For some, it was an emotional homecoming to a venue that hosted some of the most memorable moments from Duluth's music and arts scene from the '90s to the mid-2000s. For others, it was a first chance to experience music in one of Duluth's last remaining historic theaters.
The Don Ness Shows off the NorShor show, headlined by Low, provided plenty of magical moments for both groups on March 3, 2018.
The evening started with a pre-show performance by Coyote as audience members filed in, heads turning to take in all of the renovations of the newly-opened theater. Duluth radio theater company Take it with You then kicked off the official festivities, introducing acts and imagining what folks who missed out on getting a ticket to the sold-out show might be up to. (Spoiler alert: It involved Yahtzee.)
Next up, Gaelynn Lea took the stage accompanied by guitarist Dave Mehling and drummer Martin Dosh. She commented that it was a great way to celebrate the two-year anniversary of the announcement of her life-changing win in NPR Music's Tiny Desk Concert Contest.
Following Lea's three-song set (the standard for each act in the first half of the show), local writer Paul Lundgren got up to share his NorShor memories. Early on in the theater's rebirth as a music venue in the '90s, he said, he was walking by and heard music coming through a slightly open door. Walking up the stairs, he encountered Alan Sparhawk of Low's obscure, oddball side project The Hospital People performing a slow, synth-laden song with only two lines: "Fear...is gone/We'll...be...philosophers." That's when he knew, said Lundgren, that there, at the NorShor, he'd found his people.
KUMD alumnus Rick McLean took the stage next, inspiring laughter and applause from the crowd with a quirky original tune about a time-traveling cowboy ("Although that's never mentioned in the song") and a dark re-working of Petula Clark's "Downtown."
Superior Siren, performing as a trio in the absence of vacationing bass player Nyssa Krause, then treated a hushed crowd to songs from their recently-released debut album.
Another local writer, Anna Tennis, got up next to share her memories of the NorShor, emphasizing that, more than music, it was a venue that brought together creative people of all stripes. The inspiration she found there, she said, gave her the confidence to start thinking of herself as a writer.
The final musical act of the show's first half was Dave Simonett of Trampled by Turtles along with Benson Ramsey of the Pines. Simonett opened with "Winners," a Duluth-centric Turtles tune with lines including "Charlie's on the stage and the roof might collapse" and "Pretty little city built on a hillside...And I used to call home." The song's nostalgic feel was fitting for the mood of the night and the rebirth of the beloved NorShor, where he'd performed so many times before.
After a twenty-minute intermission, headliners Low took the stage. (Earlier in the day Alan from the band had tweeted "New NorShor is NICE.") After running through some familiar tunes, the band broke out new material from their forthcoming album, due out later this year. They called Gaelynn Lea and Dave Simonett back to the stage to help them wrap up the evening with "When I Go Deaf." It was a beautiful, powerful ending to a special evening, bringing back fond memories for some and showcasing the potential for future music performances at Duluth's new NorShor.