Bayfront Blues Festival: For diehards, it's about the traditionThe 23rd annual music festival kicked off late Friday morning at Bayfront Festival Park. By midday about 2,000 diehards had set up camping chairs and pulled out signature bluesfest mugs.
By: Christa Lawler, Duluth News Tribune
Fun fact about Bayfront Blues Festival diehards, the crowd that descends on the park in time for the first act of the weekend: The attraction is more about the tradition of the event than who is playing what and where.
“It’s beautiful, the performers are incredible and every year is organized better and better,” said festival regular Jim Kubitschek of Forest Lake. “The view is incredible.”
He’s got 12 years in at the event — almost a newbie in comparison to other families and packs of friends who have the festival etched in ink on social calendars. The 23rd annual music festival kicked off late Friday morning at Bayfront Festival Park. By midday about 2,000 of those diehards had set up camping chairs and pulled out signature bluesfest mugs. Most had plans to spend the whole weekend listening to the more than 30 acts between the main stage and the acoustic tent.
Bluesfest runs through Sunday with Vicci Martinez and Beverly McClellen, finalists on the TV talent show “The Voice,” taking the stage at 5:45 p.m.
Kubitschek turned his 21-year-old daughter Lauren on to the festival and this is her third year. She said she likes the music — specifically Big Walter Smith — and that it isn’t an out-of-control party.
She lent her own laid-back vibe to the day by pulling out a brand new blue and orange hula hoop and setting up in an open space to the left of the stage. She did traditional hip work then moved the hoop up her body to her neck and around her upraised arms in synch with the music.
Once considered a yard toy, hula hoops often come out at outdoor events. Kubitschek picked it up from dancers and circus performers when she was at a folk festival.
“(It’s for) when you get sick of dancing or tired of dancing,” she said.
Shoes came off, chairs were lounged and fan Loretta Anderson of Savage, Minn., in her fourth year of attendance, was moved to do some hip-shaking herself, dancing alone in a black swooshing skirt.
“I just feel the music and get up and start dancing,” she said. “I love the blues and I love to dance. The setting is amazing, with the backdrop of the lake.”
Joel Rausch and his nephew were making chess-like moves to get as close to front and center as possible. They had landed in the second row by the time harmonica guru Rockin’ Jake played just after noon, but they were eyeing better positions.
Rausch has his favorites — he, too, likes Big Walter Smith — but part of the festival involves learning about finding new artists to check out. He said he takes advantage of the merchandise tent.
“I usually get a couple (CDs) every year,” he said.
First-timer Emma Keeler bought tickets as a gift for her mother Amy Jaynes of Hibbing. Jaynes said the last time she was in Bayfront there wasn’t any grass.
Keeler danced during John Primer’s set, but admitted she doesn’t know much about specific blues artists.
“It’s just relaxing,” she said.
Three generations of Mehles had a picnic of corn dogs and lemonade at a picnic table in a low traffic area near the acoustic tent. John Mehle of Hermantown started the tradition of spending the weekend at Bayfront Festival Park in the early days of the event. Now it’s a regularly scheduled family event. His elementary school-aged grandchildren might not know why they dig the blues, but they definitely dig it.
“Sometimes when it’s raining, I dance in the rain,” said Braden Mehle, 6.
An eight-some from Eden Prairie — all wearing white T-shirts with the catchphrase “Keyed up and ready to go” — have rearranged an annual weekend getaway to Duluth into a weekend getaway to the blues festival.
“I just soak in the atmosphere,” said Lynne Crist. “It’s good people watching and the music is fantastic.”