Friday, May 22, 2015

Blood on the Tracks Express Bangs Out the Rhythm of the Rails for Duluth Dylan Fest Devotees

Here comes the train!
Last night was the fifth annual Blood on the Tracks Express experience during Duluth Dylan Fest, and gauging from the energy it was another memorable night for many. There's something about trains that connects with people. I myself am enamored with their power, and their history, which is so interwoven with our own history.

My earliest memory with regard to trains is from when my mom used to bring my brother Ron and I to Mrs. O'Ligney's in Cleveland while she was finishing nursing school. She had a steeply sloped back lawn that dropped off to the tracks behind the row of apartment houses. We were not allowed to go down to the tracks where the Rapid Transit would fly past, but I had not learned this till after I'd gone down there once to see the trains up close. I was maybe three or four at the time, and I could tell by the terror on her face, when I looked up into the yard, that something was wrong.

For many people railroads are endlessly fascinating. At age eight I crossed the continent by train with my grandparents, from Cleveland to Reno. This experience cemented my own fascination with railroads.

For a long time one of my favorite films was Runaway Train starring Jon Voight, Eric Roberts and Rebecca De Mornay. After setting up Voight as something of an existential hero, the rest of the film is one long train scene, a wild ride on a runaway train, a suspense-filled adventure as well as a metaphor for life.

If you think in terms of the history of the world, railroads are a relatively new invention. And when you learn about the history of Duluth and the Iron Range, where young Robert Zimmerman was raised, trains played a critical role in this region's development.

The Blood on the Tracks Express is a celebration of music that takes place on a moving stage. Or rather, it's a party on wheels, which discharges its passengers in Two Harbors and returns them to Duluth a little before midnight. I met new friends and old friends from England and France and Chicago and elsewhere. And our locals who, whether Dylan fans or no, know the music will be good.

The length of the train was surprising to me. At the front end there was a freight car set up with acoustic musicians playing, as in years past. On the way to Two Harbors we were treated to the Clover St. Cronies and Feeding Leroy. The return ride featured Tin Can Gin, a high energy bluegrass group who has been performing around the region from the Porcupine Mountains to Minneapolis and Duluth.

The middle cars had lots of seats, some double-decker style, and the ride up the shore is quite satisfying. The music of Bob Dylan provided a continuous accompaniment in most of these cars. There was even one car that was all dark. Something akin to a tunnel of love?

The other end of the train featured electric powerhouses Social Disaster, The Black-Eyed Snakes and Wolf Blood. And at the American Legion Hall in Two Harbors it's The Freehweelers (aka The Boomchucks) with Brad Nelson on drums and Jamie Ness vocals/lead guitar. The "after midnight" crowd could find still more music to enjoy upon returning to Fitgers, or one could save their energy for tonight's Singer/Songwriter contest (Red Herring) and tomorrow's Acoustic Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan.

Here are a few photos of what you missed.

Danny Fox (R) and his father from Chicago.
The Freewheelers, Brad Nelson (L) and Jamie Ness

Tonight Danny Fax is performing during Grog Time 5-7 p.m. at Tycoons. From there the music moves to The Red Herring Lounge for the Singer/Songwriter Competition. Be there.

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