Each month, I write a column for Transistor (http://www.transistormag.com) called CTRL+ALT+DULUTH. (Yes, it plays on the "duh-LOOT" pronunciation.) Below is the text from June's entry:
“This is the first time we’ve been in Duluth…”
That’s how Solid Gold frontman Zach Coulter kicked off his band’s set at the inaugural Sound Unseen opening-night after-party at Greysolon Ballroom last week.
You could probably say the same for many of the 30 or so people who filled the dance floor just a few feet from the band. Perhaps they were all locals, but they danced and sang along like friends and groupies who carpooled up to support their heroes on this rare foray into the wilderness.
First time in Duluth. Really? A band can become favorites of the Twin Cities music circuit and the darlings of the indie radio station without having to shit sideways at Duluth even one time? They can just ignore a college town like this? Have they been to St. Cloud, at least? Rochester?!
Scanning the rest of the room, however, I found it hard to blame them. Outside of their coterie of loyal converts, very few of the other 200 or so people in attendance seemed to notice they were onstage.
Yes, that’s right. Only 200 people TOTAL for a $14 event featuring free food, free BEER and a band that packed First Avenue in Minneapolis just 48 hours later.
For better or worse, this turnout featured the patented Duluth mix: the sport-coat and mock-turtle entrepreneurial types who funded the affair (and for whom the Solid Gold Dancers might have been a bigger draw), the greenie/indie set (in which I guess I should count myself) and this growing cadre of hipster clowns you see more and more around town. And of course, the ubiquitous middle-aged couple who would have slow-grinded in the exact same rhythm whether it was Solid Gold or Michael Bolton between the amps.
But the issue on Wednesday was one of quantity – not quality. My wife and I ran through the possibilities:
The summer student exodus? You have to admit that scheduling is a tough call. Slate it for April or September and you might have a security problem once word of a $14 beer ticket gets around. Schedule it in June, and apparently, you get an empty ballroom.
Lack of promotion? Upon our arrival, the first things we noticed – after checking out the band’s gear – were the local radio station banners flanking the stage. I couldn’t imagine hearing a Solid Gold track on any of them. Even more conspicuous was who was missing: KUMD. In fact, we only discovered the show on Sunday morning because Northland Voices follows Face the Nation on KDLH 3. (We leave the former on for its impeccable morning background noise.)
Or, perhaps local music fans were saving themselves for what rates as the “real deal” ‘round these parts: a set later in the week by Charlie Parr. I can’t imagine that gig was as sparsely attended as Solid Gold’s.
I hate to harp on Mr. Parr’s popularity because the guy deserves everything he’s got in this town. But I can’t help but see that popularity as the embodiment of the differences between the Twin Cities and Duluth music scenes.
I love Duluth, but last Wednesday, my heart was in Minneapolis…