The Current spent some quality time on the shore of Lake Superior this weekend at several different special events in Duluth, including a live broadcast from the Endion Station Public House in Canal Park, a “The Current Does Duluth” showcase at the Red Herring Lounge in downtown Duluth, and an afternoon at the All Pints North Summer Brew Fest in Bayfront Park on Saturday.
It seemed appropriate that both of Friday evening’s events took place at just-opened new venues; Endion Station was celebrating its grand opening that day, and the Red Herring had just opened last month. One of the Current’s biggest goals for the weekend up north was to shine a spotlight on Duluth’s vibrant arts and culture scene, and one of the biggest themes to emerge as hosts Steve Seel and Jill Riley talked to representatives from the community is that it’s the perfect time for the rest of the state to rethink their preconceptions about the city and take note of all the new developments that have happened over the past 15 years.
When asked to sum up out the city and Duluth’s music scene had changed in recent years, Red Herring owner (and Chaperone Records founder) Bob Monahan said it most succinctly: “It just keeps getting cooler and cooler.”
Duluth is still a great place to revel in history, to take in the sights on the Lakewalk and visit the Maritime Museum and stroll past the Aerial Lift Bridge. But it’s also become a place where visitors can tour different craft breweries, hop between a dozen music venues, and have their pick of any number of organic, farm-to-table restaurants. The Red Herring struck that same balance between the historic and the brand new—housed in an old fish company warehouse, the venue still has the original brick walls and high beams along with new additions like a stage, bar, and sound system, and it manages to both maintain the vibe of the building’s past residents and serve as an updated gathering place for some of the hippest clientele in the city.
The Red Herring was packed from the stage all the way to the front patio on Friday night with everyone from musicians on the Chaperone Records roster to Duluth’s mayor, Don Ness, who looked on contentedly as one excellent act after another repped the city on stage. Opener Sarah Krueger brought a band to flesh out the songs she had performed solo earlier in the afternoon at the Endion Station live broadcast, including an especially devastating new ballad that will appear on her next album. The Eau Claire-born, Duluth-based singer-songwriter has been busy working with a lot of musicians from the Twin Cities (including Erik Koskinen, who is producing the new record), and I couldn’t help but spend the majority of her set wondering why she hasn’t racked up a bigger following outside of Duluth. Fans of Haley Bonar (who also spent some of her formative years in Duluth) would definitely dig Krueger’s big, sad melodies.
Next up was Tin Can Gin, a newer bluegrass act formed by childhood friends Harrison Olk and Trevor Marrin with the help of mandolinist Bryan Nelson, bassist Mark Glen (who I think has played in at least 50% of the bands I’ve seen in Duluth), and fiddle player Nori Perrine. Perrine couldn’t make Friday night’s gig so the band brought up Twin Cities regular Kailyn Spencer, who most recently played in A Night in the Box, and together the quintet kicked up a frolicking little string-led dance party.
Headlining the evening was Low, who used the opportunity to dive deep into their catalog and present a career-spanning set. As you can see from the set list, the small audience (the Red Herring holds about 250 people) got a chance to hear their new cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” along with songs from last year’s The Invisible Way and fan favorites like “Monkey” and “When I Go Deaf.” At least two of the songs stretched on for 10 minutes or more, making it easy to get lost in the band’s rippling and mesmerizing sounds. At one point, I remember turning around to ask Southwire’s Jerree Small if she knew the name of a song they had just played, and she just smiled and said, “I don’t know. I was someplace else.”
Low also performed a brand new song for the second time that day (Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker also played it at Endion Station), and it was similar in tone to the songs from The Invisible Way—a simple, somber ballad about begging someone to stay and hash things out called “Don’t Walk Away.”
Low at the Red Herring Lounge set list:
On My Own
Just Make it Stop
I’m On Fire (Springsteen)
Awesome unidentified slow jam
Don’t Walk Away (new)
Last Snowstorm of the Year
To Our Knees
When I Go Deaf