According to the lore, Spirit Valley Days started in the 1970s as a reunion-slash-celebration of all things West Duluth. Decades later, it maintains its strong neighborhood vibes.
Consider the admission to Friday night’s first-time pub crawl: Those who wear Denfeld High School apparel, or a costume, get discounted tickets.
“It’s a way for the people who are West Duluthians to know that once a year, they can find their old friends and family and grouping of people,” said Susan Coen, president of the West Duluth Business Group, which organizers the multi-day, multi-faceted event.
Spirit Valley Days starts at 4 p.m. Thursday at Mr. D’s with the annual Miss West Duluth Pageant, and the finale starts at 4 p.m. Saturday with the Kyle Smiley Memorial Car Show. In between: Thursday’s parade, Friday’s concert at Memorial Park and the pub crawl, and Saturday’s midday block party.
Coen isn’t originally from the neighborhood, but might as well be. She opened her business — she’s a State Farm Insurance Agent — on Grand Avenue in the 1990s and said the tight community reminded her of growing up in Marble, Minn.
She said that in the past 28 years that she has been involved with Spirit Valley Days, it has grown into a broader event.
“There is something for kids, something honoring our legion and veterans, our youth, the West Duluth queen and princess,” she said. “It’s an all-around event that people of all ages can come out and enjoy. I’ve seen people from all over town — it’s not just West Duluth people that come.”
In past years, one of the main events has been the Spirit Valley Street Dance, which traded out through-traffic on Ramsey Street in favor of, for instance, highly-costumed arena-style party bands Hairball or Pop Rocks. The pageantry continues — in a new location. This year, the show moves to Memorial Park, where Rockstar Roadshow, a Chicago-based band, will channel Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Aerosmith and Van Halen.
Wristbands are $15 with the money going to the Valley Youth Center — which has after-school and summer programming for West Duluth kids.
Lou Campbell, the promoter behind Tribute Fest — a late-August, multi-day festival at Bayfront Festival Park — was charged with finding the talent and described Rockstar Roadshow as “Hairball-esque.” He couldn’t resist. Organizers had him as soon as he found out it was a fundraiser for the youth center.
Campbell doesn’t live in West Duluth, but he has been to enough street dances to know what makes the neighborhood sing.
“The people in West Duluth, they love local bands,” he said. “They love country, and they love rock and roll.”
As for local: This is the first year of the Pub Crawl, which will feature local musicians — including surf-rockers the Fractals, young tribute rockers Born Too Late, and folk singer-songwriter Teague Alexy and at Mr. D’s, Kom-on-Inn, Gopher Lounge, Rustic Bar and Wussow’s Concert Cafe.
Other changes include the Miss West Duluth Pageant, which is now before the parade, and the car show, which is on Saturday night.
Spirit Valley Days, in 2009, was held two weeks early to avoid overlap with a visit from the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, according to a story from the News Tribune. More than 1,000 members were expected in Carlton and St. Louis counties, and then-Duluth police chief Gordon Ramsey said they wouldn’t be issuing special event permits during that period.
Another touch of Spirit Valley Days lore: Former organizer David Stromgren sent the “Today” show a Spirit Valley Days T-shirt. Then-weatherman Willard Scott mentioned the festival on-air.
Spirit Valley Days schedule
4 p.m. Miss West Duluth Pageant at Mr. D’s
6 p.m. Parade, starts at Grand Avenue and 59th Avenue West
8 a.m.-noon. Pancake breakfast at American Legion
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Happy Zoo Day to You, cake/music at the Lake Superior Zoo, regular zoo admission
4-6 p.m. Quarry Park ribbon cutting
6 p.m. Pub Crawl at Gopher Lounge, Rustic Bar, Kom-on-Inn, Mr. D’s, Wussow’s Concert Cafe, $7 wristband or $3 cover
6 p.m. Valley Youth Center Fundraiser Concert, Memorial Park, $10 in advance at Wussow's Concert Cafe, Valley Youth Center or rockingthepark.com
9 a.m. Family yoga in the park, Memorial Park
9-11 a.m. Western Garden Tour
10 a.m.-3 p.m. Big Community Block Party with climbing wall, petting zoo, artisans and more
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Legion Family Garage Sale
4-7 p.m. Kyle Smiley Memorial Car Show