This week’s Arts and Entertainment roundup

People clap as Florian Chmielewski plays at the Cloquet VFW on Sunday, performing “The Auctioneer.” (Steve Kuchera /

People clap as Florian Chmielewski plays at the Cloquet VFW on Sunday, performing “The Auctioneer.” (Steve Kuchera /

This week’s A&E section has a story about longtime polka man Florian Chmielewski, whose annual Polka Fest starts Friday in Hinckley, Minn.

Best Bets include: Goody Night’s tribute to Eric Swanson, Duluth Superior Film Festival kickoff, Chicken Hat plays, The Defenders series and The Band Perry.


Today’s Arts and Entertainment roundup

The smelt queen puppet leads stilt walkers down the Lakewalk during the Magic Smelt Puppet Troupe "Run, Smelt, Run!" parade in Duluth Sunday afternoon. (Clint Austin /

The smelt queen puppet leads stilt walkers down the Lakewalk during the Magic Smelt Puppet Troupe “Run, Smelt, Run!” parade in Duluth Sunday afternoon. (Clint Austin /

The annual Run, Smelt, Run! parade was on Sunday and included all the fun and frivolity you’ve come to expect from your town. Stilts, smelt costumes, a 12-piece band and a 10-foot smelt queen. With vid.

Lawrance Bernabo reviewed Wise Fool Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on opening night and wrote “there is nothing this cast will not do to provoke a laugh …”

It was days ago, but here is a reminder about some times that B.B. King played in Duluth.

RIP B.B. King

B.B. King last played the DECC Auditorium in 2005. 2005 file/ News Tribune

B.B. King last played the DECC Auditorium in 2005. 2005 file/ News Tribune

Legendary blues musician B.B. King died on Thursday night, which means a trip through the archives was in order. There were a lot of great photos, including this one by Amanda Odeski, taken at his final show in Duluth in 2005. Yow.

Here’s the story about his death at age 89 after suffering diabetes-related dehydration.

Stay tuned for the one where we revisit some of his Duluth shows.

Today’s Arts and Entertainment roundup

Artist Cheng-Khee Chee works on a watercolor painting of a mountain and river scene in his basement studio at his home in Duluth on Monday afternoon. (Bob King /

Artist Cheng-Khee Chee works on a watercolor painting of a mountain and river scene in his basement studio at his home in Duluth on Monday afternoon. (Bob King /

This week’s A&E section has a feature on Cheng-Khee Chee, who has a retrospective of his work opening today at the Tweed Museum of Art. “The Way of Cheng-Khee Chee” runs through Sept. 20 at the museum at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Here’s the story.

Longtime reviewer Paul Brissett is retiring. His goodbye column includes a few parting words for the theater community.

Tony Bennett has a review of Portrait of a Drowned Man’s soundtrack to “Wicker Kittens.”

Best Bets include: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Run, Smelt, Run, an opening at the Duluth Art Institute, Pat Dononue and the Prairie All Stars and Dylan Fest.

Homegrown finale: Day 7 and Day 8

Saturday had a weird vibe. There was the exhaustion of having to squeeze a vehicle into a rare Superior Street parking space, an 8-point maneuver in front of like 15 festival-goers. So many masks. Such a mix of ages. That place on the small of your back where sweat just pools now. I said some pretty weird things out loud. Chow Haul was closed because of a propane sitch.

There was much buildup on stage at The Red Herring Lounge before a masked Scott Millis called “Ladies and gentlemen: The Tysonettes!” Fred Tyson, a flashy shuffling crooner in a brown pin-striped suit and cap, led off with “Ladies Night,” which included six backup singers — a group wholly overshadowed by the Tysonette on the right. Carolyn Reisberg in a green velvet dress with a scoop neck and Molly Ringwald hair.

“Be safe, be safe, be safe, be safe,” Freddie told the audience, then later, “Love ya, love ya all. Love all you fans.”

He performed his signature tune: “Freddy Gonna Do What He Wants to Do, So (Eff) You.”

The Horror played its instrumental sci-fi soundtrack at The Flame and Billy Wagness was all-business, clothes-wise, with a blonde wig with a complicated hairdo, bobbing and leaping while he manned the synth. It felt like something you’d stumble on after midnight in the basement of an unmarked skateboarder bar in an unfamiliar city.

Black-Eyed Snakes played for a packed Rex Bar, a show that started with the rock ‘n’ blues band of Alan Sparhawk, Bob Olson, Brad Nelson and Bryan Johnson seated. Sparhawk’s vocals were distorted when he wished everyone a “Happy Homegrown” and later when he finally stood to ooze around the stage.

Regret: Not seeing The Electric Witch.
Regret II: Never getting the Wonton of the Day.

And then there was Pesto Benedict with Pushing Chain, a duo of Boyd Blomberg and Adam Moe who played one of the brunch shifts at Pizza Luce Sunday morning. But we got seated by the bathroom, so.

The end.

Homegrown: Day 6

Nancy Sudak of Duluth breaks a plate by throwing it into a garbage can during The Blasphemists' Homegrown Music Festival performance at Teatro Zuccone in Duluth on Friday night. The band encouraged audience members to break plates during its show. (Clint Austin /

Nancy Sudak of Duluth breaks a plate by throwing it into a garbage can during The Blasphemists’ Homegrown Music Festival performance at Teatro Zuccone in Duluth on Friday night. The band encouraged audience members to break plates during its show. (Clint Austin /

This year in Blasphemists fashion: A black garbage bag cinched at the waist with a belt, best paired with Moon Boots.

The foursome known for its shank-revealing styles and punk sensibilities played for a full house at Teatro Zuccone on Friday night in the early hours of Day 6 of Homegrown Music Festival. There was no mosh, but plenty of smash. As usual, members of the audience were invited to spontaneously chuck small plates into a metal garbage can at the front of the stage.

Some did so with gusto; others required a tug.

“This is a good line for it,” singer Adam Sundberg said, breaking away from a song about a failed Arctic expedition to coax an audience member toward the can. Guitar player Joshua Herbert wore a helmet with antlers and drummer Steve Hamlin had the word “cheese” written across his chest.

They clawed at the the garbage bags until they hung from their waists.

Local musician Mark Glen got up from his chair in the audience and broke a plate.

“There’s no turning back,” the band harmonized.

Sundberg told a snippet of the band’s origin story, which included a tale about something tossed from the stage and almost hitting a woman, then segued into the next song.

“This song is about piracy,” he said.

Audience member Paul Lundgren emerged from the crowd to put an empty can of Bent Paddle between two plates and then smashed the whole thing.

More than 40 bands were scheduled to play at 15 venues in Duluth on Friday night, kicking off the final weekend of the eight-day mostly music festival. The music continues through Sunday afternoon. All told, more than 200 bands are taking part in this year’s festival.

Over the years, musicians have frequently given unofficial performances aboard the free DTA Trolley that delivers festival-goers to downtown venues. This year, the acts were pre-booked.

Raphael Tiller — who performs as Accipiter, Buteo — had the first shift and played his acoustic guitar on the bus’s back bench, his audience coming and going at trolley stops.

“This is the coolest. I didn’t know they did this,” said Luke Donahue, who was on his way to The Underground.

“Freebird!” a rider called.

“Free Chicken,” Tiller responded, then added, “I don’t have a song about a chicken, but I have a song about apples.”

He sang about climbing so high he almost touched the sky and when more riders hopped aboard he called out:

“Howdy! Welcome.”

Earlier in the night, a group of young musicians dressed in Hawaiian shirts and shorts performed a vacation-themed set.

“Will you love me in the morning,” Paper Parlour’s Kirdan Wenger sang in a folky-blues style with a tune that had traces of “You are my Sunshine.”

The group that includes Mitch Selin on guitar, Wilson Johnson on bass and Chad Erlemeier on drums took a break mid-set to tell jokes.

“What do you call a bear with no teeth?” Wenger asked. The answer: A gummy bear.

A crew of 10 folk musicians and friends, the house band for a church in Mahtowa, played within the Seuss-ian set of an upcoming production of “The Cat in the Hat” at The Underground. The Holy Hootenanners have a country gospel sound and sing original tunes, mixing it up between a handful of singers, a bass player, a keyboardist and drummer and violin players.

Rashelle Sweney of Superior hadn’t seen the group before Friday. She was drawn by the band’s description.

“I figured they were my kind of people,” she said.

Also: she shares a name.

“I call myself the Hootegranny,” she said.

Photographer Clint Austin also snagged all sorts of pics and vids. Right here.

Homegrown: Day 5


The Keep Aways played Thursday night at the Main Club as part of Homegrown Music Festival. Photo courtesy of Amy Abts.

The Keep Aways didn’t make any overt statements from the stage about this being the final Homegrown Music Festival for the punk trio, long time music-scene regs. But, according to the HG Field Guide, one member is moving away, so.

The band composed of Mindy Johnson, Nikki Moeller and Chris Warne that has reportedly played 14 HG fests played its signature wicked way. A pit formed and at the center of it was a human dressed in a white dog costume dancing, moshing, landing on all fours, getting back on her feet and flipping off the crowd with both hands. Amy Abts, a singer-songwriter with a voice that leans toward the school of 1990s alt, joined the band for a cover of Veruca Salt’s “Seether.”

“Okay, this is our last one,” the band said as members of Black Diary joined them on-stage. The gospel-style vocalists Sophie and Tasha Turk and Rachel Phoenix covered En Vogue’s “Free Your Mind.”

Most of The Social Disaster showed up to the Main wearing pajamas, robes, flannel pants, no pants, whatever. Jake Larson’s Moog gives this band a sort of arcade-after-dark, a place where people make mouth-to-mouth Hubba Bubba transactions sound. It’s fronted by Rachel Phoenix, who is the exact reason why bar shows will always be better than arena shows. She’s all voice and ooze and when she dropped to the floor to head bang — regularly — fans in the front rows leaned in like she was about to tell them a secret.

People really freaking like this band, letmetellya.

“I wrote a breakup song,” she said, before one song. Afterward she mused on the difficulties of breaking up and the drummer, Ryan Nelson, told the audience that it was actually their four-year anniversary.

The PJs came into play late in the set when Nelson chucked pillows out into the audience. They were immediately destroyed. Fabric hung from a light and the fluffy innards were tossed through the air.

The Social Disaster covered ACDC’s “T.N.T.” before Phoenix asked the crowd “Is it okay if we do one more for you?” They set closed with her repeating:

“I want to get you in the bedroom.”

In today’s DNT: The Weekend section has a Homegrown 101 with bonus photos of the past week.

Also: A bit on the Holy Hootenanners, who play tonight at The Underground.

Homegrown: Day 4

Trampled by Turtles performs at Clyde Iron Works in Duluth Wednesday night. The performance was a part of Westside Wednesday the fourth day of the 2015 Homegrown Music Festival in Duluth. For video of Wednesday's performances visit (Clint Austin /

Trampled by Turtles performed Wenesday at Clyde Iron Works as part of Homegrown Music Festival. (Clint Austin /

Our city’s casual folk were out of luck for the big show Wednesday night at Clyde Iron Works, where the line got an early start and the joint was packed to max capacity before Big Wave Dave & The Ripples’ sullied a single spit valve. Following the festival debut of the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra, Trampled By Turtles opened with zero chatter and immediately led into “Codeine” followed by “Victory.” Then Dave Simonett, in a cowboy hat, addressed the crowd:

“It’s good to be home,” he said. “Thanks for coming.”

The band got an extra-large roar after Simonett sang the line “Still I like the quiet of Duluth in the winter,” from the song Duluth off the album Duluth.

Alan Sparhawk of Low wore a slouchy cap and performed his own song “When I Go Deaf” backed by the band. Trampled ripped through “War” and made it look aerobic. Strobes flashed during the most fast-n-frantic moments. Sweet-voiced Tim Saxhaug covered Loudon Wainwright III’s “The Swimming Song” and Simonett noted “What a wonderful spectacle Homegrown has become.”

A foursome of additional string players took the stage behind music stands and joined the band for “Midnight on the Interstate” and “Alone” and filled the room with a gorgeous, full sound. They stayed on-board for “Wild Animals,” playing after Simonett, Saxhaug, Dave Carroll, Ryan Young, Erik Berry and Eamonn McLain had waved and filed off stage.

The one-song encore was Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll be Staying Here with You.”

American Rebels are like … musicians whose first gig was playing air guitar along to MTV while jumping on the bed. Kyle MacLean, Bob Olson, Scott Millis and Heather Dean make it look so fun. They bounce, hair flies, faces are made, sweat beads and it’s this super authentic rock ‘n’ roll show. They ripped through their set at Mr. D’s like they were dealing cards. At one point the music slowed, the room got dark, people started to sway and anyone with a bit of junior high mixer history knew what was coming: That sudden burst into speed that breaks the slow-dance trance.


Meanwhile, two blocks away at the Gopher, Toby Thomas Churchill was performing as Starling of Athens his one-man atheist folk act. Clever stuff about chastity and lady parts and the kinds of things that don’t traditionally crop up in song.

Back at D’s, Glitteratti, a super-group featuring Marc Gartman, Saxhaug, Carroll, Patrick Bowen, on this night, Sparhawk. They trotted out an eclectic mix of covers ranging from Velvet Underground (“Who Loves the Sun”) to Violent Femmes (“Blister in the Sun”) to “Listen to the Flower People Say” by Spinal Tap. There was a touch of Tom Petty. 

They paid homage to a local fave, covering “Jean Jacket Weather” by Ol’ Yeller. 

“2015 is the year of the cover band,” observed a festival-goer.

In today’s DNT: Here’s a story about Charlie Parr’s new album. And the review by Tony Bennett.

And here’s a little bit about the traveling musician Bliss.

Homegrown: Day 3

It still seems a little strange to see the just the name Stel listed in the Homegrown Music Festival schedule. Brian Stelmaszewski is half of the longtime act Stel & Lefty, a duo that regularly played at spots like Sir Benedict’s Tavern on the Lake or Thirsty Pagan. Larry “Lefty” Sandmann had a massive stroke in 2012 and around that time Stel called him “a musical soul mate — my partner in crime for many years,” in a News Tribune story that proceeded a benefit for Lefty.
Stel played a spare set Tuesday evening at Amazing Grace Bakery & Cafe, just his guitar and a worn notebook filled with his repertoire. It seemed that Lefty was on his mind, as well.
“I always thought Lefty did a better Neil Young than Neil Young,” Stel said, leading in to a cover of “Don’t Let it Bring You Down.” He followed with another Lefty fave by Jerry Garcia. He closed his set with Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.”

Adam Sippola performed Tuesday night as part of Homegrown Music Festival.

Adam Sippola performed Tuesday night as part of Homegrown Music Festival.

For part of Adam Sippola’s set at Lake Avenue Cafe, the actor-musician crouched over his electronics, with a microphone cupped in his hands. Sippola, who is currently in the role of Jesus in the Duluth Playhouse’s production of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” played for a rapt audience void of Homegrown shenanigans. His music is a sort of looped electro-chanting that, at times, was reminiscent of a yet unrealized remix from Depeche Mode’s “Some Great Reward,” though possibly “Construction Time Again.”
Sippola’s father joined him on the Casio and backup vocals for “Rising Point,” the titular folk song from his most recent album. He closed with a version of “Bring Him Home,” from “Les Miserables.” (Sippola was Jean Valjean in the Playhouse’s production this past summer.) It was gorgeous.
“Thank you for indulging my strangely varied set,” he said to the audience.

Bratwurst performed Tuesday at Grandma's Sports Garden as part of Homegrown Music Festival.

Bratwurst performed Tuesday at Grandma’s Sports Garden as part of Homegrown Music Festival.

And then, for the weirdest juxtaposition possible, Bratwurst at Grandma’s Sports Garden. It started with a procession of masked people with a Pegasus raised like an offering. Sparkle Donkey, if that is its real name, had become the 2015 Homegrown mascot — but these things never last long and Bratwurst front man Tyler Scouton took a (was that a saw?) to the horse doll as part of a set that included stuff like that.
There was also a mistreated boar head, and a plastic tub that met the rough end of a small hammer. Meanwhile, scenes played on a movie screen behind the stage: images from “The Shining” and vintage meat commercials. Scouton wore a Best Grandpa Hands Down T-shirt. His band mates dressed in white HazMat suits and in at least one case, a gold mask.
Scouton rubbed raw meat into his face and flung hot dogs and let the saw rip, sending sparks flying. At one point he looked out at the audience like: “Oh. Are you guys still here?”
Bratwurst brought enough drumming materials for anyone who wanted to drum along to the industrial sounds. They also provided a metal structure for people to bang on. Visions of “Beyond Thunderdome.”
Just wondering: How in love do you have to be to make out at a Bratwurst show?
Of note: The News Tribune got a phone call this morning about a boar head that was found in Canal Park. IMG_4059Meanwhile, in today’s DNT: the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra, plus schedule.

Homegrown: Day 2

The Boomchucks played Monday night at Rex Bar during Day 2 of Homegrown Music Festival.

The Boomchucks played Monday night at Rex Bar during Day 2 of Homegrown Music Festival.

It all started with the Homegrown Photo Show, a nicely curated collection of Great Moments in Homegrown History: The time the Blasphemists performed wearing towels draped like loin clothes (by Shane Olson) or the Black-Eyed Snakes from an aerial perspective at Clyde Iron Works (Oops. Forgot to snag artist’s name). And it wouldn’t be a rock ‘n’ roll photo show without an image of Alan Sparhawk’s hair in mid-flight (Jeremiah Brown.) Photos lined the walls at The Red Herring Lounge while Nyanyika Banda of the pop-up restaurant Izakaya 218 set up a spread of ramen bowls. Unfortunately, this chronicler had to jet and has still only experienced her food via Instagram.

If you are Todd Gremmels experienced, it will suffice to say that his Monday set at Sir Ben’s was pure Todd Gremmels. For the uninitiated, that means he banged hard and soft on the piano keys, guided by a set list that wasn’t much bigger than a gum wrapper.
There was less sing-along compared to last year, but then Gremmels had a few tricks up his sleeve as the venue burst from its seams to get a look at the scraggly man hooked up to the piano like an oxygen tank and playing songs he said were written by some local guy.
An electric guitar appeared to help him with “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” part of a mini-Beatles set that included a winning, smiley version of “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road.”
Then came the topper. A drum corps started up outside of Sir Ben’s and Gremmels urged the opening of the windows. That led to a rousing “Baba O’Riley” (“Teenage Wasteland”) that ended with Gremmels standing up and walking out of the joint.
“Where the hell did he go?” was the murmur in the crowd. He was gone. Todd Gremmels had left the building.

Bridget Ideker’s alter ego as Bridget the Brave entranced those at the Rex Monday night. If you could get past the locker room smell of the place, Ideker transported one to the lounge days of yesterday. Think of Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday” to President Kennedy. Or some gangster’s mol getting a break on a Las Vegas stage. Or Isabella Rossellini singing “Blue Velvet.”
Ideker is part performance art with a simple swing of a hip or a tossed hand. Her songs were charming, as were her minimalist introductions to them. “I wrote this song after a bumblebee hit my windshield.”
When someone Tweeted part of the set and called it fittingly “breathtaking,” Ideker responded later with an appropriate response: “I get so sassy up there.” 

The Boomchucks played for a packed house at Rex Bar, a freshly half-shorn Brad Nelson on drums and Jamie Ness and his folky working man vocals. This is one of those tried-and-true bands, scene vets unlikely to disappoint. There’s something great about seeing them in a bigger venue than where they can really get some air behind their sound (and give fans room to shake an elbow or two.) Ness led into “Frozen River” by calling it a political song. “Check this sh** out,” he said behind curtain of indie rock bangs. They closed with a song that included train whistle sounds and it really felt like the Boomchucks were going to escape before the wheels fell off on the night.

 Nopamine, man. These first-timers played Homegrown Music Fest like it was 2004. They were loud. They growled. They said the eff word, they challenged a hot room at Red Star Lounge by stripping down to just their tattoos. And half of the room responded with the requisite moshing and stage diving and crowd surfing. And the photographers pounced. Prediction: You will see photos of Homegrowners surfing on a wave of peers during next year’s photo show. There was a lot of preamble and the band was already 10 minutes late when they opened with “Hey. We’re Nopamine and we’re from Plant Earth Duluth Minnesota” or something close to that. Guitar. Drums. Faster guitar. Demonic growls. They were heavy, pop, punk and sometimes seemed like they should be playing the basement of an Irish pub. They covered Bad Religion and, pressed for an encore, they conferred for a bit and decided to cover a song by Lillingtons.

“One of the great rock bands of all time,” said co-lead singer Brooks Bonkoski. “And we’re going to do them a great injustice.”

This, Festers, was one of the shows you will wish you didn’t miss. So much fun; So much energy.

Meanwhile, in today’s DNT: Adam Sippola. 

Compiled by Christa Lawler and Michael Creger.