Photo by Kathleen Ambre
It was an exciting night [the weekend of March 3] at the newly-renovated NorShor Theatre in downtown Duluth. The marquee was up, the curtains drawn, and a buzz of “oooo’s” and “ahhhh’s” filled the revitalized, art-deco space.
“My grandmother used to go to dime movies here on Saturdays,” said one woman to her group of friends huddled around a candlelit table in the lobby.
“Hey, remember when this place was a strip club?” said one teenager to his buddy at the bar.
Folks, this place has a lot of history. NorShor has been out of commission for quite some time–but, it’s making a comeback. Let me give you a rundown of the ups and downs of this historic theatre.
Back in 1910, it was a vaudeville house referred to as the “Orpheum” hosting the likes of icons such as Jack Benny and the Marx Brothers. In 1941, it officially became the “NorShor” and was transformed into a movie theatre of sorts. Then, by the late 90’s, it was revered as a shabby yet trendy music venue where musicians such as Trampled By Turtles and the band Low played back in the day. But, time took a toll, and the place went downhill–a running joke amongst the artists that gathered the night of the music showcase.
But, thanks to the efforts of the community–spearheaded by former mayor Don Ness–the city took on the ambitious task of renovating the theatre.
Here we are, nearly eight years later. The doors are finally open and one of Duluth’s historic gems in the “heart district” has been brought back to life. Throughout the week, I have had the pleasure of talking to several of the artists who performed that night, hearing their unique stories and personal connection to the theatre.
To kick off the evening, we heard from the hauntingly beautiful Gaelynn Lea–showing off one of her latest singles “Bound By A Thread”–joined by Al Church(guitar), Marty Dosh (drums), Dave Mehling (keyboard) and Andrew Foreman(bass).
Gaelynn’s live looping of ethereal violin melodies and her light vibrato voice is truly unique. I’ve seen her a couple times live, but to see this Duluthian up on NorShor’s iconic stage–joined by other local artists and her good friend Alan Sparhawk–was something special.
Click here to read the full concert review at Music in Minnesota, and scroll down to enjoy photos from the concert.
To kick off the evening, we heard from the hauntingly beautiful Gaelynn Lea–showing off one of her latest singles “Bound By A Thread”–joined by Al Church (guitar), Marty Dosh (drums), Dave Mehling (keyboard) and Andrew Foreman (bass).
Gaelynn’s performance was then followed by reading and performance by Duluth-based writer, Paul Lundgren. Lundgren joked about his shtick with a bartender at the NorShor back in the day. He would spontaneously make up the name of a drink and his buddy would have to guess the ingredients. Last time he found himself at NorShor, he ordered a “Ralph Waldo Emerson,” to which the bartender replied, “I don’t think we have enough rum for that.”
Soon after Lundgren cracked a few jokes, local act Rick McLean came on stage. The amusing Northlander in flannel charmed the crowd with his humorous take on Petula Clark’s “Downtown.” The crowd erupted into a roar of laughter. Another testament to Duluth’s good sense of humor when it comes to the ups and downs of NorShor Theatre. His songwriting was riddled with wisecracks, an artist that doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously. McLean was just happy to be up there on stage, strumming away.
Soon after, the much slower-paced eerie and dream-like serenades of Superior Siren came on stage. Lead vocalist Laura Sellner joked about how there bassist was away in the Bahamas, but cellist Rachel Gobin and drummer Emma Deane joined Sellner that night, shortly following a debut performance at Minneapolis’ Icehouse a week before.
Following this lovely trio, local author Anna Tennis did a live reading for us. Here’s a snid-bit of one of her many nostalgic stories of NorShor that she shared with us, a place where she came to realize that she was meant to be a writer.
When Dave Simonett and Benson Ramsey waltzed on stage with nothing but their guitars and began playing a beautiful acoustic version of Trampled By Turtles song “Winners,” a room of already very palpable emotions were on the rise. “Winners,” what a truly fitting song selection that night.
Most well-known bands that Minnesotans love to brag about hail from Minneapolis. But, the beautiful shores of Lake Superior is home to the famous band, Low. You may know them from the early ’90s–grungy, loud and abrasive. However, frontman Alan Sparhawk decided to shift their sound in a new direction. He recruited his wife, Mimi Parker (drums and vocals) to join him on this musical venture. 20+ years and 12 albums later (the most recent being 2016’s A Lifetime of Temporary Relief: 10 Years of B-Sides & Rarities) they still call Duluth home.
Click here to read the full concert review at Music in Minnesota,
All photography by Kathleen Ambre with Music in Minnesota.