Bev’s Jook Joint, The Death of the Blues, and Dinosaurs!

Andrew Olson

Reader Weekly

Along Tower Avenue in Superior Circadian Nations play for about six fans at Bev’s Jook Joint on Monday night. When the patrons leave to have a smoke the bar empties for 20 minutes, but the band still plays on.

Tonight the lead guitarist is camping and the remaining three members are sitting in chairs playing acoustic. There is a mandolin, bass, and singer without a mic enlightening the room (Joshua Jordan, Luke Olson, and David Aldridge).

While sitting and sipping my $3 drink I can’t help but look around Bev’s and hear a common geographic concept enter my mind: the character of a place. There are two washboards, several stray guitars, a tambourine, and various other instruments spread out behind the bar just incase a major jam should ensue (which I have witnessed a few times). There must have been about 7 or 8 guitars standing upright lining the bookshelf behind the bar, most looking like they had seen better days, but I assume they could be refurbished quickly if needed.

The walls are covered with signed pictures of B-list blues performers who have passed through Bev’s over the years and there are a few remnants of Elvis pictures and signs that have survived the late nights of hard rock. There is a really cool U-shaped booth off to the side of the stage and a pinball machine with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the way to the rear restrooms.

The graffiti in the men’s room is pretty typical for a Superior bar. Sure The Anchor’s men’s room probably has the most and Thirsty Pagan has the best pinups (and a long running survey above the urinal), but Bev’s has the most random phrases… And who is Pencap and why must I see their YouTube videos?

One of the first articles I ever wrote for the Reader was reviewing a band at Bev’s six years ago. At that time I had just moved to the area and going into each bar was a completely new experience. I could sit for an hour and admire the mural at Beaner’s, the trendy people with ski caps, dark rimmed glasses and ski vests on at Luce’, the squashed darkness of Twin Ports, patchwork spinners at The Tap Room, or the PBR obsessed Nor Shor mezzanine. If you have never moved to a new city and had to explore each site and hangout with a fresh perspective and eyes I truly recommend it. You also could develop the “townie” syndrome if you never leave home, the key symptom being constant pessimism and a snarled lip whenever you enter a local establishment.

What amazed me most about Bev’s this night was Bev herself. Standing behind the bar on a Monday night and letting this little band play for their friends, keeping a spirit going... Not many drinks were sold, and that was despite me trying to patronize as much as I could. Some songs the band played ended without clapping, and some had the crowd cheering. My personal favorite Circadian song is when they play “Ophelia,” which I found out was a cover. The mandolin always reminds me of Zeppelin on the tune, which gives the band their whole vibe from that point forward.

All of these things make up the character of Bev’s and what she does for the area. Anyone can franchise an Old Chicago in Canal Park, but what makes something really unique is when the person who owns and runs the establishment makes it a part of themself. I have always felt welcome at Bev’s, and it really makes me love this diverse area more than anywhere else. Check it out this weekend for a big blues performance on Saturday and Sunday night by Becky Barksdale.

Are the Blues dead?

While reading through a local blog I noticed that there was an advertisement about a festival happening at the same time as Bluesfest called Bradfest. The festival’s selling point was, “if you’re looking to escape the crowds and redundant drone of Bluesfest in Duluth.”

While it sounds intriguing and tempting with the bands that are performing and the cause it is for (, it got me to wondering if the blues are dying out with the younger generation. How many kids today really know that their Shinedown, Bieber, Cyrus, or Muse album wouldn’t be possible without the blues? Even if you take the one guitar riff that plays repeatedly through Cyrus’ “Party in theUSA” and break it down, it is all blues.

So what is the future of the blues?

There are plenty of neo-folkies around town pickin’ their indie tunes and peddling their pricy CDs (at a Pizza Luce’ brunch a few weeks ago a guy was selling one CD for $20 or two for $30), but it is a bit more rare to see a blues band or artist performing on any given night (with the exception of Bluesfest weekend). Maybe if John Lee Hooker was born in Duluth and not Bob Dylan the sound would be much different at local venues.

Without blues records travelling to England and getting into the hands of Eric Burden, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Jimmy Page, or Eric Clapton our music would sound much different today. Then if you picture the segregated shanties of the South or the inner-city throbbing enthusiasm of Chicago, New York and Detroit in the North where the music was conceived, you can understand its great historic importance. It was the sound that broke through all barriers and changed the course of what music means to people today.

John Lee Hooker (John Lee Hooker Jr. played Bev’s once) remains my favorite blues artist, followed closely by Leadbelly, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, and Willie Dixon. Dixon actually sued and won against Page and Zeppelin way back for ripping off “Whole Lotta Love” (and other songs) and he and Hooker also gave Jim Morrison and The Doors their sound. Today Jack White keeps the music alive and kicking in popular music, but it has been two years since the last White Stripes CD release.

If you saw the movie It Might Get Loud recently, which highlighted Page, White and The Edge of U2, you can see how important the blues were for White and Page. It is the root of all good music, and hopefully young people will still keep it alive.

Come, walk with Dinosaurs!

It was big, dark, and educational at the DECC last weekend seeing the history of the planet unfold before a packed house.

The highlight was the headliner Tyrannosaurus Rex, who received quite the reaction from the crowd. The program went through how the earth was formed and what changes affected the earth’s inhabitants. The smaller saurs were elaborate costumes, while the larger ones were very impressive animatronics.

Along the sides of the floor were inflatable plants that changed with the different time periods, and at some points in the show giant trees emerged from three movable islands. The narrator, a sort of Indiana Jones fellow, ran around the arena and told the story of each creature as it emerged.

The dinos were very realistic, except for the platform that they kind of rode on. With current technology these ancient monsters were amazing to see in real life. It truly felt like one was seeing dinosaurs in a giant arena, and great to see so close to home.