Cedar Sessions: Volume 1

by Paul Whyte

Duluth is fine with me, but really, I feel more at home in Superior. A number of years ago I was working as a delivery driver while going through college and there was a bar at the very north end of Tower Avenue. I considered the Cedar Lounge to be one of the “seediest” bars on the strip. I once walked in and two regulars vacantly looked at me as they played on the gaming machines. The haze of cigarette smoke floated stagnantly as I opened the door, letting in the unwanted sunlight and fresh air. The bartender walked up to me and paid for her dinner as I looked at the cases of beer not put away on the floor right by the entrance. I can handle a dive bar, but this was just something kind of dark and sad. 

The Cedar got better. With the next era, someone actually fixed it up, and while not many went there, it looked nicer than the first impression I mentioned. Finally, the bar was picked up by musician and businessman, Tim Nelson. Tim was a partner in making Fitger’s a thing but has since left that endeavor. Here’s the thing about Tim: he’s visionary, he’s respected, and knows how to do something like make one of the crappiest bars in Superior something special. You wouldn’t believe the place now over how it looked some 15 years ago.

I miss how Superior used to be. I guess I had a little hand in that from my booking and open mic days at Thirsty Pagan. But there was Bev’s Jook Joint and Norm’s and they’d have National acts rolling through. Even the Pagan had some fairly amazing talent. To name a couple, Chastity Brown who gets some regular play on The Current these days, down to the founder of Black Flag and SST Records, Greg Ginn, could be watched for free at TPB. I ended up falling into knowing hundreds of amazing artists and I really wouldn’t feel like I’d be qualified to even be writing this if it wasn’t for all those talented and wonderful people I met over the years. 

Bev’s is gone, Norm’s is gone…yeah, you can catch a cover band at Keyport, Belknap Lounge, Jack’s, even the Thirsty Pagan, and I can’t leave out Spirit Room for having live music. I don’t think it will ever really be the same as the times back in my college and active booking days, it just won’t. However, the new Cedar Lounge has pulled through with two things I love and can’t live without; those being music and beer. 

Somehow through Tim’s longtime range of connections and backing from some fantastic musicians, sound engineers, and brewers, The Cedar went from being a shit hole into something truly amazing and what Superior needed to have some sense of a nightlife besides drinking with the same people every night. This isn’t to say that I have a problem hanging out with some regulars at my favorite spots, but there is a time and place to switch it up on occasion. 

It must have been last year (as in 2016) in the starts of winter, I wandered into the Cedar because I knew there was live music and might have a chance of getting a ride to Duluth since I didn’t have a car at that point in my life. Sure enough, I got to see a few songs and then was approached by a guy I recognized but wasn’t sure if it was really him at first. I’ve known of Tom Fabjance since before I could legally buy a beer. There he was, Mr. Fabjance asking me how I’ve been. I probably said something like, “not the best and can I get a ride back to Duluth when you’re done?” We had a good chat, but the fact that he was there recording live music, I knew that Cedar was on the right track. When you have Tom Fabjance doing the engineering and then Jake Larson on mastering, I’ve seldom seen many problems with quality. 

This isn’t just about a new venue, there’s also a new brewery, and I love it. Earth Rider has jumped up like it was something meant to be. The tasty brews are without a doubt due to brewmaster, Allyson Rolph. Of course I got to know her a little from her days at Thirsty Pagan, it was more like years, but anyway. Everything happening for the Cedar seems to be spot on. I would never have imagined how it all played out, but really couldn’t be happier with it. 

So, Every Wednesday for over a year, the Cedar has had live music. Usually there’s a residency of sorts where a certain band or artist plays from 8 to 11 pm each Wednesday throughout the month. There’s also some weekend shows too, and there’s little doubt they’ll be a venue for this coming Homegrown Music Festival.

In a certain way, this compilation album reflects Beaner’s “One Week Live” series, that has been going on for…wow, a long time. This is volume one of what is sure to be something that will continue. 
Upon giving it a listen, there’s just some great music on here. No, the Cedar isn’t going to probably have punk or metal very often, but the artists on this album are a nice cross section of folk, rock, and blues. It’s a line up that is nothing to scoff at. 
The album opens up with acts like Black-Eyed Snakes and Woodblind. Musicians like Alan Sparhawk and Beaner’s owner, Jason Wussow, is just a reflection of what the area’s music scene is all about. Having Marc Gartman’s Two Many Banjos, and also legendary audio engineer and songwriter Rich Mattson & The Northstars further solidifies the track list list on this live album. The compilation ends with Charlie Parr and Black River Revue. It leans towards the bluegrass, folk, bluesy rock that Duluth is well known for and I kind of wish there was some more diversity in what I know the area has, but for a first volume of live music, I have to just give it a nod and say “awesome.” 

I understand that this wasn’t so much of a review rather than more of a column just to say that the music scene in Superior had seemed lackluster and dying as of late. From people like Tim Nelson creating such a great and beautiful establishment that will dare to host tremendous talent, to Allyson and Mitch behind Earth Rider, to Laurel behind the bar some nights, the new Cedar Lounge is what Superior needed. It’s less than a ten minute drive from downtown Duluth and try to check it out someday if you have any taste in beer or music.