Best bets: Shows that didn't happen and TikTok

This week's top picks in local arts and entertainment.

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Remembering Diffie

Among the early celebrity casualties of COVID-19 was a musician who was among the first scheduled to play Bayfront Festival Park this summer. In a world without pandemics, Joe Diffie, Clare Dunn, Whiskey Trail and Drew Baldridge would’ve been on stage this weekend.

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Joe Diffie will play July 24 at Bayfront Festival Park. (Photo from Facebook)

Diffie was 61 on March 29 when he died of complications due to COVID-19. The 1990s country star who played it traditional-like is best known for songs like “Pickup Man,” “John Deere Green” and “Third Rock from the Sun.” In the weeks after his death, album sales soared — specifically “16 Biggest Hits.”

Consider a country deep dive that starts with Diffie and segues into the other up-and-comers who were scheduled to share the stage. Clare Dunn, for instance, released the album “Honestly” in June.


The West Theater in Duluth will be reopening Friday with some restrictions. (Melinda Lavine /

Now you can see movies at theaters …

There is movement in the world of local cinema. West Theate r, a spacious old-fashioned theater, opened with a mix of classics and the sort of movies that were in the theaters when theaters closed. There is limited seating, masks are required (except when eating or drinking) and there will be buffer seats between parties. Temperatures will be taken at the door, and they are promising thorough cleanings of the space.

Meanwhile, Zinema 2 is offering the chance to rent out the theater to screen a favorite with friends. Cost depends on the size of the group. Information is available at Zinema 2’s Facebook page.

The Greater Downtown Council's Movies in the Park(ing) Lot at the DECC sold out with 130 vehicles Friday, July 17. (Tyler Schank /

… or watch them from the parking lot

The Greater Downtown Council's cleverly re-imagined shift from Movies in the Park to the distancing-friendly Movies in the Parking Lot returns for a second week at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. Tickets are $10 per carload, and movie-goers will see a family-friendly movie on a big screen from the sneeze-guarded safety of a car. There are also concessions available for purchase.

Last weekend's season-opening screening of "Dolittle" sold out with 130 cars.


Friday's movie is "A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood," the story of Fred Rogers, played by Tom Hanks. The movie starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are available at the Greater Downtown Council's website .

Drive By Truckers (photo from Facebook)

Get your DBT fill

Drive-By Truckers seemingly adapted quickly and well to online performances. The oft-touring alt-country band won’t be playing Big Top Chautauqua near Bayfield this week, as they were originally scheduled. But there are ways to get a DBT fix. Band members have been offering up virtual concerts with low ticket prices — for instance Jay Gonzalez is offering up a 1960s and 1970s covers request show for $10 on July 27).

The band released “The Unraveling” in January — a strong collection of social commentary about things like, say, “Thoughts and Prayers.” On their bandcamp page, they have a few live recordings from earlier this year. Among the treasures, the song “Quarantine Together” (“I’m not getting any younger/ might as well quarantine together”) that was written in quarantine, then passed around to the band members to contribute parts.

James G (photo courtesy of James G)

Always on wheels

A former Duluth musician potentially better known for his Heelys than his hip-hop — but both were done in a pretty whimsical way — has developed a massive TikTok following. James G, who worked at the Music Resource Center, does comedy parkour on shoes with wheels. He might, for instance, cruise through a parking lot and jump over medians and segue into fancy-ish footwork, to a Will Smith soundtrack. He’s also released a song about his one-man phenomenon: “Toes Up.” He’s got more than 44,000 followers. Check him out @jamesmakesmusic .

Christa Lawler is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.
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