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Smelt and a smelter with his net dance at the Run Smelt Run indoor party at the Zeitgeist Arts Café. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

Wintry weather sidelines celebration of spring in Duluth

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News Duluth,Minnesota 55802 http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/field/image/kucheraSMELT0428c4.jpg?itok=ef8lkOBn
Duluth News Tribune
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Wintry weather sidelines celebration of spring in Duluth
Duluth Minnesota 424 W. First St. 55802

Perhaps it’s only appropriate that the weather for an event designed to celebrate spring in Duluth should prove so fickle.

The annual Run Smelt Run parade was called off for the first time in its three-year history Sunday afternoon when would-be revelers were greeted in Canal Park by the sting of freezing rain blown eastward across Lake Superior by stiff 25- to 35-mph winds.

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“This is supposed to be a family-friendly event, and we don’t want people to have miserable memories of it,” said Anton Jimenez-Kloeckl, as he explained the decision to call off the outdoor performance and procession that originally were slated to take place on the shores of the big lake before an indoor party.

“You can’t fight Mother Nature,” he said, noting that April can be an unpredictable month for weather in Duluth.

After two years of frigid and challenging conditions for the festival, Jimenez-Kloeckl said he’s giving serious thought to pushing the event back until May.

But he has mixed feelings about delaying it much for fear that the event might not coincide with the local smelt run.

Sunday’s challenging weather was no match for some of the festival’s most enthusiastic fans, however.

“I think it’s a great idea to have an event like this at a time of year when we’re in the transition of winter to spring and there’s not that much to do,” said Andrew Saur, who arrived undeterred at the Duluth Ship Canal with his wife, Angel Sarkela-Saur, and their 5-year-old daughter, Annika, in tow.

The whole family sported smelt-inspired tinfoil attire, and they were ready to tough out the weather beneath the scant shelter of a single umbrella.

The Saurs might have been disappointed to learn that the parade had been canceled because of poor weather conditions, but they took the news in stride after being redirected to the Run Smelt Run Party at the Zeitgeist Arts Café on Superior Street.

Cindy Shimek of St. Paul said she wouldn’t have minded sticking to the original outdoor game plan for the event, although she understood the decision to call it off.

“As Minnesotans, we’re pretty adaptable, and this was supposed to be a rain-or-shine event,” she said.

Puppeteers Jiminez-Kloeckl and Jim Ouray launched the quirky festival in 2012 with hopes that it would become an annual tradition. And the event seems to have gained traction. Dozens of residents now fashion costumes and puppets of their own to pay homage to the tiny silver fish, as well as the outlandish cast of local characters who eagerly wade into icy local waters each spring in their pursuit.

The event has inspired the creation of the Magic Smelt Puppet Troupe in Duluth. Ouray is no stranger to public puppetry initiatives as a past member of the Minneapolis-based In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre.

A rollicking Twin Cities band dubbed the Brass Messengers provided the musical score for the host of costumed celebrants dancing inside the crowded Zeitgeist Arts Café.

Jiminez-Kloeckl said he considers music an integral part of the performance and decided it would have been impractical to expect band members to subject themselves and their instruments to Sunday afternoon’s cruel weather conditions.

“We’re going to have a totally awesome party at the Zeitgeist instead,” he pledged as he informed visitors of the change in plans.

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Peter Passi
(218) 279-5526
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