Best Bets: Thomas the Tank Engine chugs into town

Find something to do this weekend in the Northland.

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Thomas the Tank Engine draws crowds every time he rolls into Duluth.
Bob King / File / Duluth News Tribune
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The Festival of Sail, moving this year to Two Harbors, is the main event this weekend in the Northland. Here are six more picks for fun and fascination.

Thomas the Tank Engine at the Depot

Thomas the Tank Engine first gained life as a character in a 1940s British book series. Today, the North Shore Scenic Railroad claims with ample justification, the anthropomorphic locomotive is "the most popular steam engine in the world." He's become an annual visitor to Duluth, where kids and parents can see Thomas in life-size glory this weekend and next. Last year, over 18,000 people came out to see Thomas in Duluth — and this year's event, according to a news release, "will be much larger than last year." For details and tickets, see

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The man who's led the Duluth museum for the past 20 years became an unlikely YouTube star telling the stories of all the trains in the St. Louis County Depot.

Emma Jeanne in Canal Park

Indie rocker Emma Jeanne
Emma Jeanne performed at Bayfront Festival Park on July 9.
Dan Williamson / 2022 file / Duluth News Tribune

Duluth indie rocker Emma Jeanne triumphed last month at Bayside Festival Park, opening for Trampled By Turtles after winning the inaugural Palomino Grant. "The love and support we felt from all of the Duluth community and friends who traveled near and far to make it for the show was overwhelming," she wrote on social media after the show. On Thursday, Emma Jeanne takes another lakeside stage: the Lakewalk Galley in Canal Park. The free performance takes place from 6-8 p.m. as part of the venue's "Music at the Boat" series, named for the restored fishing boat that's home to the eatery. For more information, see

Pickup Truck Opera does Mozart

A colorfully dressed ensemble of actors look on as two people stand in the middle, arm in arm, sharing a tender moment.
Cast members from Mixed Precipitation's Pickup Truck Opera production of "The Magic Flute." Front, from left: Joni Griffith as Papagena and Loki Graham as Papageno; back: Rodolfo Nieto, Uchenna Chidozie, Nick Miller, Julia Engle and Corissa Bussian.
Contributed / Jaffa Aharonov

The Pickup Truck Opera, presented by Mixed Precipitation, evolved from the St. Paul company's Picnic Operetta: professional but accessible productions interpolating contemporary pop songs into classic operas. This year, the company's hitting the road with Mozart's "Magic Flute" — an interesting point of comparison for anyone who saw the Northern Lights Music Festival's more traditional production last month. The Pickup production launched on Sunday in Minneapolis, now continuing a several-week statewide tour that stops in Cook on Thursday, Ely on Saturday and Embarrass on Sunday. For information and to make reservations, see


While festival season might be winding down in some places as August arrives, there's still more to come for outdoor festivities along the North Shore and up in Ely.

St. Louis County Fair

FILE St. Louis County Fair.jpg
By the standards of the 137-year-old St. Louis County Fair, this 2008 photo is very recent.
File / Duluth News Tribune

"The entrance to the St. Louis County Fair is easily identifiable by the big 'chicken' sign," the event's website helpfully explains. Taking place in Chisholm from Wednesday through Sunday, "the five best days of summer" include midway games; live entertainment; lots to eat and drink; classic cars and tractor pulls; and, of course, live animal shows and demonstrations. The St. Louis County Fair doesn't go back quite as far as the Minnesota State Fair, but as a Northland tradition since 1885, it has quite a lineage nonetheless. For more information, see

Duluth Playhouse presents 'High School Musical'

Theatrical promotion posters line a wall underneath the Duluth Playhouse logo
A "High School Musical" poster was among those on display at the St. Louis County Depot on Thursday.
Jay Gabler / Duluth News Tribune

Since debuting on the Disney Channel in 2006, "High School Musical" has become a generation-defining franchise, spawning three sequels, the TV series that shot Olivia Rodrigo to stardom, and theatrical adaptations including a version for young performers. The Duluth Playhouse is presenting that iteration as its last production in the Depot's performing arts wing; Family Theatre programming will move to the NorShor for "The SpongeBob Musical," opening in October. For information and tickets, see

Except for a single Underground production at the Depot, the new season sees Playhouse programming entirely presented at the NorShor and nearby Zeitgeist.

Rare Tilda Swinton at Zeitgeist

A white woman of middle age stands between two walls lined with sheets of plastic, holding a brochure and looking pensive.
Tilda Swinton in Apichatpong Weerasethakul's "Memoria."
Contributed / Neon

"Memoria" is the latest feature film from Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, whose many prizes include a Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or for 2010's "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives." Tilda Swinton stars in "Memoria," as "a Scottish woman, who, after hearing a loud ‘bang’ at daybreak, begins experiencing a mysterious sensory syndrome while traversing the jungles of Colombia." Critics have lauded the fantasy drama, but it's not coming to streaming services...ever. It's landing only in select cities, for short theatrical engagements, and at present only a couple are scheduled in the entire Upper Midwest. Duluth cinephiles have lucked out, as "Memoria" is playing at Zeitgeist from Friday through Aug. 11. For details and tickets, see

Arts and entertainment reporter Jay Gabler joined the Duluth News Tribune in February 2022. His previous experience includes eight years as a digital producer at The Current (Minnesota Public Radio), four years as theater critic at Minneapolis alt-weekly City Pages, and six years as arts editor at the Twin Cities Daily Planet. He's a co-founder of pop culture and creative writing blog The Tangential; and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can reach him at or 218-279-5536.
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