Mark Nicklawske, For the News Tribune
Classic rock doesn't have to be face-melting guitar, booming bass and five-minute drum solos. There might be something sophisticated, complicated and, well, classical in the KQDS playlist, right? A new-look Foreigner plowed its heavy rock catalog head-on into an 18-piece orchestra for nearly two hours Wednesday night at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center's Symphony Hall. The show, one of just nine stops in the United States, turned out to be a unique and highly entertaining night of music for the nearly sold out crowd. Call the show a rockestra.
Troy Maxson was a larger-than-life former baseball star who wanted to break the Big League color barrier, but the timing wasn’t right. Instead, he settles for a family and becoming the first black garbage truck driver in Pittsburgh. While Maxon could hit a fastball better than raise two sons or stay faithful to his wife, he manages to instill pride, hope and hard work in the people who walk through his backyard gates.
It’s amazing how a small auxiliary stage at the back of a dark arena can turn another well choreographed but routine big-time county show into something special. Seven songs into its 90-minute performance, Nashville hit-makers Little Big Town abandoned the big stage and its four-piece band and paraded through the audience to a round, rotating stage at the north end of Amsoil Arena. The move turned the show like a Jet Ski dodging a heavy wake.
Mark Olson led the influential country rock band The Jayhawks through the '80s and '90s but his most recent music has grown in a more worldly and psychedelic direction. Olson, a Minnesota native, and his Norwegian wife Ingunn Ringvold performed an intimate 80-minute, 17-song set Wednesday night at the Red Herring Lounge in Duluth. The performance mixed a handful of classic Olson-penned Jayhawks songs with a heavy helping of music recorded in the last three years with Ringvold in the California desert.
John Prine made his fame writing songs about drug addicted veterans, the devastation of coal mining and Christmas in prison, so it was uplifting when he opened his Symphony Hall performance Saturday night in Duluth with something a little lighter. Prine kicked things off with four love songs — a couple rollicking and a couple melancholy — all four a direct hit to the heart.
Rock icon Bob Dylan has never played the Bayfront Blues Festival but his spirit usually makes an appearance or two during the annual event. On a gray Sunday afternoon, it was Jackson, Miss. blues vet Zac Harmon who channeled the Nobel Prize-winning songwriter in the shadow of his Duluth birthplace.
The leisure boat count was high on the water behind the Bayfront Blues Festival main stage Saturday afternoon. More than 25 watercraft bobbed in the sunshine: sailboats, a couple yachts, a large pontoon loaded with people and a speedboat flashing a blue stripe with a flotilla of women relaxing behind it on air mattresses. "One of those loungers would be nice right now," said Barb Williamson, standing on a shoreside fishing pier. "Isn't this great?"
Chris Stapleton seems like the kind of guy who could drive a four-wheel-drive pickup to a poetry reading or Volkswagen microbus to a tractor pull and somehow make friends with everybody at both places. His music feels genuine and honest no matter the genre: blues, jam band, hard rock and, of course, country: big-booted, foot-stompin’, a-whiskey-glass-as-big-as-Lake-Superior country music.
Most bands spend years on the road playing dimly lit bars and empty gymnasiums before they jump from ignored music-festival openers to topping a five-band bill on the big stage. Not Hippo Campus.
Splashy tent shows tied to big summer events often attract worn out, veteran rock bands more than willing to ignore their surroundings, lock the music machine on cruise control, and play a standard casino gig. The scenario was ripe to repeat itself as '90s alt-rock band Everclear was booked to headline the pre-marathon Rock the Big Top outside Grandma's Saloon and Grill in Canal Park Friday night. The group was even touring a nostalgic anniversary show with a set list featuring all the music from its platinum 1997 album "So Much For the Afterglow."