Duluth Homegrown Saturday night: A little rain can't stop the rawk
All the Pretty Horses, Bratwurst, Damien, Sadkin, Tarli and a new dance showcase were among the reasons crowds packed downtown venues despite the cold and soggy weather.
DULUTH — Pausing briefly during an incendiary set with her band All the Pretty Horses, Venus de Mars paused for a shout-out to her hometown.
"Duluth!" de Mars cried from the Pizza Luce stage.
Lynette Reini-Grandell, de Mars' spouse of four decades, watched from the bar area at stage left. "Say something about Duluth, honey," said Reini-Grandell encouragingly, though knowing de Mars couldn't hear her over the guitar din.
There wasn't a lot of time for chitchat on Saturday night, but eventually de Mars will publish an entire memoir that will likely have plenty to say about Duluth. (Reini-Grandell has just published her own.) The Minneapolis-based rock star regularly comes back north to play anthemic glam-punk for appreciative listeners — some of whom appreciate the band's legacy, and some of whom just know they've stumbled on a pretty cool group.
De Mars did observe that "it's proper Duluth weather out there," and she wasn't wrong. Cool, damp, and eventually outright rainy, Saturday's weather might have discouraged less committed audiences to stay home and binge "Daisy Jones and the Six." Hundreds of local music fans, though, pulled on their practical footwear and went out to see actual bands in actual bars for the penultimate day of the 2023 Duluth Homegrown Music Festival.
One of this year's hottest Homegrown venues wasn't a bar, and the attendees who consistently packed its 150 chairs largely remained seated. Minnesota Ballet artistic director Karl von Rabeneau watched an eager audience file into Studio Four, the St. Louis County Depot space now run by his company. On Saturday, Studio Four hosted the inaugural Homegrown Movement Showcase, formalizing a place for dance at the festival.
Sea Smoke Aerial Arts kicked things off — as in off the floor and into the air, where Suzy Q and Mauve Stinger used an aerial sling and lyra for charming, dexterous sets. Performers also included The Original Eve (a drag artist); and a member of the Spin Collective whipping a pair of pulsing lights faster than the eye could follow.
Zenith Dance Collective followed with a good-natured set of tap, contemporary dance and ultimately a convergence of cloggers. Each dance was accompanied by live music, with audience members invited onstage for a reflective group dance to Jerree Small's "Follow Me Down," originally recorded by her band Coyote.
Much as I would have liked to see the Duluth Dolls conclude the Movement Showcase, I wanted to do a little exploring — and there was no shortage of people lined up outside to take any open seat. I walked down Superior Street to the Duluth Flame, where I arrived in time to catch the conclusion of a confident set by hip-hop veteran Tarli, joined by singers Graydon Francis and IamKaye along with DJ MidiEvil. (If you don't come across an amazing DJ name, have you even been to a music festival?)
Although the only Prince costume I saw Saturday night was on Sea Smoke Aerial Arts emcee Mr. A, the synthwave band Sadkin filled the Flame with enough smoke to make the Purple One proud. Band leader Max Mileski is so committed to '80s revivalism that he named the group after a recording engineer who helped shape the decade's sound.
One of Alex Sadkin's beneficiaries was Simply Red, who would have appreciated Mileski's luxurious curls, silhouetted in the band's signature lightshow. In voice, Mileski was more like David Bowie in full-throated "Under Pressure" glory. His suit? Silver.
Venue hopping again, I stopped by Blacklist Brewing to catch some of the supergroup Damien among an exuberant crowd, then made my first-ever visit to R.T. Quinlan's, a dive with the vibe of a punk rock honky-tonk. At a festival running so tightly that I observed multiple sets starting ahead of schedule, I found an audience waiting patiently for the band Bratwurst — already sweating — to complete its elaborate setup.
Working my way to the middle of the the floor, I looked ahead to see people pressing against the stage for the full-body effect as the band members donned coveralls and ponchos. Turning to look behind me, I glimpsed looks of trepidation and occasional backwards shuffling as the audience sorted itself into those who wanted more Bratwurst, and those who wanted less.
To wrap your mind around what a Bratwurst show entails, imagine if during Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," when the fine tableware came alive to sing "Be Our Guest" in the main dining room, back in the larder the meat grinder also sprang to life and formed a noise band with the tenderizer, the immersion blender, the mortar and the pestle. Talk about an industrial revolution.
I didn't dare pull out my phone to take notes during a performance by a band that makes Metallagher look like the Partridge Family, but suffice it to say there were lyrics about tainted meat alongside the seeming onstage appearance of such. Whatever the band dealt out, frontman Tyler Scouton took it first and worst.
When the ritual destruction of set elements began, I scurried up the stairs and made it to Pizza Luce just in time for All the Pretty Horses to begin their set. It was the perfect capper for a night that brought the noise and brought the glam. Standing near Reini-Grandell in the bar area, I could see the crowd veritably glowing as de Mars and her band whipped through a relentless set.
Before performing "Take My Shoulder," a song about support and acceptance released in 2015 as a duet with Laura Jane Grace (Against Me!), de Mars paused to comment on legislation that the transgender artist described as "a push to disappear my community." As the audience booed in solidarity, de Mars listed states advancing laws to restrict gender-affirming care.
"Iowa. The Dakotas. Kansas. It goes on. Florida. Texas. Missouri. Idaho," said de Mars, then paused. "But we're in Minnesota, right? And we're going to show the world, we're going to show America that you shouldn't be afraid of people like me, and kids need to be able to do what they need to do to be their authentic selves."
In true Homegrown fashion, All the Pretty Horses' set wasn't just a show but a celebration of community. Rain clouds be damned, on Saturday night there were plenty of stars shining in Duluthians' eyes.