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Fourth of July weekend in Twin Ports: A guide to music, fireworks and entertainment

With July 4 falling on a Monday this year and live entertainment back to pre-pandemic scale, it's shaping up to be one of the most epic long weekends in years.

Fireworks exploding in night sky as several figures, in silhouette, watch from the foreground against a low wall.
Fireworks exploded in the distance as people watched from Gateway Plaza near the concrete sail sculpture between West Michigan Street and West Superior Street in Duluth on July 4, 2021.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram
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DULUTH — One of the Midwest's biggest fireworks displays is just table ante for the city's first full-scale Fourth of July in three years. With the holiday falling on a Monday, local venues haven't held back on booking music and other entertainment for what's shaping up to be the city's most action-packed long weekend in years. The buzz has already begun, but July 1-4 are going to be the core days of fun and revelry. Here's a guide to some highlights.

Friday, July 1

Three large animatronic Tyrannosaurs in the Jurassic Quest display, with a small deceased raptor at their feet.
"You've got a T. Rex?" Alan Grant famously asked in "Jurassic Park." Jurassic Quest has at least three.
Contributed / Jurassic Quest

For reasons that no one has completely figured out, Duluthians have been extremely avid to buy tickets to Jurassic Quest, a nationally touring animatronic edutainment experience featuring faux dinosaurs that kids can see, ride, and/or pet. It's certainly going to be a big show, filling both rooms of the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center's Pioneer Hall (the north room will be vacant of its customary curlers, since organizers aren't looking to evoke an ice age). The dinos will be in Duluth through Sunday; parents who have attended the event in other cities advise scheduling your visit later in the day if possible, since crowds dwindle during naptime. For tickets and information, see decc.org.

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North Shore Scenic Railroad operations manager Scott Leibel operated one of the railroad’s locomotives as the railroad prepared for the start of its 2021 season.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

The North Shore Scenic Railroad is sure to be a hot ticket among locals and visitors looking to ride the rails and soak in the sights. In addition to the regular Duluth Zephyr rides, this weekend also marks the kickoff to the summer's Two Harbors service — and features three Music & Pizza trains with live music from jazz man Thomas Woytko (July 1-2) and singer-songwriter Hannah Rey (July 3). For tickets and information, see duluthtrains.com.

Bob Dobrow, owner of the new Zenith Bookstore in West Duluth, stands among the pine shelves holding hundreds of used and new books at the store Thursday afternoon. Dobrow believes there's a real appetite for a community-based bookstore. His place will have a soft opening from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com
Zenith Bookstore co-owner Bob Dobrow posed in the stacks shortly before the store opened to the public in 2017.
Bob King / File / Duluth News Tribune

If you haven't picked out your summer beach reads, you'll have the perfect opportunity at the Zenith Bookstore Fifth Anniversary Party from 4-8 p.m. The Spirit Valley indie promises a parking lot party including music (presented in cooperation with neighboring Wussow's Concert Cafe, including a set by Woodblind), chalk art, a raffle, a wheel of fortune ("everyone's a winner!"), a special fifth anniversary sticker (free with every purchase) and a selfie station to flaunt your finds with Rufus the bookstore dog. Wear your Zenith Bookstore swag for a 10% discount, advises co-owner Bob Dobrow. "We've just been so thrilled to be in West Duluth. We have such great customers," Dobrow told the News Tribune. The anniversary party, he said, is "a way for us to say 'thank you' and to recognize the support we've had over the years." For more information, see zenithbookstore.com.

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The view from the Bayfront Country Jam stage, as seen mirrored in shades worn by Heidi Pack of Whiskey Trail at 2021's festival.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

The grass at Bayfront Festival Park is going to get a good trampling this weekend, even before Trampled By Turtles play the pavilion July 9. Bayfront Festival Jam, with gates opening at 5 p.m., features headliners Jake Owen in addition to Tyler Rich, George Birge and Rafe Carlson — who's currently splitting his time between Nashville and Minnesota, where he grew up in Hermantown. For more information, see bayfrontcountryjam.org.

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A man wearing blue jeans, black Converse All-Star sneakers, a white t-shirt, and an open striped button-down shirt dances energetically against a red-painted brick wall.
Jacob Higdon has big sneakers to fill as Ren McCormack in the Duluth Playhouse production of "Footloose."
Contributed / Terry Cartie Norton

Perhaps you're looking for some refined entertainment this weekend — such as a work of theater addressing weighty themes of class, grief and faith in the context of a gripping political drama. The Duluth Playhouse is here for you with a new production of "Footloose." A Tony-nominated script is elevated by the incisive lyrics to the timeless melodies of "Holding Out For a Hero" and "Let's Hear It For the Boy," not to mention the "Bachelor in Paradise" theme "Almost Paradise." In the iconic words of the title song, "I'll hit the ceiling, or else I'll tear up this town!" Why choose? For tickets and information, see norshortheatre.com.

Homegrown Music Festival focuses on West Duluth Wednesday evening
Fans raised their drinks while Max Mileski of Sadkin spoke to the audience during the Homegrown Music Festival on May 4 at Clyde Iron Works in Duluth.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

Minnesota music is taking the spotlight at Earth Rider's Festival Grounds this weekend, including a triple-threat lineup of Duluth-rooted acts on Friday. Charmme, the electro-pop project (formerly known as Glassine) from former Social Disaster frontwoman Rachel Phoenix, goes on at 6 p.m.; ELSKA, the singer-songwriter whose newest fans include the band Cloud Cult, plays at 7:30 p.m.; and '80s-embracing Sadkin closes the bill at 9 p.m. If you want to warm up at Earth Rider's Cedar Lounge taproom, Russel Sackett offers a free "brief, early evening musical interlude" from 5-7 p.m. For tickets and information, see earthrider.beer.

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The Crunchy Bunch.
File / Duluth News Tribune

At Bent Paddle, it's game on, and that game is bingo. Or, as it's known when run by DJ collective the Crunchy Bunch, Blingo! It's just a regular first Friday night at the Lincoln Park craft brewery, and that's exactly how their regulars like it. The free game, with prizes for lucky winners, kicks off at 8 p.m. For more information, see bentpaddlebrewing.com.

Down the street at The Caddy Shack, High Bridge Comedy is bringing Frankie Runquist, Patrick DeGeest, Chad Gallo and Sam Bondhus to the standup stage with host Joe Mosier. Doors are at 8 p.m.; see facebook.com/caddyshackduluth for more information.

Saturday, July 2

Lester Park
Lester Park.
2009 file / Duluth News Tribune

Take a moment to connect with nature — and learn a little while you're at it. The Duluth Folk School is hosting a guided nature hike at Lester Park, where you'll peer at flora and fauna under the supervision of Folk School director Bryan French. Participants are encouraged to bring binoculars and field guides, but shutterbugs be warned: "This is not a photography-focused outing, so we won’t be stopping for long stretches of time." To learn more and register, see duluthfolkschool.com.

Overhead photo of three men lying on their backs in the grass, stringed instruments laid over their bodies, their heads cropped out of the photo.
In this publicity photo, the Driftless Revelers seem to have zonked out while searching for the cosmic groove.
Contributed / Philville Records

The Driftless Revelers promise to "keep you dancing with their search for the cosmic groove in the confines of stringed instruments." Fortunately, your search party will be well-fueled with fresh craft beer if you take in the band's 7 p.m. show at Bent Paddle Brewing Co. For details, see bentpaddlebrewing.com.

Jared Justin, a young white man, sits for a portrait holding an acoustic guitar and looking offscreen to the left.
Jared Justin is performing at Wussow's Concert Cafe on Saturday.
Contributed / Jared Justin

A little further west, five bucks gets you a triple bill at Wussow's Concert Cafe, where Jared Justin (Minneapolis), Saint of Trains (Albuquerque, N.M.), and Jake Searl (Duluth) are taking the stage starting at 7 p.m. For tickets and information, see wussows.com/events.

Letters reading TEATRO rise up from a theater marquee, with the reflection of the sun visible in a bank of windows in the background.
A marquee at Zeitgeist's 222 E. Superior St. location advertises the organization's Teatro space, photographed June 21.
Jay Gabler / Duluth News Tribune

The flyer for Renegade Improv's Independence Day weekend show pictures two eagles fighting over a hot dog, and if that piques your interest, you'll be in the right place at 8 p.m. for "a mix of live and video sketches, improvisation comedy, live music by Gabe Mayfield and a whole lot of nonsense all in honor of America's birthday," wrote director Robert Lee in an email to the News Tribune. Lee thinks it's "certain to be the weekend's funniest show," which may be true unless the Jurassic Quest dino-robots have been working on their softshoe. For tickets and information, see zeitgeistarts.com.

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Black and white image of woman sitting amidst three standing men; the men are moving and blurred, while the woman looks directly into the camera.
Polica will bring music from their new album, "Madness," to Earth Rider Festival Grounds on Saturday.
Contributed / Zoe Prinds-Flash

This weekend's entertainment may lean towards comfort food, but Minneapolis band Polica are giving more adventurous music fans something to get excited about as well. They're at Earth Rider Festival Grounds for an 8:15 p.m. show, with opener Wilsen going on at 7 p.m. One of the most critically acclaimed projects to emerge from Minnesota in the past decade, Polica are a riveting live draw with their double-drummer attack and the dark charisma of singer Channy Leaneagh. For tickets and information, see earthrider.beer.

(Also see above entries for "Footloose," Jurassic Quest and the North Shore Scenic Railroad.)

Sunday, July 3

Five white men pose with large horrific zombie face, holding their fists aloft.
On Sunday, Earth Rider Festival Grounds will ring with the sounds of an "electrifying hard rock Iron Maiden tribute band."
Contributed / Eddie Inc.

Today's events at Earth Rider Festival Grounds are as different as day and night, and not just because they're happening by day and by night. First up, a free Earth Rider Summer Market presents a range of "unique, sustainable, handcrafted, locally grown and freshly brewed goods" from Twin Ports makers, along with food, music and, needless to say, beer. That event runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., then four hours later, Eddie Inc. take the stage. Billed modestly as "Eau Claire's only tribute to Iron Maiden," Eddie Inc. nonetheless promise "to satisfy even the most critical of Maiden fans." For tickets and information, see earthrider.beer.

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Fans cheered for Hairball during the cover band's performance at Bayfront Festival Park on July 3, 2021, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

Less-critical Maiden fans can cross the Bong, where Hairball will be deploying their annual hair metal extravaganza at Bayfront Festival Park. With an extravagantly costumed series of musical tributes evoking some of America's most over-the-top entertainers (and a couple of Britain's, in the spirit of post-revolutionary comity), Hairball create an atmosphere of abandon that, for thousands of Duluthians, is like the Fourth of July, New Year's Eve, Halloween and National Beer Day combined. Disco Kingz, Bad Girlfriends and Chris Kroeze will also perform. For tickets and information, see bayfrontfestivalpark.com.

Painted image of northern lights, visible above a fir-lined lake.
Registrants at a Sunday painting event at Wild State Cider will create images similar to this one.
Contributed / Northern Exposure Art

What if you ended your Duluth holiday weekend with an image of the northern lights painted by your own hand? Don't expect a view of the actual aurora borealis from the distinctly urban environs of Wild State Cider, but if you're willing to use a little imagination, you can join Northern Exposure Art for a 6 p.m. painting event; for $40, "all materials to paint a 16-by-20-inch canvas will be provided." For registration and information, see northernexposureart.com.

"If you're a winner by nature, and a boss in your lane," your attendance is requested at the Empire Player's Ball. Coach's Bar and Grill in Lincoln Park is hosting this party, which will feature an appearance by Mario Canon: a rapper who's also an actor on shows including the hit hip-hop drama "Empire." For information, see facebook.com/moneyapolis612.

(Also see above entries for "Footloose," Jurassic Quest and the North Shore Scenic Railroad.)

Monday, July 4

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Members of the American Legion Richard I. Bong Post 435 presented the colors as they marched down Belknap Street during the Superior Fourth of July parade July 4, 2021.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram

Whether you're recovering from Hairball or Eddie Inc., get ready to hop out of bed bright and early to squint in the summer sun as the American Legion Richard I. Bong Post 435 carries the colors down Belknap Street for Superior's annual Fourth of July parade. The cymbals of the Superior High School Band may or may not be what you're hoping to hear after three straight nights of revelry, but there will be candy to catch and a heart (yours) to clasp in this traditional salute to the Home of the Brave. For information, see ci.superior.wi.us.

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For better or for worse, Americans have long seen their cars as emblems of freedom. In that respect, it's apt that Superior's Independence Day festivities will include a car and motorcycle show. The annual event, which runs from 1-6 p.m. on Tower Avenue between Belknap and Broadway, is named after the late Dennis VanAlstine, its longtime organizer. The event will also include live music by Aftershock and John Seguin, as well as a pinup contest featuring the Border Town Betties. For information, see ci.superior.wi.us.

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Fireworks lit up the sky over Barker’s Island in Superior on July 4, 2019.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram

Superior's free celebration continues with live music and fireworks on Barker's Island. Young rockers Born Too Late go on at 6 p.m., followed by cover band PopROCKS at 8:15. The fizz commonly associated with Pop Rocks candy will be found in the sky circa 10 p.m., when the fireworks start. For information, see ci.superior.wi.us.

Independence Day is no time for thinking outside the box, and accordingly Duluth's bustling Fourth Fest will also feature ... you've got it, music and fireworks. A four-artist lineup starts at 5 p.m., with performers including DJ collective the Crunchy Bunch, country artist Katie Switzer, Heartbreakers cover band All Tomorrow's Petty, and headliners the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra. Fireworks will fill the sky at 10:10 p.m., and Christina Stroup of the Duluth Playhouse "Footloose" cast will handle national anthem honors. For more information on the free event, see bayfrontfestivalpark.com.

A nighttime view of Duluth Harbor shows, from left to right: the Aerial Lift Bridge, illuminated in multiple colors; a Vista Fleet boat; and fireworks in the sky.
The Vista Queen and Vista Star will again be cruising Duluth Harbor on July 4.
Contributed / Vista Fleet

If you want to see the fireworks from the harbor itself, the Vista Fleet is offering two fireworks cruises: Choose family-friendly bluegrass and barbecue on the Vista Star, or a more refined 21-and-over cocktail cruise on the Vista Queen. Both set sail at 9 p.m. The fleet is also offering other cruises throughout the weekend. For tickets and information, see vistafleet.com.

Read more entertainment news
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Related Topics: MUSICTHEATERBOOKS
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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