A magical trolley bus, an amazing accordion band and a tale of misfortune dripping with irony brought an end to my week prowling the biggest music festival/birthday party in the northland last Saturday night.
The Duluth Homegrown Music Festival is an eight-day extravaganza featuring some 200 local bands, dozens of Twin Ports venues and more than 5,000 wristband-wearing
music fanatics. Rock, country, rap, classical, blues, even a singing robot headline this annual event loosely organized around the May birthday of a local legend named “Starfire.”
More on him later.
Because Duluth is loaded with great musicians, Homegrown fans are forced to make difficult choices each night: Which acts to see? When? How can I find the stage before their 45-minute set ends? This deep talent pool can also trigger an Option B: Leave it to chance.
On Saturday night, I took in a rollicking performance from a rock band at a new downtown Duluth venue called the Blind Pig. I didn’t know where to go next. I stumbled onto the busy sidewalk outside and the crowd parted, a trolley bus stopped curbside and its double doors burst open in my face.
The Homegrown Gods were pointing the direction. Without breaking stride, I climbed aboard a trolley bus bursting with music. I chose Option B.
Bouncing along on a bus with live music, drunken revelers snapping phone pictures and windows blurred by night-time neon is a strange, metamorphic experience. It’s like being on a slow-moving rocket ship through a musical universe where each stop is a new planet and everyone jumping on is a friendly alien.
A duo called Dance Attic was perched in the backseat. A women played a huge, white accordion. A man in glasses picked at a chrome plated resonator guitar. They played a wonderfully scathing song about narrow-minded country music fans and another that celebrated the joys of beer. “Hoppy, hoppy, hoppy,” went the chorus.
I was a passenger on this Lost in Space jamboree for about 10 minutes when I realized most the seats were now empty. We had reversed direction and were heading back downtown. Dance Attic stopped the music and was putting away their instruments.
That’s when Starfire stepped through the doors.
Now Starfire is the guy who invented the Homegrown Music Festival 19 years ago. He built it around his birthday and turned the party over to Twin Ports music lovers. He’s a popular radio personality, a talented band leader and such a beloved character his name is on a locally brewed beer. It was like seeing Leonardo DiCaprio walk into a Hollywood Perkins two hours before the Academy Awards.
Shouldn’t he be somewhere else tonight?
But Starfire was in no position to accept an Oscar. He sat down in the back and started talking with Dance Attic – musicians he has known for years (naturally). Everyone on the trolley bus heard his tale.
It turned out Starfire had just been refused entry to a centerpiece Homegrown venue because he did not have proper identification. “I left my license at home,” he said. “I’m almost 50 years old, I didn’t think I’d need it.”
But rules are rules.
Starfire wasn’t mad. He seemed more disappointed and bewildered than anything else. He said he was headed back home to get the proper identification.
“Isn’t that the definition of irony?” said someone. “It’s your birthday party and you can’t get in because you don’t have an ID.”
Every one agreed the situation seemed pretty ironic. Then everything got quiet.
My stop came up and I got off the bus with the last two people. Starfire stayed on board all by himself. I turned my back and walked up the hill for a final show.
I’d like to think the bus sprouted wings and a driver who looked like Santa Claus flew Starfire back to his house for a quick wallet retrieval.
At least, that’s what would happen to Leonardo DiCaprio in the movies, right?