Saturday, May 6, 2017

Rolling Stone Journalist Checks Out Dylan's Original Home Town

(L to R) Jeffrey Enge-Frey, Mark Poirier, Sue Mageau, & Belkacem Bahlouli.
In April the Duluth Visitor's Bureau (DVB) had been contacted regarding a visitor from France who desired to come to the Northland too see the town where he was born. It's not an isolated event here, especially since Duluth's Native Son's career was christened with a Nobel Prize.

Belkacem Bahlouli is a journalist from Paris who writes for Rolling Stone in Europe. "He (Dylan) played two concerts in Paris last week. 15,000 people. He's very huge in France." During his visit he aimed to see the Central Hillside home where the Zimmerman's lived during the first six years of Dylan's life, and hopefully the Historic Armory where a 17-year-old Dylan caught a spark from Buddy Holly in 1959 shortly before his music died.

It quickly became apparent that Mr. Bahlouli is not your average Dylan fan. The day before when he had flown in to the Twin Cities, he drove his rental car to Duluth by way of the original Highway 61 while listening to Dylan CDs he'd brought along for the occasion. Of course. That's the way to do it.

I was invited to join the small party from our host city as we did the Armory tour, which included Mark Poirier (Armory board), Sue Mageau (DVB) and Jeremy Enge-Frey, a development associate with the Boisclair Corporation, the group currently committed to the Armory's revitalization. "The Armory was the largest venue north of the Twin Cities, all the way up to Winnipeg," he said. Boisclair has been actively planning this historic redevelopment for quite some time. "It will require leveraging every available foot. We hope to be open in two years."

A passage to the underground within.
Mark Poirier had unlocked the fence gate in anticipation of our arrival and led us to a nondescript doorway that led to an interior area where trucks would park. We peered down a cavernous expanse that led beneath the interior, then were led up a small staircase to a large surprise, curious where we would emerge, which turned out to be on the stage itself where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, Wayon Jennings and the Big Bopper performed on their Winter Dance Party tour.

"There were lots of dances in armories," Poirier said. The buildings were dual purposed, for military use and community use. He also shared how the cold the weather was the night these Texas and California boys rolled into town. "The high was minus 18 degrees and the low when they left was minus 30." As a result, when the bus broke down on a Wisconsin roadside their drummer Carl Bunch got frostbite in his feet. They were not prepared for this, and that night became "the night the music almost died."

Buddy Holly's dressing room has been suitably marked.
Belkacem Bahlouli is from Montmarte, a historic section of Paris with an elevated view of the city, within the vicinity of the Moulin Rouge. The journalist said he has a neighbor there from Duluth, which for us was something of an "Aha!" He shared a story of how Dylan was introduced to France, and how when young he listened to Dylan on Luxembourg radio. "There was lots of rock and roll." Some of the translations were good, he said, but others had no relation to the original songs. He shared how one artist spent two years making a good translation of All Along the Watchtower.

Here are some images taken as we toured inside the Armory. "There is so much history that happened here."

80,000 square feet makes for a spacious activity room.
There has been a lot of history here...
...with plans to make more.

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We're just two weeks out from the kickoff event for Duluth Dylan Fest, the Robby Vee concert at Karpeles. The acoustics there are stellar. You can find the rest of the scheduled events here at with links to ticketed events.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Get into it.

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