Northern Wilds Magazine
The April Fools playing last year's Stars of the North festival. They will perform at this year’s festival, too. | TODD MILLER
Along the Shore Featured Musician

Stars of the North Festival Returns to Grand Marais

For the past two summers, Grand Marais’ Harbor Park has been busier and louder than usual with a new weekend-long music festival. That tradition will continue this year, as the third annual Stars of the North festival is scheduled for July 26-28 in Grand Marais.

The festival is put on by the Grand Marais Music Collaborative, a non-profit group of Cook County musicians looking to provide the best possible performance experience for both local artists and audiences alike. The Collaborative’s founder, Todd Miller, said that since its inception, the group has morphed into something much more focused on the youth of the community.

“What we’ve become is still an organization that is designed to primarily benefit area musicians, but we’re doing it by raising funds for music lessons for area youth, who maybe otherwise couldn’t afford them. And then we’re turning area musicians into instructors,” says Miller. “And so in that regard, we’re providing employment for them. And then they are hopefully turning area youth into musicians.”

Miller has been playing music in Cook County for over 16 years, fronting and playing guitar in several bands. He says while performing, many times he felt a sense of competition with other local artists vying for gigs. He says those feelings were dispelled after socializing with them at WTIP’s Radio Waves festival, and he sought to find a way to join forces with his musical peers and create more large performance opportunities.

 All proceeds from Stars of the North go towards funding the Collaborative’s music lesson programs. Admission is free, though there will be donations possible through merchandise and prize drawings. Miller calls the festival their “rallying point of the year.”

“If we can bring area kids to a point where they’re ready to perform, they can perform on that stage right alongside professional musicians, and hopefully create connections,” says Miller.

That’s exactly the plan for Sunday’s entertainment. Following a blues and gospel show by an array of Cook County-based players, the students will perform in a Collaborative youth jam.

Much of Stars of the North will feature artists familiar to North Shore concert-goers. A myriad of genres will be represented, between the folk duo Gene LaFond and Amy Grillo, reggae songwriter Michael Monroe, the Sky Blue jazz ensemble and hard rockers Mysterious Ways. Twin Cities rock band The April Fools will also return to the fest, playing two sets.

There will also be several new artists making their debut at Stars of the North. Jourdan Victoria, the Collaborative’s ukulele instructor, will kick off the festival on Friday. A new local duo named Vessel will make their first major appearance as well.

Miller says one of the big surprises of the weekend will be the reveal of his latest band, a funk trio named Blinded by Seagulls. He says their Friday night performance at the Wunderbar in Grand Marais will showcase new music.

“It’s been a long time since I played in an original music band,” says Miller. “So there’s more on the line now, whereas before, you can pick these ringer songs that if you’re just performing well enough, they’re going to work. But I think it’s really important. For our music to be everything it can be there needs to be as much original music as possible.”

Miller compares Grand Marais’ musical talent to that of Warroad, Minnesota’s legendary history of producing champion hockey players.

“That’s because that town believes in hockey. They support it and they nurture it, and it’s part of their culture,” Miller says. “If a community really believes in music, such as this one does, we can be a great exporter of musicians. But we’re not going to do it if we’re not working together.”

Miller also says there are still opportunities for area artists to be part of the festival. Inquiries about performing or donating sound equipment for Stars of the North can be sent to: snowday@boreal.org. More about the festival and organization can be found by searching Grand Marais Music Collaborative on Facebook.

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