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Cloud Cult headlining sold-out NorShor concert to support youth recording studio

The April 20 concert will help fund a Life House effort to build a Duluth space for youth to express themselves musically.

Cloud Cult
Craig Minowa, center, performs with Cloud Cult.
Contributed / Erik Hess
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DULUTH — "The more kids have access to resources that help them be creative, through music and through art," said Craig Minowa, "the more they have access to one of the most powerful medicines that we as humans have."

Minowa's band, Cloud Cult, are headlining a sold-out Wednesday concert at the NorShor Theatre, with all revenues going to support the development of a Duluth recording studio for youth served by local nonprofit Life House. That organization describes its mission as being "to reconnect homeless and street youth to their dreams."

"Imagination is so important, and oftentimes something that gets stripped away from our young folks at an early age," Life House Executive Director Jordon Johnson said. The new recording studio is part of a storefront space called The Imaginarium that Life House maintains at 16 N. First Ave. W., around the corner from its 102 W. First St. headquarters.

The Duluth Playhouse cited a rent increase at the Depot and a desire to focus its operations in the city's Historic Arts and Theater District.

"The focus has been specifically around building the (space) out to deepen our work, and the healing aspect of working with our youth and our young families," Johnson continued. "We know how to do crisis intervention and crisis work really well, and so how do we create a space, and how are we building out the space, to really ... elevate the voices, and the stories our young people have to share?"

"Even before the pandemic, there's been an ever increasing need for more services for that population," Arrowhead Health Alliance Director Ric Schafer said about youth mental health. "The last two years (have only) put a sharper focus on that."

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The Cloud Cult show is the third in a series of Mental Health Action Concerts presented by the Arrowhead Health Alliance and LetsTalkMN.com, a website that organization developed in 2018 as a one-stop information source for people experiencing mental health crises. The first concert, in 2018, featured artists including Charlie Parr and Gaelynn Lea; the second was in 2019 with Them Coulee Boys, among others.

Cloud Cult were initially announced as headliners for the third concert in 2020. That show was canceled due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As it happens, the substance of the band's new album, "Metamorphosis" (2022), proved fitting for the theme of the rescheduled concert.

"Historically speaking, our benefit shows in Duluth have been for environmental causes," said Minowa.

"Metamorphosis" initially took an environmental perspective as well, but over the course of the pandemic, Minowa explained, "the album's focus really kind of shifted to individual change and taking the time to look at some critical issues that that can keep us from making positive change on a larger level, like addiction and anxiety and depression."

A woman wearing elaborate makeup and a white fur-collared wool coat looks to her right contemplatively, as shadows in thin vertical lines fall across her face.
ELSKA, an artist originally from Duluth, will perform on a bill with Cloud Cult at the NorShor Theatre on Wednesday.
Contributed / ELSKA

Singer-songwriter Elsa Lee, who performs as ELSKA, will open the show at the NorShor. "Mental health is health," said Lee. "People say that all the time, and I really do think that's true. So if we can get people together and have these conversations about it, that is time well spent."

Minowa said he and his bandmates were impressed by ELSKA's lyrics, which also address topics related to mental health. "It's relatively easy to get up on stage trying to appear cool," he said. "It's a whole other thing to sit down and write lyrics that can maybe change people."

Though Lee was born and raised in Duluth, the artist — who's currently based in Minneapolis — has never played the NorShor. "I'm very excited to be able to take the stage there," she said. "A hometown return is always a fun one."

Cloud Cult, who currently operate out of a rural studio in Wisconsin, started in Duluth in the 1990s. Originally a Minowa solo project, the band grew to encompass additional artists, including his wife, Connie, a painter who creates work live onstage during Cloud Cult performances.

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"We lived up there with our our first son, Kaidin," said Minowa. Kaidin died in his sleep at age 2, in 2002. "He's got a bench down there on the Lakewalk that the community was really kind to put together, and his ashes are in the lake there," Minowa said.

"We lived in the outskirts of Duluth, then, for another decade or so," Minowa continued. "When we felt strong enough to have a family again, we decided to move a little bit further south, which is closer to both my my family and my wife's family. ... But any chance we get to (travel) up to Lake Superior feels like coming home and feels like a connection to our son and his spirit."

Johnson, of Life House, said he hopes the new recording studio will not only allow community youth to express themselves musically, but also provide technical skills in music production and engineering. "Once we have this (facility) built," said Johnson, "we will invite in artists and musicians. I think there's a lot of musicians and artists in the area who'd love to help and contribute, supporting people."

Schaefer said representatives from the Leadership Duluth program suggested that the Arrowhead Health Alliance designate the Life House recording studio as beneficiary of the first concert in the revived benefit series. "Music supporting music," he said. "It just seemed like a natural fit."

Storefront with blue signage: LH 30
Life House's Imaginarium space at 16 N. First Ave. W., Duluth, where a recording studio is planned.
Jay Gabler / Duluth News Tribune

Tickets to the Mental Health Action Concert are no longer available, according to the NorShor box office.

For more information about these organizations and their work, see lifehouseduluth.org and arrowheadhealthalliance.org.

For more on the music of the artists referenced here, see cloudcult.com and hielska.com.

For information on mental health crisis services, see LetsTalkMN.com.

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This story was updated at 9:30 a.m. April 18 to correct an error in the day of the week the Cloud Cult concert is taking place. It was originally posted at 7:01 a.m. April 18. The News Tribune regrets the error.

Related Topics: MUSICDULUTHMENTAL HEALTH
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 jgabler@duluthnews.com or 218-279-5536.
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