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Twin Ports cover bands take center stage for Ides of March Bacchanalia

Mike Fradenburgh leads Dugazi performing Fugazi songs during a past Ides of March Bacchanalia Festival in Duluth.
Mike Fradenburgh leads Dugazi performing Fugazi songs during a past Ides of March Bacchanalia Festival in Duluth.Provided, courtesy Eric Edwardson

by Mark Nicklawske

March 16, 2023

The Duluth music scene is gearing up for its yearly strange spring backward into nostalgic performance. Every year, local players patch together pick-up bands or rename their group to celebrate influential favorites during a two-weekend mini-fest in March.

The 16th annual Ides of March Bacchanalia Festival will be staged at Pizza Luce in downtown Duluth starting Friday, March 17, and continuing Saturday, March 18, as well as March 24 and 25. The event gives 12 acts — three per night — free reign to stage both heartfelt and hilarious musical salutes to their rock ‘n’ roll heroes.

Festival founder and organizer Heiko Edwardson calls the event a weird and wonderful way to rediscover lost music and salute time-tested legends with sets featuring some of the best musicians in the Twin Ports.

“It’s one of the strangest labors of love I’ve ever been a part of,” Edwardson says. “Everybody that does it has got that weird sense of reverence for the bands that they’re [covering]. So it just turns into a weird, fun, crazy weekend.

Edwardson, a self-proclaimed music nerd, says the idea for a tribute festival grew out of past discussions with different Duluth musicians about their musical influences. Eventually, some artists agreed to pick a favorite band, rehearse a set list, and perform it on stage. Led Zeppelin, Prince, the Replacements, and Pearl Jam were featured in the first Ides of March Bacchanalia Festival, and the formula hasn’t changed since. Today, some working bands simply rename themselves for the cover showcase. Other groups are one-time-only affairs or involve reunions of old friends.

“A lot of people like to take a pause from what they’re doing as a band and just focus on an Ides band,” Edwardson says. “Or they get together with their old high school band for one little last hurrah for fun.”

A past Ides of March saw the music of British rock legend David Bowie performed in the singing style of Katherine Hepburn. One year a group called The Michael McDonalds — which included Low guitarist Alan Sparhawk — put their spin on the yacht rocker’s biggest hits.

Rock giants like R.E.M., Linkin Park, and the Pretenders will all see tributes in the 2023 lineup.

Taylor and the Hawks will honor the Foo Fighters, Critical Jack plays Lucinda Williams, and a group calling itself Krungbin will perform the music of Khruangbin.

Perhaps the most provocatively named act of the festival Songs About F***ing Robert Smith will perform music by the Cure.

But it’s not just big-name bands that get tributes. This year, a group called Anti-Manifesto is “exploiting” the music of Canadian punk rockers Propagandhi and Cry Die Boo Hoo will perform the work of emo-punks Title Fight.

Edwardson says these musicians take their work seriously and most rehearse for their one-night-only cover concert. The results are memorable, night after night. “For me, I judge shows by how many smiles I see and how many people are dancing,” he says. “Honestly, at those shows, everybody is having a great time.”

Pizza Luce restaurant manager Nikki Moeller, who is also a bassist in the band NVR TGTHR, says the Ides of March Festival gives musicians a different creative outlet. “It’s super fun,” she says. “It’s pretty typical for us to get hit with a pretty big snowstorm — or a couple of them. This is something that breaks that winter monotony and looks forward to spring.”

Moeller, who has toured nationally and recorded three albums with the band the Keep Aways, will be performing in Anti-Manifesto with musicians who also grew up loving Propagandhi. “It’s people in the music community getting together and kind of shuffling around and just putting this fun thing together,” she says.

While Moeller is a music industry veteran, guitarist Casey Norman is an example of how the Ides of March works for local musicians who may not be active on stage but still have the chops. “The bottom line for me anyway is I’m just in it for a good time,” Norman says. “I’m in the band with a couple of my best friends, so it’s just a good excuse to rock out and get that band feeling again.”

Norman will be performing the work of Title Fight with the band Cry Die Boo Hoo, which features members of the Duluth band Torments and the Twin Cities band Shadows of Me.

“I’m a little nervous, but I love being on stage. It’s really my happy place and I haven’t gotten the opportunity to do it in a while,” he says. “I’m looking forward to performing. It should be good energy. I’ve got a lot of friends coming. There should be a lot of high-energy stuff and it should be a good time.”

The 16th Annual Ides of March Bacchanalia Festival Schedule

Friday March 17

12 a.m. Lincoln Park plays Linkin Park

11 p.m. Anti-Manifesto exploits Propagandhi

10 p.m. Cry Die Boo Hoo does Title Fight

9 p.m. Social Hour

Saturday March 18

12 a.m. Taylor and the Hawks flying with the Foo Fighters

11 p.m. Onto Maple is representing R.E.M.

10 p.m. Krungbin doing Khraungbin

9 p.m. Social Hour

Friday March 24

12 a.m. DogTalk becomes The Pretenders

11 p.m. Pulled over the car does Morphine

10 p.m. Critical Jack does Lucinda Williams

9 p.m. Social Hour

Saturday March 25

12 a.m. super secret fun time

11 p.m. Songs about F***ing Robert Smith Do The Cure

10 p.m. Shadow Codes perform The Black Keys

9 p.m. Social Hour

Location: Pizza Luce, 11 E. Superior Street, Duluth

Cost: $10 per night

Ages: 21+

A collage of brightly colored people and animals enjoying spring
89 Days of Spring 2023 artwork
Emma Eubanks for MPR

This feature is part of The Current’s 89 Days series, helping you enjoy the best of the season with weekly guides to events, entertainment, and recreation in the Twin Cities.

Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.