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Lucius Woods celebrates 25 years of music

The Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra plays a concert at Lucius Woods Performing Arts Center in 2006. The orchestra is returning to the outdoor venue, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, for a concert this summer. Telegram file photo

For 25 years, Lucius Woods has been filled with the sound of music.

"What is more perfect than a Saturday night in July, beautiful night, moon and the stars, and you're sitting in this gorgeous place with 600 of your closest friends and listening to music?" asked Julie Demgen of Solon Springs. "It's just such a fabulous experience."

The venue nestles into a natural setting by the lake.

"I mean, you're sitting in the pines and grass and eagles fly over pretty much every Saturday," said Mick Salmen, executive director of Lucius Woods.

Audience members can expect a train whistle to sound in the midst of the concert.

"Returning bands will always do something funny," Salmen said. "We had one jazz band that actually worked (the whistle) into their set and that was hysterical."

Visitors can sit back and listen or get involved.

"I encourage standing up and dancing," Salmen said.

The Solon Springs venue has been serving up a little night music every summer since 1994.

"It's a great way to meet people," said Mary Jo Nelson of Gordon. "And we enjoy the music; we enjoy the outdoors. I think it's a beautiful thing."

Lucius Woods Performing Arts Center isn't your traditional music in the park series, Salmen said; it's a destination.

The bandshell was built with acoustics and beauty in mind. Constructed of red pine logs and tamarack panels, Salmen said, it's "eye-popping."

"It's a beautiful shell," said Kevin Peterson, interim executive director of the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra. "I remember the first time going down there, I was very impressed with the natural setting, the natural amphitheater."

The orchestra played the first concert on the stage, and for years they were regular performers.

"So it really became a regional thing right out of the box," Salmen said. "I think over the years it's morphed. It's sort of become more local."

The series has expanded to include a range of genres, from jazz and big band, to rock and roll.

"We like to do a little of everything," Salmen said, but the orchestra hasn't been featured since 2013.

This summer the DSSO returns to celebrate the venue's 25th anniversary, thanks to a generous sponsor.

"A lot of people were excited," Peterson said. "It's a little bit of a homecoming."

Audience members can tap their toes to Broadway standards, Sousa marches and tunes from "Grease" and "The Wizard of Oz" during the orchestra's July 7 concert.

Another returning favorite is the Whitesidewalls. The Minnesota doo-wop and rock and roll band has been rocking Lucius Woods since 1995 and always draws a large crowd. A silent auction takes place prior to their Aug. 4 concert.

"They love it here and we love them," Salmen said.

Cabaret night will return this year, as well. Guests can sit around a table and enjoy snacks and wine July 28 while listening to the Blue Otter Big Band.

The season kicks off with a free concert June 30 by the Fractals, a Twin Ports surf and hot rod band, to thank the community for 25 years of support. Those who come early can practice Kubb, a Nordic lawn game, in the park. Salmen described it as outdoor chess, curling and cornhole rolled into one.

The Solon Springs High School choir performs before the Copper Box concert July 14 as part of the performing arts center's new Youth Artist Performers program.

"We hope to grow it to every concert," Salmen said.

John Raimo of Solon Springs has his eye on another act.

"You know which one sounds interesting to me?" he said. "I'm a retired pastor. Reverend Raven and the Chain Smokin' Altar Boys." The blues group takes the stage July 21.

Thanks to sponsors and fundraising efforts by the Friends of Lucius Woods, ticket prices have remained low and children 15 and younger are admitted free to all concerts, which are held rain or shine. Last year's perfect weather brought a 20 percent uptick in ticket sales.

"We seem to be on another little upswing of people rediscovering it," Salmen said. "Maybe they moved back, maybe now they've got young kids, and they're rediscovering that it's still sitting here in their backyard."

She invited everyone to spend a Saturday at Lucius Woods.

"It's a destination, it is an experience," Salmen said.

"And of course, it's where friends meet," Nelson said.

Visit www.lwmusic.org for information or to reserve tickets. All concerts begin at 7 p.m.

For a sneak peek at the DSSO's concert lineup, stop by the Duluth Depot for a 5 p.m. sampler June 26 in the great hall, part of the orchestra's "Rush Hour" series.

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