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Howling Moon starts to find its groove at Bayfront Festival Park

Preston Gunderson peforms with his band during the Howling Moon Music Festival at Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth on Friday afternoon. The two-day music festival concludes today. (Clint Austin / / 2
Sarah Krueger smiles while performing during the Howling Moon Music Festival at Bayfront Festival Park in Duluth on Friday afternoon. The two-day music festival concludes today. (Clint Austin / / 2

Right around early evening, pockets of people started to dance: some knee bops here, a sway there, nods to the beat.

The brothers Alexy — Teague and Ian — plugged in, dug out harmonicas and played a mix of old and new in a way that showed off the band’s seasoned status in the festival circuit.

The Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank marked a shift in the vibe at Howling Moon.

What had, until then, been a hazy, lazy day of music in the park seemed poised for takeoff. The crowd had been well-behaved and thin, maybe because of the festival’s overlap with regular business hours.

About 3 p.m., boats started dropping anchor in the bay. Around early evening, twosomes began cresting the hill and dropping into the park.

And the way the Hobo Nephews were going, surely there would be at least one hula hoop sighting by the time jam band The Big Wu took the stage.

Howling Moon Music Festival, Twin Ports Nightlife’s first-time, mostly roots lineup kicked off Friday afternoon at Bayfront Festival Park. The Guess Who was scheduled to headline the first night of the two-day festival.

The music continues today, starting at 11 a.m. with Old Knifey’s easy-breezy alt-country booze tunes and continues through the afternoon with Fuzzy Ellis, Tin Can Gin, The Fontanelles, Jeremy Messersmith, The BoDeans, Nicholas David and Brandi Carlile.  

A Range-reared musician with a bluesy pop aesthetic opened the festival in the early afternoon. Preston Gunderson played some originals and reimagined an eclectic mix of covers in front of a few dozen early arrivers.

Gunderson, fronting a five-man band, had no problem giving a meager audience full-house treatment.  

He bantered. He thanked the organizers. He asked everyone to stick around for Sarah Krueger’s set.

The singer-songwriter, who might study from the John Mayer syllabus, played a blues-y set that included a smoky lounge makeover of The White Stripes “Seven Nation Army.” He gave “Ain’t No Sunshine” all the time in the world, stretching it to a version that ran closer to Aaron Neville than Bill Withers.

Sarah Krueger started her bare-bones set — just the singer-songwriter and an acoustic guitar — with “Ships and Trees” from her 2011 album “Dancing with Phantoms.”

“It feels so good to sing out in the open like this,” she said from the middle of the stage.

She followed up with her wrenching sway-along “Grace.”

In true mix-and-match, band-swap festival fashion, Krueger brought Nate Case of The 4onthefloor on stage to play alongside and harmonize on the song “Running.”

The Lowest Pair is a banjo-plucking, cute-harmonizing duo that splits its loyalties between Washington and Minneapolis — but is establishing its Duluth connections.

The band of Kendl Winter and Palmer T. Lee recently released “36¢,” which was produced by Dave Simonett of Trampled By Turtles. The band said it planned to record this week at Sacred Heart Music Center.

And they were fresh from sharing a stage with Charlie Parr.

The Lowest Pair played an intimate set that included a take on “Oh Suzanna” that appears on its album.

Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank took the stage like old pros and gave the festival a jolt that leaned to the rock-ish side of folk.

The 4onthefloor and the Big Wu also were scheduled to perform before headliners The Guess Who.