The PlayList Rocks Thursday Nights on PBS

Karen Sunderman hosts The PlayList on Thursday nights at 9pm for our local PBS channel (WDSE/WRPT) and highlights the great depth of the Northland’s art scene.

Next Thursday (2/ 23) and the following Thursday (3/1) The PlayList is playing their debut show from 2010 featuring Trampled By Turtles at live at Pizza Luce. You can learn a lot about the Northland’s thriving artistic community by watching each week.

“The PlayList is a taste of the music + art scene in our region,” Sunderman said.  “The goal is to expose the quality and variety of creative people doing work here and encouraging people to get out and explore their options.  Some of us can’t go out every night.  The PlayList is a mini night out whenever you can spare a half hour to watch, over the air or online.” (

Something new for season 3 of The PlayList was that our local art scene was shown off to the rest of the state.  Successful local indie group Low even performed for an episode.

“The PlayList goes statewide this season on the MN Channel.  That means people here and across the state get to discover a whole new slate of artists, actors, and musicians from our neighborhood. We also worked with two dynamite partners this fall.  Life House does incredible work with homeless teens in Duluth and presented “Low in Concert” at Marshall School,” Sunderman said.

Grand Marais has a thriving art community that often doesn’t get the exposure it deserves.  To prepare for the third season Sunderman sought out a few artistic clashes.

“This summer we caught the competitive side of painting with the Grand Marais Art Colony,” Sunderman explained.  “It’s going to be an action-packed, reality TV episode based on the annual plein air painting competition; honest.”

With all of the recent cuts from the legislature this past session we are very fortunate that The PlayList survived.  The money set aside for the television program does more than support the arts, it also inspires cooperation.

“The people of Minnesota care enough about clean water, the environment and the arts to vote themselves a 3/8 of a percent sales tax increase,” Sunderman said.  “We did that in 2008.  A small portion provides seed money for The PlayList and lots of amazing arts opportunities in the region.  The amount of collaboration and cross pollination among musicians and artists astounds me. It was probably always there, but now I’ve gone to art openings with live music, seen theater companies share resources and have watched musicians work with kids at the Music Resource Center.  That level of cooperation makes this scene extremely inspiring.”

I asked Sunderman what her favorite part was of covering the local arts scene.

“My favorite thing about covering local arts is meeting talented people who are passionate about their music and art--lots of them. Seeing them grow and flourish in our region, and supporting them where I can, is a real pleasure.”  

One complaint that some people have of this area is that there isn’t much to do in the entertainment category.  Sunderman’s goal is to prove those naysayers wrong.

“If I hear someone say there’s nothing to do, it makes me cringe,” Sunderman said.  “Every night of the week there is music to be heard from Duluth to Grand Marais to Virginia.  Often there are two, three or four theater productions to choose from.  There is a constantly changing array of art exhibits, films, dance & comedy to discover.  Once you start seeing the possibilities, it’s really hard to stay home and get the laundry done.”

Some of the episodes of The PlayList are pre-recorded, but most are done live from the studio.

“When the clock strikes 9, the signal is straight from our studio to your TV screen—no commercial breaks—it is a live performance,” Sunderman said.  “We hope to share the excitement and energy that goes along with that.  We’re cultivating a studio audience to make sure the musicians get some energy back.  In our studio we can bring in the audio ninja, aka Jake Larson, and work on lighting.  That said, it’s fun to bring all our equipment out to record on site for special occasions.”  
So how has Sunderman’s perspective changed about covering the arts from this show compared to Venture North?
“I am awed by the creativity and high caliber performances I have seen around the Arrowhead region.  The visual artists, performers and musicians here are doing really quality work.  If you have an interest in any arts discipline, you can find an opportunity to explore it on almost any weekend.  We have so much going on, you just have to be proud of the rich cultural life growing our community.  Go see it!  Get involved!  Enjoy live, local art every day!  You can download episodes on I-tunes!  Join us on Facebook and Twitter at playlistMN.”

The PlayList is a finalist in the Arts/Entertainment category of the Upper Midwest Chapter’s Emmy competition.  Episode #223, with producer/host Karen Sunderman, Editor Steven Ash, Director Nick Clingman, Audio mixers Jake Larson and Lance Haavisto was selected for outstanding achievement in television production.  Competition includes major market productions from TPT, WCCO and KSTP.