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Best of 2017: Local artists and entertainers talk about the year’s great music, art, festivals

The FEmn Fest logo is projected above the stage as Oshkii Giizhik Singers performed at FEmn Fest at Sacred Heart Music Center in Duluth this past September. The first-year festival featured female-identifying performers, artists, speakers and vendors. 2017 file/ News Tribune1 / 4
Aleasha Hladilek performed with the Spin Collective during the Duluth All Souls Night celebration at the Duluth Public Library in early November. The annual event is a chance to pay tribute to and celebrate those who have died in the past year. 2017 file/ News Tribune2 / 4
Wendy Red Star's exhibition "Reservation Pop" opened at the Duluth Art Institute in September. Photo courtesy of the DAI. 3 / 4
Jazz singer Pippi Ardennia performed during the November Cookin' at the O event at the Oldenburg House in Carlton. 2017 file/ News Tribune4 / 4

The local artists, entertainers and patrons have spoken. In 2017, they were fans of a first-year, female-friendly festival. They enjoyed a monthly storytelling event. A concert featuring two music heavies was described as "magical" and an art exhibition rocked at least one world.

The News Tribune asked creatives to talk about the best A&E events of the year — preferably something they were not immediately connected to. Here is what they said.


"I was incredibly inspired by FEmn Fest and the self-described 'boss women' who willed a new festival into being in just a matter of months. I discovered new musicians and grooved to old favorites, ate amazing tacos from a woman-owned business, got my tarot read and my consciousness raised. Above all, what stuck with me was the empowering, celebratory 'We're all in this together' vibe."

CHRISTINE DEAN is music director at KUMD-FM. FEmn Fest, a first-year festival, featured female-identifying artists, speakers and vendors. It was held in September at and around Sacred Heart Music Center.


"My favorite event — and something I've tried to attend every year since moving here — was the Free Range Film Festival. The films were great, the people are nice, and you can't beat watching movies in an old barn. It's a bit of a drive but well worth the trip."

MATT DRESSEL is a local filmmaker who won the IFP Screenwriting Residency Competition in March with his script for "The Other Man." He is also a host of the Duluth CW's "Night at the Movies." The Free Range Film Festival is held annually at the end of July in a more-than 100 year old barn in Wrenshall.


"I think my favorite A&E event this year would be visiting SolveEnt's new location above Blacklist. Their space is beautiful, and I had a chance to go play their escape room called Vanishing Act this (past) spring with a few friends. We had so much fun! The room was great, designed well, and the puzzles and magic were really creative. It's a super fun night out with friends."

KATY HELBACKA staged her final production as the director of Renegade Theater Company. "Flaming Guns of the Purple Sage" by Jane Martin played in October at Teatro Zuccone. SolveEnt's moved into a new space earlier this year.


"For the sheer visual wallop of his photography, my choice is Kip Praslowicz's 'Broken Duluth' photo essay at the Red Herring Lounge last March. Kip's carefully composed photos of the flood damage in Duluth in 2012 have the quality to lure you in with their apparently familiar settings, then jolt you with one or more details totally transforming the scenes from normal reportage to become both eerily unsettling and incongruously beautiful all at the same time. I call the work Kip's 'velvet hammer.'

KAY KURT, who creates larger-than-life paintings of candy, had a show at Albertz Benda, a gallery in New York City last winter and was featured in the New York Times. Praslowicz is a local photographer whose exhibition was at the Red Herring Lounge through March.


"Dave Simonett and Charlie Parr played at the Sacred Heart Music Center. It was my first concert at that venue and it was magical. A close second was Sarah Brokke's exhibition at the 315 Gallery in the Washington Center."

PAUL LAJEUNESSE was the artist in residence at the Duluth Art Institute, which included creating a mural in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. Charlie Parr and Dave Simonett played Sacred Heart Music Center in early September before the release of Parr's album "Dog." Brokke's exhibition was also in early September.


"Day of the Dead. It's a beautiful expression of living and dying. An honoring of those lost, a reminder of our human frailty and a big celebration calling us to live out loud. You can participate in a really active capacity or as a simple bystander. Either way, you go home reminded you live your life once. Make it count."

EMILY LARSON is the mayor of Duluth and keeps an active social schedule. The 10th annual All Souls Night event, created by Mary Plaster, was in early November at the Duluth Depot. As usual, it included poetry, music, tributes to the dead and a hopeful look to the future.


"My favorite event of 2017 was catching The Dames at Pizza Luce with my daughter Zoe. The last time the two of us saw them play live, Zoe was 5. She's 21 now. It was like a true rock reunion show where we ran into people we have not hung out with in over a decade. The show was on April Fool's Day and I remember thinking they better not be pulling our chains with this show announcement. Seeing Tony Bennett, Rusty Johnson and Mat Milinkovich on stage together is something I never thought I would see again. I skipped earplugs. My ears rang for four days, and I loved every minute of it."

MELISSA LATOUR is the director of Homegrown Music Festival. The Dames play a reunion show on April 1 at Pizza Luce — and have continued to crop up here and there.


"Greg Cougar Conley at the Red Herring this year for Homegrown. Greg is an amazing songwriter and has consistently been a member of my favorite local bands since I was 16 years old. He makes me want to leave my house to see live music and reminds me why I play it myself."

MAT MILINKOVICH and his Dames bandmates reunited for a few shows after a more than 10-year hiatus. Greg Conley played a solo set during the annual Homegrown Music Festival.


"This town just killed 2017 ... Sarah Brokke's show "Reliquaries of Sacred Feminine" rocked my world. What Emily and Glenn (Swanson) have done with jazz at the Oldenburg House is an intimately special room of life. Adeline (Wright's) Gag Me With a Spoon continuously delights me to girly giggles.

But the most magical-filled Art Night of 2017 was stumbling between Shaunna Heckman's finest moments (IMO) for Blacklist — bringing in The Pines; up to Bob Monahan's Har Mar (Superstar) show at the Red Herring Lounge. An incomparably wondrous musical evening."

ABIGAIL MLINAR was one of the creators of FEmn Fest. The Pines played Blacklist and Har Mar Superstar played at the Red Herring Lounge in mid-August. Brokke's exhibition opened in September at 315 Gallery; Emily and Glenn Swanson have been hosting monthly jazz shows at their Carlton-based bed and breakfast.


"'Reservation Pop' by Wendy Red Star at the Duluth Art Institute. This compelling photography exhibition lured the viewer with bright pop art colors and strong simple compositions. When close enough, a much different and serious tone emerged with the realization that we are viewing the reality of the government's imposed poverty on the Crow Reservation in Montana. Meticulously cut out photos of abandoned cars and colorful government supplied rez houses are matched with and adhered to the lovely sateen fabrics used in ceremonial dress. This pairing provided a loving glimpse of the people living in those houses."

KAREN NEASE and her husband opened the Joseph Nease Gallery in October in downtown Duluth. The "Reservation Pop" exhibition opened at the Duluth Art Institute in September.


"My favorite A&E event of 2017 was a particular performance during Ides of March. The makeshift band included Nate Case, Andy Olmstead and Jake Paulsrud from Dirty Horse, Alex Piazza and Peter Knutson from Big Wave Dave & The Ripples, plus a little help from their friends John Reinhart and Sarah Krueger. They were a Joe Cocker cover band performing at Pizza Luce for the night as Nacho Cocker, with Case taking lead vocals.

The guy went gangbusters. He grew out his hair — sideburns included — wet it down, and was on stage in an American flag T-shirt reminiscent of the famous red, white, blue and yellow Woodstock attire.

Their voices are already similar and his get-up would have shown sufficient commitment to the role, but he belted an entire set of rabble-rousing greatest hits to a packed house while feigning Cocker's iconic shaking, cringing and flailing mannerisms, channeling him in all his glory, and with impeccable nuance and mic-control.

I'm not exaggerating when I say it was one of the best shows I've ever seen. The point of Ides is to cover your favorite band accurately, and I've seen some epic performances, but I've always wanted to see Joe Cocker and now I don't need to."

MIKE NOVITZKI hosts The Duluth Local Show on The Current. Ides of March is an annual, multi-weekend, multi-venue concert series. Nate Case is in the Twin Cities-based band The Lowland Lakers.


"Sitting in the audience of Gag Me With a Spoon, the live storytelling event, brainchild of Adeline Wright, is a weird kind of ecstacy — the kind that poet Mary Oliver talks about: "Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it." To find bliss, gather round this sacred fire, sip a local brew and listen."

SARAH BAMFORD SEIDELMANN published her memoir "Swimming with Elephants: My Unexpected Pilgrimage from Physician to Healer" in October. Gag Me With a Spoon is a monthly Moth-style storytelling, journal-sharing event held at Blacklist.