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Duluth live music cafe Wussow's celebrates 20 years of One Week Live

Jason Wussow. Wussow's Concert Cafe in Duluth is a neighborhood coffee shop and local concert venue.
Jason Wussow. Wussow's Concert Cafe in Duluth is a neighborhood coffee shop and local concert venue. Keely Zynda for MPR

by Mark Nicklawske and Keely Zynda

October 14, 2022

To the untrained eye, it’s just a little coffee shop on the west side of Duluth. For two decades now, the place has hosted one of the biggest annual events on the Northern Minnesota music scene calendar.

From Monday, Oct. 17, through Saturday, Oct. 22, Wussow’s Concert Cafe has assembled its 20th One Week Live concert blitz at its longtime location in West Duluth. The event features 15 local and regional acts along with a songwriter competition that all plays out for hundreds of concertgoers over an eclectic and unpredictable six days.

Owner Jason Wussow says the concert series grew from an anniversary celebration — the cafe was established in 1999 — and a desire to showcase local talent. Trampled by Turtles, HALEY, and Charlie Parr all headlined the event early in their careers, and were featured on CD compilations of live recordings released as follow-up promotions.

During a recent conversation, Wussow says One Week Live hasn’t changed much over the years. It focuses on one thing: “It’s really about original music,” he says. “It’s not: ‘What style of music is it?’ It’s more: ‘Is it good music?’ That’s the thing that drives us around here.”

Indeed, One Week Live can be a career launch pad. Wussow typically schedules each night with a mix of developing artists alongside well-known musicians — all of whom play similar styles of music. Each night may offer a different sound, but the same vibe: It’s a mini-music festival staged in a long, two-room coffee shop only a piano-length wider than a single-car garage.

“I get so caught up in the event that I don’t always know what’s going on,” Wussow says. “It varies so much. Some years it’s so big and some of the nights are so crazy big and unbelievable. And then some nights are real mellow and chill.”

This year, One Week Live’s lineup includes Duluth-based Americana band Feeding Leroy, fresh from a stint in Texas; New Jersey-born singer-songwriter Teague Alexy; country troubadour Jason Dea West; Iron Range accordion sensation Steve Solkela; Wisconsin-based folk artist Jerrika Mighelle; and country blues powerhouse Boss Mama & the Jebberhooch. An open-to-all-comers songwriters competition takes over the space on Wednesday. Horn-wielding Fenestra Funk and jazz experimentalists Anderson Twuo close things out on Saturday.

Longtime doorman and sound engineer Pete Cich says the venue’s year-round commitment to staging new artists and wide-ranging music styles gets amplified during One Week Live. It’s a difficult and daring formula, but it has worked for more than 20 years, he says.

“We’ve been an all-ages venue since the beginning and we’ve had the best open mic shows for years. There’s a reason this place is so special,” he says. “When you come in here anytime or just during One Week Live you’re exposed to a whole different world of original music. That’s so cool.”

Audience members look toward band on small inside stage
Eldri Snow and Mississippi Mike play Wussow's Concert Cafe in Duluth
Keely Zynda for MPR

Early in her music career, HALEY was based in Duluth. Wussow’s Concert Cafe — originally known as Beaner’s on Central — was a big part of her development, and she has a song on the first One Week Live CD release.

“When I think back on the time I spent there when I was starting out as a young musician, I feel a real sense of community,” she says. “I was always welcome to experiment and participate in either shows or open mics. Jason is so friendly and chill, and gave me a lot of encouragement to keep working on my music.”

Teague Alexy says the Wussow’s stage is always open to new musicians. “The first time I played in Duluth was at a Wussow's open mic. I didn't know one single person in town. By the end of the night I was in two bands,” he says. “Jason makes it a community and not just for the locals. Jason's name has been brought up many times when I've been far away from home. He resonates.”

Person stands in the recording studio underneath the cafe
Wussow's Concert Cafe in Duluth is a neighborhood coffee shop and local concert venue. Here's a look inside the basement recording studio.
Keely Zynda for MPR

Wussow installed a basement recording studio years ago and put together more than a dozen albums featuring songs performed by One Week Live artists. With the passing of the CD era, music from the six-night event was live-streamed and archived on the venue’s YouTube page in 2021. Plans are now in the works for a podcast coupling musician interviews with their One Week Live performance.

“The goal is to release this as sort of a podcast like: ‘Hey, here’s some highlights from Saturday night. We took our favorite song from each band…take a listen to this!’ That’s our goal for this year,” he says. “It’s our 20th anniversary, we’ve gotta try and do something.”

A new stage curtain and backdrop will be installed to celebrate the event, says Cich. “We’re changing some things around a little,” he says. “We’re adding some little different things to celebrate this year.”

But Duluth musicians and music fans celebrate One Week Live every year. Guitarist Nick Muska says his band One Less Guest performed one of their first shows at the event in 2018. The band recorded its debut album in 2020 and recently relocated to Los Angeles.

“Second to Homegrown, it’s probably the most important week for music in the Twin Ports,” says Muska. “It’s really special. It feels really intimate.”

Muska says, as a new band, they were paired with veteran bluesman Charlie Parr for a night.

“Charlie played before us and there were a couple of other bands that were a little bit more well known and they didn’t leave. They all stuck around and were talking with people,” he says. “Everybody felt like they were part of the same thing.”

Muska, HALEY, and Alexy all credit Wussow for building up a venue that now anchors a small city arts quarter. They cite One Week Live as a condensed, six-day version of what happens at the place all year long.

What’s the secret? “Jason’s spirit,” says Alexy. “They should build a statue of Jason on that block. Hard to imagine that neighborhood without Wussow's.”

One Week Live runs between Monday, Oct. 17, and Saturday, Oct. 22. Wussow’s Concert Cafe, 324 Central Ave., Duluth. More details at the Wussow’s website, Tickets

A view of Wussow's exterior against a blue sky
Wussow's Concert Cafe in Duluth is a neighborhood coffee shop and local concert venue.
Keely Zynda for MPR
Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.