The Bricks or Arlo Guthrie… How about both?

Andrew Olson

Reader Weekly

High School Battle of the Bands winner The Bricks will be performing at Spirit Valley Days on Saturday, and hippie-bowl poet Arlo Guthrie is performing at the Big Top Chautauqua near Bayfield on Friday.

When I spoke to the Bricks after the Battle of the Bands competition a few months ago they were excited for the future of the group. With so many high profile shows over the past few months their popularity seems to be growing. The defining moment at the Battle was the strong songwriting of the Bricks. Sam McKinney (drummer/Vocals) talked about the three songs I heard that day.

“There are always many reasons and thoughts that go into the choosing of a set list,”McKinney said. “It’s especially difficult when you only have 15 minutes to define your sound to a large audience. When choosing the set for the battle, we wanted to do two things: feature Lauren Verhel on vocals and blow everyone away with our incredible guitar duo of Jason Munns and Reuben Verdoljak. The first song, “My Little Drug”, did exactly that. It is a great song for Lauren to sing on, and it had a nifty little guitar battle in the middle to liven things up. It also featured our band’s ability to combine jazz and funk techniques with an upbeat rock feel. “Driven”, the second song, was chosen because of the catchy guitar riff and the “Freebird”-like guitar solo at the end. Finally, the last song, “Heart of Stone”, was just a great song that we felt featured everyone in the band in there own separate ways.”

The Bricks local connection stems from their time spent together at Marshall High School and growing up in the Northland. Their band name reflects their bond to the area.

“Our original band name was Trapped by the Watchtower,” McKinney said. “But seeing as that didn’t get too many good reviews (and it was too long to really remember) we decided about a year ago to change it to The Bricks. I guess we thought it was fitting seeing as the name was conceived down in Canal Park , which is made up, for the most part, of bricks.”

Rounding out the band is young Nick Spielman on Bass. A quiet young man, Spielman gives a solid foundation for The Bricks to build upon. He also adds infectious rhythms that make the band hum and the crowd shake a tail-feather. Check them out at Spirit Valley Days this Saturday for free from 7pm – 9 pm.

Many people argue about how the only good concerts are the ones down in the Twin Cities. This year that image has changed with bands the likes of Live, Collective Soul, Cracker, Blues Traveler, Seether, Finger Eleven, Queens of the Stone Age, and many more playing up here. That list is added to with the great Arlo Guthrie playing the Big Top. (

For those of you who do not know who Arlo Guthrie is I suggest checking out and looking up “ Alice ’s Restaurant.” While that is his best-known hit, it is not his best song. To those of us who love watching old concerts videos from the late 1960s, Guthrie is best remembered for his appearance at Woodstock singing, “Coming into Los Angeles ”.

“ Alice ’s Restaurant” was also made into a feature film back in the days of Easy Rider, HELP, Hair, Head, The Trip, and other indie favorites. The freewheeling nature of Guthrie songs like “Coming” showed the adventurous nature of the hippies moving their goods through the system back then. An innocent song by nature, it was part protest and part earworm-infectious ditty.

One song that has always stuck out in my mind from Guthrie is his version of “City of New Orleans ”. The simplistic nature of the song as it travels through the country gives a glimpse of the heart of America . It also is great to listen to that song and then Bill Isle’s tune about hobos sleeping in the roundhouse. We all have a connection to trains in this country, even if it is only in nostalgic value. Life centered on the rails for many years, and with high gas prices we almost seem to be heading back in that direction.

The only drawback to some of the shows that come to this area is that they are on week nights. That is the same for shows in the Twin Cities though, which often times makes them unavailable for those of us who have full-time jobs. To have local venues providing a stage for National acts is a great thing for this area. Too bad that the city messed up Collective Soul for so many people, but hopefully that early curfew law will change.

It would also be nice to have these local shows pumped up more in the media. Getting the word out there about artists visiting the area is never done to a successful enough degree in the local media (IMHO). Duluth shows sometimes feel like there are too many hands in the cookie jar trying to squeeze out every penny from events put on. The city should be overly accommodating to any acts that want to play and embrace all of the activities that the area presents.

Too many people work for free in this area to support the art scene. I just want to say thank you to everyone who supplies the great entertainment we have had this summer visiting the Northland. Keep up the good work!