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Blush: A cooperatively-run micro-venue and bar opens in downtown Duluth

Push past sweaty, beer-soaked friends down the stairs of a well-loved rental and listen to your night unfold in power chords and swinging limbs. Feels like home, right? Now take that ethic and aesthetic aboveground and add a little polish. That's...

t110217 --- Clint Austin --- 110917.F.DNT.BLUSH.C05 --- Dean Miller of Duluth plays music during a dance party Friday night at Blush, a cooperatively-run micro-venue and bar in downtown Duluth, that offers diverse and inclusive art and music to the community.--- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com
Dean Miller of Duluth plays music during a dance party Friday night at Blush, a cooperatively-run micro-venue and bar in downtown Duluth, that offers diverse and inclusive art and music to the community.--- Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com

 

Push past sweaty, beer-soaked friends down the stairs of a well-loved rental and listen to your night unfold in power chords and swinging limbs.

Feels like home, right?

Now take that ethic and aesthetic aboveground and add a little polish. That's Blush, the Duluth DIY scene's new home away from home.

"It's almost like you're going to a house show, but they have a full bar and usually some really great travelling acts," said Daniel Norgard.

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"And it's legal," Micah Tigner added.

Norgard and Tigner are two of the seven young owners of Blush, a cooperative micro-venue, art gallery and bar that opened this August at 18 N. First Ave. W. in Duluth. With a focus on inclusivity, community and advocacy, Blush is a springboard for underrepresented artists on what may be their first stage - in front of 46 people at a time.

 

The opener

The owners say the typical weekend show could see a few local bands of varying degrees of fame with an upstart out-of-town act or two - something Duluth's larger venues might not be able to offer.

"We're the foot-in-the-door bar," Norgard said with a laugh. "We're just hoping to collaborate with artists from the Twin Ports area or beyond that maybe haven't had a chance to play venues and see what that feels like."

It's different, certainly, than signing up for an open mic slot or playing a friend's basement or birthday or bar mitzvah. Or for those getting art on gallery walls for the first time, there might be some unforeseen legwork.

Blush gives these up-and-comers a leg-up while also holding the door open for everyday patrons to pass through and experience something both new and comfortable. Tigner also stressed that the small venue has a big commitment to safety.

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"When people come in here and they are in an underrepresented group, if something happens someone is going to speak up for them - and it's altogether less likely going to happen here," he said.

While punk had been the musical focus from the beginning, electronica and acoustic and noise rock acts have also packed the narrow halls of the restored old storefront, and drink specials - don't miss the PBR and Jameson Happy Meal - have enticed many inside on quiet nights as well.

"Word of mouth is working out pretty well," Tigner said. "There was a bit of a mystique and buzz that was building before we opened, with all the uncertainty we had in the beginning."

"It was not an intentional thing, we literally just did not know what it was going to be right away," Norgard said.

 

The headliner

Blush was originally intended for the space that housed the now defunct Studio 15, but when that fell through and the space on First Avenue West was discovered, the collective of artists got to work.

The seven - Tigner, Norgard, Nedwyn Gufflyr, Ezra Hagstrom, Amy Hazel, Michael Preston and Sammi Williams - got a great deal of outside help as they built the bar and rehabbed the space this summer. As the owners, who range in age from 22 to 26, didn't have a business background, community support and the ability to adapt to different city requirements and other hurdles were key.

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"Most of us are still making music and also working full-time jobs in addition to working here full time," Norgard said. "The weeks are long and worth it."

Beyond music and art, the venue has also hosted clothing sales, fundraisers for groups like Planned Parenthood, with eyes toward more business partnerships with the likes of the Electric Fetus and community partnerships with neighbors like Life House across the street.

"Weekdays it's hard to get people in. We're trying to get creative," Norgard said.

All-ages shows will occasionally pop up on Sundays - when the bar can't serve anyway - but for the most part Blush will be 18-plus, which still helps fill the gap left by so many 21-plus venues.

There's bound to be something for every taste, though not every night is going to fit every palate. No sweat, Tigner said - all the better to help out their neighbors.

"From here you're in a prime position to go do anything else downtown."

 

Blush is typically open 4 p.m to midnight Tuesday through Thursday and 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Artists and bands can reach the venue on Facebook or through akrausellc@gmail.com .

Upcoming shows:

--Friday, 9 p.m., $5, 18+: We Should Have Been DJs (Madison, Wis., garage rock), Once a Month (Madison rock) and local openers TBA

--Monday, 9 p.m., $5, 18+: Ada Babar (Philadelphia experimental) and B-_ank (Nashville experimental) with local ambient Anatomy of Ruminants

--Tuesday, 9 p.m., $5, 18+: Middle Children (Indiana indie) with local punks Hard Feelings and post-punks Chase Down Blue

--Nov. 17, 9 p.m., $5, 18+: The Chinchees (Minneapolis punk-pop) and Unwelcome Guest (New York folk-punk) with local rocker Amy Hazel

Brooks Johnson was an enterprise/investigative reporter and business columnist at the Duluth News Tribune from 2016 to 2019.
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