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Recap: Let’s Tour Boubville, Duluth’s Punk Take on Bentleyville

This Christmas fest for weirdos was bigger than ever this year .

11:20 AM CST on December 19, 2023

Blake Romenesko|

The Boubville Tree

Winter in Duluth isn’t for the faint of heart, but one of the main reasons people drive up via I-35 in December is for holiday stuff. We've actually been trying to brand ourselves as the “Christmas City” for decades, and that rep has been a huge tourism driver for us. We have our Christmas City of the North Parade (in November, so the high school marching bands don’t freeze), Christmas-themed train rides, the Duluth Winter Village, and the big one: Bentleyville

Bentleyville began 20 years ago as a large lawn display in Esko, MN. After its popularity exploded, the event moved to Bayfront Park, where it now makes my commute home from work a nightmare. 

Then there’s Boubville, a newer event billed as the “punk” version of Bentleyville. As any good event does, it comes with lore: Local projection artist Daniel Benoit says he was contacted by aliens from the planet Boub. The Boubs and their leader, Zanta, reported that they could see Bentleyville through their telescope, were curious, and decided to visit. The Boubs enjoyed the fest so much that they decided to try their own hand at creating a festival of lights… or blights. And so, Boubville was born.

The grounds of Boubville, aka someone's backyard. Blake Romenesko

Sounds legit, right? In more layman terms, Boubville is a DIY art and music festival that takes place in Duluth’s Hillside. Last year’s inaugural event served as a fundraiser to save local art collective the Embassy’s studio space after their heating bill skyrocketed. It was a runaway success.

For 2023, Boubville was even more weird and wonderful. The Embassy lost their space over the summer, so organizers agreed to fundraise directly for the musicians and artists involved in the fest instead. I worked the entire festival this year, co-emceeing with local music expert/all-around beautiful man Walt Dizzo, so we had a front row seat to the chaos and magic.

At this year’s three-day festival, which took place over last weekend, folks were treated to an onslaught of lights, art installations, and the smell of smoked meat. The Boubville Tree stood guard over the grounds, watching your every move. To the right, was the Stranger Manger, which is part drag Nativity scene, part sculpture. It was constructed by local artist Tom Moriarty using found objects. Instead of the Three Wise Men, we have the Ghosts of Boubville Past, Present, and Future. 

The Blacklight Forest, where angels, old telephones, and rubber duckies roam. Blake Romenesko

On the Deck Stage, folks could take in a variety of acts, such as fire spinners, drag artists, and a little filthy accordion from Steve Solkela, who sang a bunch of Christmas carols. Artist Cherry Koch,curated the Blacklight Forest and the Mystery Shack, which was a wonderful mixture of festive and confusing. (Turns out the Boubs don’t really have the hang of human Christmas traditions yet.) 

The Mystery Shack was also the chosen hangout of a raccoon named Donuts, who stopped by the final night of the festival. We later learned that Donuts is domesticated and wandered over from a neighbor’s place. Truly a Boubville Miracle.

The Holy Smoker served pork and giant turkey legs, and there was also a delicious vegan chili. Nearby, the Boubville Beach featured numerous installations, giving way to Birthing Canal Park, a tunnel of light that you can walk right through to the gift shop, which was part local artisan market, part flea market. Here I saw everything from stained glass work to a very scary looking metal mask. 

Tim Kaiser jams as Jesus watches.Walt Dizzo

There was also my domain: The Garage. It’s where the weird and wonderful punk side of Boubville really shines. Acts onstage this weekend included metal, experimental drone, and energetic dance beats. Pete Biasi and Low’s Alan Sparhawk teamed up for a new band, Feast of Lanterns, and Minneapolis’s The Controversial New Skinny Pill also took the stage.

Bummed that you missed all of this? Fret not: I have a hunch that it’ll be back next year. Duluth needs a little weird fun this time of year (we still have five more months until Homegrown, after all). Thankfully, Boubville is a total balm.

The Controversial New Skinny Pill.Credit: Walt Dizzo
Alan Sparhawk/Feast of Lanterns Walt Dizzo
Vinyl SightingWalt Dizzo
Mystery Shack InteriorBlake Romenesko

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