Each year, bluesfest brings friends together in DuluthAs Bob Strand zipped around the parking lot Thursday on his gas-powered bar stool, people couldn’t help but wave and say hello to “Barstool Bob.” Among the thousands of people who flock to the Bayfront Blues Festival, dozens - including Strand - can be found in the makeshift campground at the DECC in early August every year.
By: Tom Olsen, Duluth News Tribune
As Bob Strand zipped around the parking lot Thursday on his gas-powered bar stool, people couldn’t help but wave and say hello to “Barstool Bob.”
After all, he’s like a cousin they only see once a year at a family reunion.
Like dozens of other out-of-towners and locals who flock to the Bayfront Blues Festival, Strand can be found in the makeshift campground at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center in early August every year.
“The festival always brings out good people, and we become friends,” Strand said. “There’s a lot of people you don’t know any other day of the year, except for this weekend.”
By Thursday evening, there were about 25 campers and RVs of all shapes and sizes parked in the lot. They started arriving Saturday, but many didn’t start rolling in until Thursday, a day before the 25th bluesfest kicks off.
Strand has been there for all 25 of them.
“It doesn’t matter who comes; it’s great fun every year,” he said. “People might look at the lineup and say there’s no great acts, but it always ends up being an awesome year.”
Margie Butler of Hudson, Wis., was the first to drive onto the lot Saturday and has been joined by her daughter, Danielle Butler, who lives in Duluth. The Butlers are camped out in an old, white RV near the Fifth Avenue West viaduct with their dogs, Mojo and Thresher.
On the door side of the RV, a large panoramic photo of last year’s festival hangs. The photo was taken by Margie’s husband, who was expected to drive up from Hudson on Thursday evening.
“We come and camp out in this old RV and meet a lot of great people,” Margie Butler said. “And then we don’t see any of them again for a year.”
For her daughter, who doesn’t have a car and can’t make it home to Hudson often, it’s valuable family time.
“It’s always been fun to come down here and hang out with my parents for a few days,” Danielle Butler said. “It’s nice to get away from daily life for a while.”
The campers have been known to throw their own post-festival parties. Some of the amateur musicians in the group get out their instruments and play their own show in the lot after the day’s featured acts.
With a backdrop of Interstate 35 and the tall buildings of downtown, it’s hardly a rural camping excursion. But campers say they’re perfectly happy with their urban camping experience — and not just because it happens to be right next to Bayfront Festival Park.
“It’s nice to be right down here by Canal Park and downtown where there’s plenty to do,” said Pete Takash of White Bear Lake, Minn. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a terrific way to show off Duluth.”
The campers say they expect the lot to be full by the time the festival kicks off Friday.
It’s a unique sight for the lot that is usually packed with cars for a hockey game or big concert. Rows of motorhomes, fifth-wheels and truck campers line the lot.
Dogs run around and play fetch. Canopies and picnic tables are set up. The smell of grilled brats and burgers is in the air.
Take away the freeway and buildings and it would look like any typical day at a rural campground.
But the camping experience also comes with some modern amenities: For a fee, services such as electricity, water, showers and bathrooms are available via the DECC.
“This is pretty unique,” Takash said. “There’s nothing quite like it.”
Started as a small one-afternoon event in 1989, the now three-day festival is expected to draw more than 20,000 people this year, depending on the weather.
And the weather looks good. Temperatures are forecast in the 70s this weekend.
“The temperature always seems to be great,” Takash said. “This late-summer — or maybe more like mid-summer — timing and the setting on the waterfront makes it just perfect.”