Low is an internationally renowned band. Trampled by Turtles sells out First Avenue in Minneapolis regularly; their last album, Palomino, debuted at #1 on the Bluegrass Billboard charts. Charlie Parr tours around the world. All of these big musical acts have one thing in common: Duluth. Our relatively small city is home to these acts along with many others.
Video Credit: Northern Outpost
Adam Guggemos, publisher of the Transistor, a free entertainment magazine for weekly entertainment in the Twin Ports area, has the inside scoop on local bands.
“There’s way more bands in this town than there should be, per capita,” Guggemos said. “It’s like one band for every 500 people. If that was in the Metro area that would be like 6,000 bands. So that alone, the amount, is pretty amazing.”
Guggemos isn’t alone in his belief that Duluth has an abundance of bands. Paul Lundgren is a co-owner of the popular local blog Perfect Duluth Day. He is also the content coordinator for the Homegrown field guide- a one-stop shop to see all the bands that play during the week long, exclusively local, music festival.
“For a city Duluth’s size, there seems to be a large amount of musicians,” Lundgren said. “It’s a phenomenon that’s relatively new to Duluth. It’s been going on for maybe a decade now.”
What is it about this city that puts out so many bands?
“There is a weather element to it,” Lundgren said. “I think when you spend part of the year cooped up inside, it’s easier to practice your instrument.”
Walt Dizzo, an announcer for Superior radio station KUWS, agrees.
“We have a culture based on dormancy,” Dizzo said. “I think being forced inside gets people talking about it [the music scene].”
Duluth’s size also plays a role.
“If you’re in a larger city, I think it would be more difficult to really know who’s who and to feel like you have any sense of the scene because it’s too large,” Lundgren said. “And if you’re in a small town there’s just not enough people to really make anything significant happen.”
The ideal size of the city allows for musicians to collaborate with one another. Alan Sparhawk is not only a member in Low but is also a member of Retribution Gospel Choir and the Black Eyed Snakes. Brad Nelson is in the Black Eyed Snakes and also the Boomchucks. Dave Simonett is not only in Trampled by Turtles but also Dead Man Winter. And the list goes on.
“A lot of these bands are created by a member of this band getting together with members of that band. So there’s a lot of spin-off projects of bands in Duluth,” Lundgren said.
Duluth’s weather, size, and subsequent collaborations all contribute to a sense of community among musicians and their fans.
“The community collaboration is pretty outstanding,” Guggemos said.
“One of the biggest positive things about the Duluth music community is that the people that have made it are really proud of where they’re from. And no one’s shying away from the fact that this is our community,” he said.
One local musician that has been playing in Duluth since 1999 is Charlie Parr. Since then he has put out nine full-length albums. His work was featured in a commercial that aired in Australia and a popular television show on British Channel 4. Parr has been embraced by the Duluth music community.
“It was pretty amazing right from the beginning. I was really impressed with how supportive the scene up here was. Minneapolis wasn’t bad either, it was just never as supportive as Duluth,” Parr said. “I always just kind of felt like, as opposed to some places where you feel a lot of competition between musicians, I never really felt that. I don’t know if it’s unique to here, it’s definitely unique”
The number one reason why Duluth is a hot bed for bands appears to be simple: the musicians love Duluth.
“Why didn’t Low move to Los Angeles? Why aren’t the Trampled by Turtles in Chicago? It’s a collective feeling of home,” Dizzo said. “They really like living here.”
“The people that live here want to live here and that makes a pretty big difference,” Guggemos said.
“All the musicians that I know that live there,” Parr said, “they genuinely love this place and they don’t want to leave.”
Parr always knew he wanted to end up in Duluth. Not because of the music, though that has become a huge perk as well as his occupation. The city, not the music, is what keeps him here.
“I love it here. I always have loved it up here. It’s hard to put my finger on it. It might be the lake, or the forest, or the people. Something about this place just makes me happy. And when I crest the hill and see home, it just makes me happy and I don’t want to leave.”
Do you know of any other local bands that aren’t mentioned here? Are you a musician in Duluth? We’d love to hear your stories in the comment form below.