft breweries from across the country — including a growing number from Duluth. On the giant stage, Viva Knievel opened with a set of sturdy covers; the 4onthefloor followed, a twofer for Gabriel Douglas fans who’d seen him play the previous night with Silverback Colony.
— Local Current (@LocalCurrent) July 23, 2016
You would think that would have been it for Duluth’s happily exhausted partiers — but no! The Red Herring filled up with an even bigger crowd than on Friday for a Bauhaus Brew Labs showcase featuring the half-ironically named Kitschy Gloomy (who are slightly kitschy, but not the least bit gloomy), the groovy Sonic Instension, Duluth favorites the Social Disaster, and Minneapolis upstarts Bruise Violet. It felt appropriate to close out the weekend with a trio who respect the past (their name is taken from a Babes in Toyland song) while also looking to the future. You might say that Duluth itself, with a booming music scene and unparalleled legacy, is doing the same thing.