Local View: Dylan-themed tourism an untapped boon for Northland
A Jan. 1 commentary in the News Tribune by Visit Duluth President and CEO Anna Tanski outlined the state of tourism here ("Tourism plateaus; but no doom, gloom here"). Though many people may have found this particular paragraph in the commentary uplifting, others no doubt found it surprising: "Bob Dylan and outdoor adventure remain the two top draws for international media and visitors," Tanski wrote. "In recent months, Visit Duluth has hosted travel writers, influencers and media/TV from Australia, China, Germany, Sweden, and the UK. Stories have started running and will continue well into 2019, shining the international spotlight on our city, hopefully spurring travelers to experience Duluth for themselves."
Bob Dylan as a top draw for media and visitors? Really?
Some might be skeptical about this because they're unaware of how widespread music-based tourism is worldwide. More than 600,000 people visit Graceland each year; 100,000 people visit "Standing on the Corner" in Winslow, Ariz. Visitors to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inject more than $100 million a year into the Cleveland economy. And 50 years after the Beatles' breakup, Beatles' fans from all over the world visit Liverpool just to see where it all began.
Once Liverpool entrepreneurs took time to invest in their relationship with the Beatles, tourism revenue increased 40 percent. Today, tourism pumps $100 million a year into the region now that they've opened a Beatles-themed hotel, a Beatles museum, and Strawberry Fields.
The reason for this activity, according to Manchester researcher David Leaver, is that, "Music‐based tourism is emotion-driven with ideas of pilgrimage, nostalgia, and heritage centering on sites of production of music, birth and death of individual artists, and places which shaped their early history."
The Northland is one such place.
Leaver has visited the Northland four times now as part of his ongoing research endeavors. In his paper, "Together Through Life — an exploration of popular music heritage and the quest for re-enchantment," Leaver describes motivations for people who visit places like Duluth and Hibbing, Liverpool and Lubbock. What he proposes is that music-destination tourism contributes to people's self-understanding, providing personal and social meaning to their lives.
As to Dylan and his Hibbing and Duluth roots, Leaver wrote, "Music heritage based tourism focusing on sites of biographical significance is a growth sector in countries with mature tourism and music industries, such as the U.S. and the UK." Think Nashville. Think Highway 61.
The benefits of music-based tourism are both economic and charitable. To cite Liverpool again, a 2016 study showed that Beatles-related tourism generated 2,335 jobs. The economic gain was significant. But the other half of the equation is equally so. Creating touchstones for visiting fans is a form of gift-giving. It is a way of welcoming and rewarding those who come from afar to experience the region that birthed one of their heroes.
"Placemaking" is a multifaceted approach to the planning, design, and management of public spaces that capitalizes on a local community's assets. This idea of placemaking was the driver behind investments to create the Historic Arts and Theater District (HART) in downtown Duluth and the city's emerging Lincoln Park Craft District.
Arts, music, and entertainment have been among the key drivers of our local economy, and Bob Dylan increasingly so. The Duluth Dylan Fest, now in its ninth year, attracts hundreds of visitors annually from the region, state, country, and world. This past fall, the Duluth Dylan Fest team partnered with Visit Duluth to organize activities for a caravan of Airstreamers that included a Bob Dylan 101 presentation, a Duluth Dylan tour, a Hibbing Dylan tour, and a Minneapolis Dylan site tour. It was rewarding for all involved.
Sixty years ago this month, rock-and-roll legend Buddy Holly performed at Duluth's Historic National Guard Armory. Bobby Zimmerman was in attendance. This was no small event for the young kid from Hibbing whose music would one day move a generation. Dylan has made numerous references to it over the years. He has never forgotten his roots.
Let's continue to build on our Dylan connections. It's a privilege and an opportunity.
Ed Newman is a writer and a member of the Duluth Dylan Fest Committee. For more on Sunday's tribute to Buddy Holly event at Grandma's Sports Garden, go to pioneerproductions.blogspot.com/2019/01/only-10-days-till-music-of-buddy-holly.html.