Thursday, May 17, 2018

Throwback Thursday: Blood on the Tracks Express A Highlight of Duluth's Annual Dylan Fest

One of the highlights of Duluth Dylan Fest has been the annual Blood on the Tracks Express which begins at the Depot and rumbles up to Two Harbors with bands performing at both ends of the train. At the far back is the rock'n car and near the front an acoustic car where acts like Gaelynn Lea and Jim Hall have performed in the past. There's also a VIP Car at the very front with its own special amenities.

Most years the BOTT Express sells out, so you will want to order your tickets in advance. Current weather forecast for next week: Nice. Tickets here at Eventbrite. What follows are two blog posts from previous years designed to give a little flavor as regards what to expect. It is always mamorable

2015
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.


2014
The Freewheelers know how to get people on their feet.
Another year of North Country Dylan-themed events is wrapping up tonight. It's the Blood on the Tracks Express, leaving the station in less than eleven hours as I write this.

If you're wondering why the event got drop-kicked away from the rest of our Dylan Days events, it's because the bridge to Two Harbors has been under repair. According to the schedule it appeared that the train ride could not happen last week but the work would be completed for this week. Haha. Wrong. The weather got the better of everyone's plans and the famous North Shore train ride to Two Harbors is taking a detour. The music will remain grand.

The train will be leaving the station at 5:30 this evening. More than 200 tickets have been sold and today's Trib story will probably bring us even more. The DNT's Wave describes the event like this:

The train will travel in a Duluth-based loop then stop at the Depot for music at the Lake Superior Railroad Museum. The lineup of musicians is a sort of “We are the World” of local players, including Black-Eyed Snakes, Freewheelers, Dirty Horse, Red Mountain, Cowboy Angel Blue, Bitter Spills and the Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank.

The word "loop" is probably a misnomer as I do not believe we have any tracks in this area that actually go in a circle. But the effect will be the same for the travelers. There will be music at both ends of the train as in years past, acoustic at one end and electric at the other, a bar car in between. The train will go North till it can't go any further, then South for a spell. Eventually everyone will de-board at The Depot for a party there, most likely featuring The Freewheelers. After the party it's back to the train for another tour up and down the line.

Last year Sparhawk and company projected such a mesmerizing psycho-syllabic bannister of sound that the train car nearly splintered apart...

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REMINDER: Big Wu is coming. This Sunday. Tickets HERE.
Meantime, life goes on all around you. Engage it.

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