January: Boom, Bammer
In a rock ‘n’ roll trailer of Maria Bamford’s upcoming comedy special, the Duluth-raised comedian asks, from in front of a red curtain, “Have you ever looked at your life and thought ‘Uh oh. This isn’t temporary.’” Cue the drums, guitar. “Weakness is the Brand,” a title and a punchline within the 1-hour-plus set, will be released by Comedy Dynamics on Jan. 28 on Apple TV, Vimeo, Amazon Prime and more. Bamford, who is known for her fresh takes on mental illness and other truths of being human, last released “Old Baby” on Netflix in 2017. Her practice of meeting up one-on-one with fans who listen to her set in exchange for treats is featured in this week’s New Yorker magazine.
Maria Bamford’s “Weakness is the Brand” will be released on Jan. 28.
“The Arsonists” is a darkly comedic tale of a businessman who is dubious about the fires blazing around him, but at the same time is swayed into letting a stranger spend the night in his attic. Soon his attic is filled with flammable things. This play, written by Max Frisch in the early 1940s, is billed as social commentary.
“The Arsonists plays at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday Feb. 20-29 at The Underground.
March: Wilco madness
Years ago, we had a "real Wilco" thing and "seemingly real Wilco" thing. The Chicago-based band, who are friends with Low, played one of those memorable shows at Bayfront Festival Park that you either saw or pretended to see, and the next thing you know, then-mayor Don Ness was handing over the key to the city. Then we got in this little tug-o’-war with Madison about which city more seriously considered Wilco an honorary local band. It was, oof. Anyway, that was a long time ago, and now they’re coming back.
Wilco plays March 10 at Symphony Hall.
Pace yourself, friends. Homegrown Music Festival is eight days of music, mayhem and the spontaneous side shows that pop up along the way. This 20-plus-year festival — it started as a modest birthday party for Scott “Starfire” Lunt — will have nearly 200 bands with local ties playing sets at venues in Duluth and Superior. And if you listen closely to the buzz around you, you might end up at an unsanctioned bit of oddity — whether it's a post-kickball BBQ or a secret show listed nowhere near the official schedule.
Homegrown Music Festival is April 26-May 3 at venues in Duluth and Superior.
May: Squeeze box heroes
The annual Chmielewski Polka Fest, which is in its 42nd year, is a multi-day collection of polka bands and the well-dressed dancers who fancy them — a scene that has the Chmielewski Funtime Band at its center. Florian Chmielewski and his crew include generation upon generation of musicians, storied squeezeboxes and a bunch of big ol’ smiles.
Chmielewski Polka Fest runs May 15-17 at Grand Casino Hinckley.
June: 'Jonah' premieres
For the Minnesota theater heads: “Jonah and the Whale,” a Minnesota-made bluegrass musical that premiered in 2014 at the Guthrie Theater’s Dowling Studio — to positive reviews — is a different look at the biblical tale. The story of faith even has a Mississippi River backdrop, and it has ties to Renegade Theater Company: Blake Thomas of Take it With You podcast co-wrote the music for the show (with David Darrow, book by Tyler Mills) that continues to pop up around the country. (And, in its premiere, it featured local artist Nick Gosen’s design work and actors with ties to the University of Minnesota Duluth.)
The Pioneer Press said of the original production: “It’s a simple story, complemented by pretty, often catchy songs and a plainspoken presentation style that’s likely to remind theatergoers of Thornton Wilder’s 'Our Town' (the show’s theme, which boils down to, “Even in tragedy, there is beauty in life,” also recalls Wilder.”
“Jonah and the Whale” plays June 12-14, June 18-21 and June 25-27 at Teatro Zuccone, 222 E. Superior St.
July: At the 'Front
It’s about this time of the summer that Bayfront Festival Park really blasts off — maybe even literally. Fourth Fest, wherein the humans pack into the park for free music and fireworks, is already on the calendar. So is the annual Fourth of July Eve show by the tribute band Hairball. The Avett Brothers play Duluth’s outdoor stage for the first time (July 5), Bayfront Reggae and World Music Festival returns (July 18) and so does Honor the Earth (July 19). Taste of Duluth is July 25. Traditionally, Trampled By Turtles also plays Bayfront in July — and there is still space available on July 11, though nothing has been announced yet.
August: Pride Fest
The Underground has, in recent years, hosted a production of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” during Duluth Superior Pride. This year, there is a space-holder on the theater’s schedule. “Continuing the tradition of bringing a special story to our stage during the Duluth Superior Pride Festival weekend. Check back for updates.” What will it be?
Duluth Superior Pride Festival performance TBA Aug. 27-29 at The Underground, 506 W. Michigan St.
September: Get outside
Make no indoor plans. Gorgeousness-wise, this is among the best months in our city. So go. Tramp through the woods. Take your last dips. Stare at trees, take in a horizon while it’s all vibrant and hyper-colored. Wear a T-shirt but tie a sweatshirt around your waist. Make a bonfire, for the love.
October: Scares a'float
The William A. Irvin has spent more than a year at Fraser Shipyards, a bay away from its parking spot at the Minnesota Slip. The retired ore ship returned in October 2019, but not in time for Halloween — when the floating museum becomes a freight of frights. Here it is January, and the William A. Irvin is already promising a return of the Haunted Ship in 2020. Fasten your Jason masks.
November: Light it up
Bentleyville added more national accolades in 2019 — including landing on prime time. The Tour of Lights was featured on the ABC reality competition “The Great Christmas Light Fight” in December. It didn’t win the grand prize, big bucks and a trophy, but it earned plenty of eyeballs. Bentleyville, which is free, opens Nov. 21, 2020. Expect vistas, Santa, cookies, hot chocolate and good cheer.
December: 'Christmas City'
Duluth has literally been dubbed “Christmas City.” ’Tis the season to skate the rinks, sled the bumps, ski the trails, build the ice things, huddle with your family over a pot of potato soup while the snow buries you into place for a week. Also: The stages really light up with family-friendly shows, elf tales, nutcrackers gone rogue. Stay tuned.