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Our View: 30 years later, Duluth still has the blues

A decade ago, on the 20th anniversary, the News Tribune observed that Duluth doesn't exactly come to mind when one thinks of cities with the blues in their souls. And that distance between our far northern outpost and Southern-born melodies that lament injustices or express longing has only widened since. New events in Duluth like air shows and tall ships festivals have grabbed the spotlight along with new attractions like Quarry Park and the Timber Twister.

Nonetheless, Friday morning, Duluth's — yes, Duluth's — 30th annual Bayfront Blues Festival opens. And remains one of the largest annual outdoor music events in the upper Midwest. And one of Duluth's best-attended, mark-it-on-the-calendar, can't-miss-it summertime happenings.

Even if the festival is sometimes overlooked or maybe taken for granted, be assured, Duluth still has the blues. Look no further than the thousands packing Bayfront Festival Park all this weekend, the harbor breezes as cool as every guitar lick. That's worth celebrating. That's worth singing and dancing about.

"We're very good at what we do, and the event runs so seamless," Chris Mackey, a pioneer of Duluth's bluesfest — along with promoter Tracy Lundeen, former Mayor John Fedo, radio station manager Chuck Poet, and others — said in the News Tribune's 2008 look-back story. "It's one of the best-run festivals in the state."

What started as a single-day, free show with maybe 1,000 music lovers in attendance has grown into a three-day event with 30 acts on two stages playing to 20,000 or more fanatics.

In all, more than 500 national, regional, and local acts have played the bluesfest during its three decades. There's acoustic, Delta blues, electric guitars, Chicago blues, and more, festival organizers said this week.

And how cool is this? The late Luther Allison was the Bayfront Blues Festival's first headliner. This year, his son, Bernard Allison, is booked for Sunday night, festival organizers reported. In addition, Friday night's headliner, Don Bryant, was voted "Comeback Artist of the Year" for 2018 by Living Blues. And Saturday's headliner, William Bell, was nominated for two Grammy awards last year, winning for "Best American Album."

Got the blues? Gates open at 11 a.m. daily with music starting 30 minutes after that. Tickets at the gate are $50. For more details go to

Duluth may never be seen as a hot spot for cool tunes. But as long as we have our Bayfront Blues Festival — and cool harbor breezes — we'll always have the blues.