Music returns to Armory: New five-part CW television series showcases local musicians in storied venue
Charlie Parr -- wrapped in a top layer of flannel, a knit cap tugged to his ears -- recently played an exclusive concert in a broken place. The windows were covered, paint peels curled on the walls, there were loops of graffiti and the temps were...
Charlie Parr - wrapped in a top layer of flannel, a knit cap tugged to his ears - recently played an exclusive concert in a broken place. The windows were covered, paint peels curled on the walls, there were loops of graffiti and the temps were low - maybe about 4 degrees, he recalled.
And when Parr sang "ain't got nowhere to go," according to a video made from the January session, it was cold enough to see his breath.
Parr's mini concert will air on the first episode of the Duluth CW's "Night at the Armory." The five-part series puts local musicians in the storied, historic venue - a place where Buddy Holly, Patsy Cline, Johnny Cash played. The show, which also includes Armory history and the musicians' background in addition to music, airs at 9 p.m. on Sundays. The first episode plays March 4 and in following weeks will feature concerts by Superior Siren, Rick McLean, Ingeborg von Agassiz and Alan Sparhawk of Low.
Last year, director Keith Hopkins was co-host for "Night at the Movies," which showcased work by local filmmakers. He wanted to do something similar with musicians, he said.
"The way I originally pitched it," Hopkins said, "'Austin City Limits' in Duluth."
He needed a venue, though, and then he drove past the long-shuttered Armory.
"I saw the silhouettes of the musicians and thought, 'That would be perfect,'" he said, referring to the art of instrumentalists that decorate the building's exterior.
The Armory, located on London Road between 13th and 14th avenues east, was built in 1915 and three years later was used to treat victims of the Spanish flu and the Cloquet fire. It was the site of the "Winter Dance Party" tour that brought Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper to Duluth three days before they all died in a plane crash.
Bob Dylan, then still going by the name Robert Zimmerman, was in the house for that show and talked about the experience when he accepted a Grammy Award in 1998.
President Harry S. Truman, Bob Hope, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Dale Carnegie, the Everly Brothers, Oral Roberts, Hank Williams Sr., Liberace and John Philip Sousa also appeared at the Armory.
Using the Armory as a venue changed the scope of the program, according to CW station manager Jeanne Filkins, who also writes and narrates.
"When he had this epiphany, we decided it needed to be twofold," she said. "We needed to remind people about the Armory and what a wonderful building it is and can be again. We decided to weave the two together."
Parr had never set foot in the Armory before recording, he said, but he had always been curious about it - both as a musician and as an outreach worker who has thought a lot about empty buildings and homelessness.
"I loved being in the space," he said in a phone interview from Germany. "The reverence they have for the space is infectious."
For his set, he sat on a chair in an empty room, bundled and hunched over his guitar.
"Your fingers get cold," Parr said. "In a way they get numb. That's probably good because you go on muscle memory and play what you always play. I've played in cold weather before. You can't play for long. It starts to get inside of you."
The crew had to get approval from the city of Duluth for filming, and for safety reasons, only certain areas of the building were available. No more than 10 people could be on site at a time, Hopkins said.
Each of the musicians was placed in a different area for their set. Sparhawk plays in the green room; Ingeborg von Agassiz sits on the stage.
"You just feel a chill," Filkins added. "Of course, it was freezing. But you also just feel the energy of what has been left behind. There are so many stories from that building, and it's a huge part of Duluth's history."
What: "Night at the Armory" 5-part series
When: 9 p.m. Sundays, starting March 4 with episode featuring Charlie Parr
Where: Duluth CW