Sunday, June 9, 2013

Paradise Rocks

I intended today to write something about Bob Dylan because (a) I got my tickets Friday for his upcoming concert in Bayfront Park here in Duluth July 9, and (b) because 25 years ago this weekend (yesterday to be precise) Dylan began his Never Ending Tour, which continues to this day without end. At least for the time being. But, having visited the Oldenburg House yesterday I find myself diverted to once again pump next weekend's Sol Fest. First, a little background on the place itself, then a little background on the event.

The Oldenburg House was built over a hundred years ago by Carl Henry Oldenburg, a respected Minnesota conservationist who served on the Minnesota Forestry Board from 1911-17. The property is adjacent to Jay Cooke State Park of which it is my understanding that he donated some of his land to the park. The setting is spectacular, stirring numerous memories by its arborial splendor organically nestled into a natural amphitheater of manicured geological formations.

The special features of the grounds show that the place was developed with great care. Ayla the Mermaid will be make her home at a small pool lined with vertical spears of stone. The various musicians will be performing amongst the ridges and trees. A grand piano sits surrealistically atop an outcropping of bedrock that kept reminding me of a Dali landscape. In the distance you can hear the rush and roar of the St. Louis River as it cascades through the rocks near Thompson.

The house today is a bed and breakfast. The Swansons are only the third family to own the place since its construction and development more than a century ago. Glenn Swanson, a drummer and poet, is one of several musical children who went off to other regions when he grew up and finished school. When his father passed away two years ago, he chose to return and help his mother run the place as it would be a somewhat daunting task for an elderly widow.

A grand piano on the rocks. What's not to like about that?
Sol Fest appears to have been conceived for the purpose of increasing awareness, to draw attention to this stellar property and venue which not only serves as a B&B but a fabulous location for weddings and garden parties. The event itself blends several of Swanson's interests, foremost being his passion for music, especially jazz and blues. But he's also passionate about youth and is committed to making this a family event with activities for kids including a music workshop in the morning, croquet, and face painting by the Cloquet Girl Scouts. There will also be food served with proceeds going to purchase new uniforms for the Wrenshall High School basketball team.

In addition, Swanson has invited plein aire painter Lee Englund and friends to do some live painting during the event. (Some of my own paintings will also be on display inside the house.)

But the real show is the music: blues, folk, R&B and jazz. Check out this playlist. Sheila Raye Charles (Ray's daughter) will be singing a few of her father's tunes. Then there's Pippi Ardenia, James Moors, John Penny, Larry Long and others whose accolades and honors are so lengthy I can't list them here. A common thread that runs through many of their resumes is a concern for the needs of youth and the marginalized. Check 'em out here.

The early evening music will commence with Glenn Swanson himself and friends. Of Swanson, his friend Ricky Peterson states, "I have yet to find a drummer with more passion and feel for music. All types of music. Swanny has always made the music we play swing harder whether its Jazz or a serious funk tune. Not to mention his talents for producing, arranging and all around musicality."

Ricky himself has a stellar resume himself that has intersected with the likes of Stevie Nicks, Bonnie Raitt, Billy Joel, Anita Baker, James Taylor, Mavis Staples, Joe Sample, Sting, Sergio Mendes, Brian Wilson, Ben Sidran, Rodger Waters, Rick Braun, Kirk Whalum, Phil Upchurch, Jimmy Buffet, Fine Young Cannibals, Steve Miller Band, GoGos, Paula Abdul, Boz Scaggs and more. He had a big part in writing and producing George Benson's "That's Right" CD, and has written and played keyboards for Prince on and off since his early days in the Twin Cities music scene.

As if this weren't enough, Sol Fest will also have Billy Peterson on hand. If you're a Dylan fan you'll remember Billy Peterson as the stellar bass player who was brought in to record with Dylan on his Blood on the Tracks album. Peterson's qualifications were cited in the book A Simple Twist of Fate by Andy Gill and Kevin Odegard. Dylan's younger brother David had been tasked with assembling players for the recording sessions. "Billy Peterson and Bill Berg were an inspired choice as bassist and drummer respectively. Well trained, and working as jazz musicians with their fusion band Natural Life, they were among the nation's finest players and certainly of a caliber second to none in the local area." 

I just finished purchasing my tickets and the process is easy. It's quite an astonishing lineup for just ten dollars. It's $15 at the gate so you might want to purchase your tickets now.

A room with a view. Count me in.
Note to Glenn: You are to be commended for dreaming up such a fabulous event and for a day making your back yard our back yard.

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