Hot fun in Duluth's cool summer

Jill Fisher

Allison Hinds' twerking contest.

It had been a while since I was at Sir Ben’s, so Tuesday, July 11, was a particularly opportune time to revisit. The so-called Duluth Band #734b was playing on the patio and it was a gorgeous summer evening.

Of course everyone knows the musicians who comprise this new (but already stellar!) band: Marc Gartman, Jacob Mahon, Owen Mahon and Teague Alexy. It was back on May 24 (Bob’s Birthday), during the Duluth Dylan Fest, that these guys Played Dead at Cedar Lounge (on that occasion I had noted the band’s name” as “Band #342, hmmm).

What a foursome – Gartman on acoustic guitar, Jacob on electric guitar, Owen on standup bass and Teague on harmonica with all of them contributing vocals.

What sets a good cover band apart from the ordinary bar cover band? Perhaps it is the choice of tunes and their interpretation, which was notable in this genre-spanning performance. The selected songs included the traditional jug band tune “Stealin’” by Gus Cannon, “Stay a Little Longer” by Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys/Buddy Holly’s hit “Oh Boy!,” Smokey Robinson’s “I Second That Emotion” and the gospel number, “Promised Land.”

This latter song showcased the wonderful harmonies the four are able to produce. Yes, there was some Grateful Dead-like jamming, but the variety of oldies but goodies they made sound like their own was a real treat. I would happily make you aware of this group’s upcoming gigs if there was a way of tracking them, but for now I guess serendipity will have to do.

The second musical outing this week was to the free Charlie Parr concert up in Silver Bay on Friday evening. It was the kick-off of the Music in the Park Series at City Center Park. Again, it was a lovely evening for an outdoor concert.

Parr was in his usual great, rootsy form, covering songs by the likes of Brownie McGee, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Tom Waits and Spider John Koerner. He concluded his performance with the Beatles’ “Rocky Racoon” which was a hoot. Because he couldn’t end the stage without an encore, we were treated to a wonderful a cappela gospel number. The show was definitely worth the hour-long trip north.

There are several notable folks on the schedule for upcoming Friday evenings and I am pretty sure the Curmudgeon and I will get back up that way soon, most likely to hear Joyanne Parker on the 28th of this month.

And then there was Reggae Fest!

Or more properly, the 17th Annual Bayfront Reggae & World Music Festival. It was my third time attending, the second since I started writing this column. Gates opened at noon on Saturday, July 15, and I was there ready for action by 12:20. Upon admittance to the festival grounds folks were greeted by DJ A Dub’s TNT HiFi Reggae tunes being spun to get us in the mood.

DJ A Dub is Alex Peterson, who keeps the reggae beat going at Bent Paddle on Wednesday evenings. And it was a good thing he was there to get the energy going since it would take another couple of hours for the festival to get underway. Staking out my spot near the edge of the paved “dance floor” in front of the Bayfront stage, I got to witness what would normally be behind-the-scenes preparations, along with a few other early bird attendees.

Sound checks seemed to be the holdup and by 1:40 pm, it seemed as though this was completed as a group launched into a funky number that lasted at least five minutes and got me dancing. But no, it was Alison Hinds completing her band’s sound check. Her preliminary vocals were full out and her perambulations all over the stage provided a teaser of what was to come. I should have known since she was dressed casually in ripped jeans and a tee shirt.

As far as I could tell, the first act, DJ Sound of Fujun was skipped in order to get the performers’ schedule back on track. The weather alternated between warm sun and clouds with cool breezes, perfect for an 11-hour outdoor event.

Finally, at 2:15 the beginning of Reggae Fest was officially announced and the band Rootz Within took the stage to give us a taste of Midwest Reggae. Based in Detroit Lakes at present, the band was formed in Hawaii. Its members include Jonah Bowe (lead electric guitar), Tyler Remy (electric guitar), Ryan Engberg (bass) Scott Thompson (drums) and Anita Cargioull (conga). I found this group to be very enjoyable with original tunes reflecting local life set to a reggae beat, which are on their 2022 album Incrementum. They will be touring around the Midwest this summer with a spot on the inaugural Reggae, Ska and Rock Fest lineup in Milaca on Aug.12. It’s regrettable that more folks weren’t on hand to hear this young and talented group do their reggae thing.

The audience was still small when the second band in the festival lineup, Dred I Dread, took the Bayfront stage. It also is a  Minnesota band, this one based in Minneapolis, with members hailing from Jamaica, New Orleans,and Türkiye (Turkey), as well as Minnesota. They are still bringing the reggae sound to these parts after 25 years. Peewee Dread is the lead vocalist, with Rawle G doing most of the between-songs commentary in addition to vocals. Brothers Adam Cole (drums) and Alex G (keyboards) back them up, together with Serdar G (electric guitar) and Paul Kammeyer (bass). They clearly conveyed the reggae message, along with the sound, calling their offerings “message music” which is “played for the music – he advice is free.”

Thoroughly professional, with a string of credits for appearing with internationally known reggae bands such as Third World, they served up a high energy performance that provided a suitable segue to the next act.

With the schedule getting back on track, Alison Hinds was ready to show her stuff at 5 pm, and suddenly there was a crowd filling the dance area in front of the stage. No jeans clad the lady at this point. Rather, she sported a sparkly purple spandex outfit that revealed every curve and  accented her suggestive movements – oh yeah, there was a whole lot of twerking going on! This is when I realized there’s a whole other culture out there to which I am only an outside observer.

Hinds may have been on stage, but the action took place on the dance floor as well. Indeed, the appropriately named Hinds invited three women from the audience (just those “aging like fine wine” – no 20-year-olds!) to join her onstage to demonstrate their own twerking talents. Looking back over the grounds, I saw the place was filling up, affirming Hinds’ drawing power. She has a fabulous, powerful singing voice, which I felt didn’t actually need the additional show-womanship to heighten the excitement of her performance. But what do I know?

She sure did put on a show, engaging the audience on most of her songs, having us wave our hands in the air and moving as a group from one side of the dance floor to the other in time to the reggae beat.

One of the fun features of Reggae Fest is the Limbo Contest. I actually joined in since I first limboed at age 13. Of course, with the limbo ribbon (no stick for this contest) held fairly high I was able to make it under a couple times before ducking under and letting the youngsters show what they could do. The winner, Ms Emma Schultz was incredibly limber, making it under the ribbon bar that was not even 2 feet high. So congratulations to the Queen of Limbo, who has won the title in years past.

It was 6:30 pm when it was Stone Bwoy’s turn on stage. Now the entire festival grounds were filled. The turnout was reportedly higher (in more ways than one!) than in 2022. Like the previous two acts, lead vocalist Stonebwoy did not play an instrument. One surprise was the addition of UWS professor Greg Kehl Moore playing saxophone with the band, which was a last-minute arrangement, resulting in Moore having to improvise, which he did flawlessly.

Luciano was next up at 8 pm. His backup band included two sets of keyboards and two sets of drums/drummers along with one electric guitar plus two female backup singers who added a whole other dimension to his performance. No twerking was needed to increase the interest here.

Again, Greg Moore on sax was among the musicians on stage. In this case he was hired to play sax with this band by the festival organizer months ago. The music was ecstatic, with dancers adding to the high spirits of the evening.

All in all, this may have been the musical high point of the festival. Finally, the last act, Konshens, got started at 9:45 pm with what was called Jamaican dancehall reggae. He was seen as the headliner, but the attendees must have been getting a bit worn out (as was I from all the dancing) since the grounds began emptying. It may have had to do with this set incorporating a more hip hop sound and DJ spinning, or it could have been folks wanting to take in some of the street dance music of Lamont Cranston taking place concurrently downtown.

I can’t say much about this performance since I too had had my fill of reggae for this evening. To keep in the groove though, I think I’ll get more limited reggae fixes at the Wednesday Splash Reggae Jams at Bent Paddle. But it was all great fun at one of the premier festivals held at Bayfront Park. Next month it’ll be Bayfront Blues Fest – see you there!