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The historic Duluth Armory is located on London Road. | SUBMITTED
Along the Shore

Duluth Armory: A tribute to “the day the music died”

This January, move to the be-bop music of the late 1950s at the Buddy Holly Tribute Concert. Hosted by the Armory Arts and Music Center, the event will be held on Sunday, January 29 at the Clyde Iron Event Center in Duluth from 6-9 p.m. This annual concert honors the historic night when “the music died.”

The winter of 1959 impacted the history of music. Known as some of the biggest names in rock ‘n’ roll at the time, Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper were victims of a tragic plane crash. It happened shortly after performing at the National Guard Armory in Duluth as one of the stops on the Midwest Winter Dance Party Tour.

This year, local musicians Todd Eckart and his band will bring the music back to the stage. The band is made up of lead guitarist Jimi Cooper, George Ellsworth on base, drummer Mathew Groom and Eckart on vocals. In addition to remembering and honoring the talent of the rock ‘n’ roll superstars, this event is a fundraiser to support the historic Armory and continue its legacy of celebrating and inspiring young artists.

Buddy Holly at the Duluth Armory. | SHARRON JOHNSON

Eckart has been transforming into Buddy Holly for the past seven years as the fundraiser’s headliner. He has been a fan of the late 50s music since he was an elementary student after his uncle introduced him to the sounds of The Beatles. After watching the Buddy Holly Story in the 1980s, he was hooked on the rock-a-billy rhythm. Eckart says Holly was “a pioneer in music.” Sadly, his career lasted only four years and was cut short by his death.

The Armory has been a site of great inspiration throughout its history. It was built in 1915 at roughly five times the average cost of other armories of that era. It served as a military training facility for the Minnesota National Guard and Naval Militia.

In 1978, it was purchased by the city and its use as an armory was discontinued. Since 2000, the Armory has been threatened with demolition. The nonprofit Armory Arts and Music Center (AAMC) acquired the building in 2003 and has been working to rehabilitate it as a cultural venue, including investing nearly $5 million to establishing a firm foundation for the nearly $35 million proposed restoration project. In 2021, Sherman Associates was secured as the developer of the project and other key engineers, architects and contractors have also come on board. AAMC’s executive director, Mark Poirier, says it has been a lot of hard work behind the scenes and is thrilled “we are at the point to really see something happen.” For the most current updates, follow Historic Duluth Armory and the Music Resource Center Duluth Armory on Facebook.

The Duluth Armory was listed on the National Record of Historic Places in 2011 for its state-level significance in the theme of military history, as well as the building’s important role as the cultural and entertainment hub of the Duluth region. In addition to Buddy Holly, other famous performers have appeared at the Armory, including Harry Truman, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Cash, Bob Hope, and the Beach Boys. Two Harbors resident Larry Furo recalls attending events in the early 1960s, saying “the place would be packed—you could literally feel the floor bouncing from all the dancing!”

So put on some bobby socks and grease back that hair to bring the music alive during this special tribute concert. Eckart and his band promises to deliver an entertaining and interactive performance. Historical footage of those who graced the Armory stage will be featured on a slide show as the backdrop of the stage. Between sets, Eckart will share facts and stories of Holly, Valens and the Big Bopper. There will also be a costume contest for prizes. Tickets for the event are $15 in advance or $20 at the door and can be purchased online ( or by calling 218-428-9686. All proceeds support the students of the AAMC’s Music Resource Center program. Doors open at 5 p.m. and the show begins at 6 p.m.

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