Wild Waters Music Fest Gets Big Names for the Boundary Waters

Atmosphere, Jeremy Messersmith, Low, and more play Duluth in a bid against Twin Metals mining

Courtesy Save the Boundary Waters

Save the Boundary Waters is a campaign to prevent proposed sulfide-ore copper mining by Twin Metals, which could contaminate the million acres of pristine forests and lakes comprising the most visited wilderness in the United States. To do this, they’re suing in court, encouraging people to call their legislators, and, most recently, organizing the Wild Waters Music Fest.

“The main priority of this event is to raise awareness throughout the state. What better way to do that than by getting a bunch of Minnesota-based musicians together and rallying around the cause?” says Kyle Frenette, former Bon Iver manager who helped organize the festival.

Wild Waters takes place in Duluth on August 16, with an impressive lineup of local artists: Atmosphere, Doomtree, Cloud Cult, Low, jeremy messersmith, deM atlaS, The Lioness, War Bonnet, and DJ Keezy.

“It’s not as glamorous as a riot,” says Alan Sparhawk, guitarist and vocalist for Duluth-based indie rock band Low. “It doesn’t get the adrenaline up as much as people yelling at each other. But people can change if they get the information. That’s really what this is about.”

Here’s that information Sparhawk’s talking about: Under the Obama administration, a two-year study on the social, cultural, environmental, and economic impacts of the Twin Metals mining project determined that it posed too great a risk, and the company’s leases were terminated. Under the Trump administration, that decision was reversed, and the Twin Metals leases were restored. A single sulfide-ore copper mine in the Boundary Waters watershed could continually pollute its waters for 500 years. Twin Metals has plans for more than one such mine, and they are on track to make those plans a reality.

Jeremy Messersmith argues that music has power beyond raising awareness. “Music is what binds society together, it binds people together,” he says, citing the Singing Revolution events of eastern Europe, between 1987 and 1991, as examples of social and political change that used music.

The issue is particularly personal for Chaz Wagner, the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist of War Bonnet, which he calls a Native American band. “I’m tied to this land—my ancestors have been here for thousands of years,” he says. “They’ve hunted, fished, gathered all over here.”

War Bonnet, based in Nett Lake, and Duluth-based Cloud Cult and Low are the three non-Twin Cities acts in the Wild Waters lineup. “I’m pretty impressed that artists from Minneapolis are coming up,” says Sparhawk, who grew up in rural northern Minnesota. Sparhawk visited the Boundary Waters as a kid, and its popularity as a tourist destination might explain the draw. Moments with nature, he says, “are precious to anyone who makes music, anyone who creates, anyone who relies on the cosmic creative spirit of the world.”

Messersmith, who grew up in rural Washington, admits he’s never done the “canoeing-portaging-camping extravaganza” of the Boundary Waters. Still, he’ll often hole up in a cabin in the woods to write songs. He has a couple weeks slotted for a cabin near Grand Marais right after the show.

Jeremy Drucker, senior advisor for Save the Boundary Waters, understands the appeal. “Here we are in the Cities, with all the noises and the lights, and when you’re completely disconnected from all those things you feel a closeness and a restorative presence in the world that you can’t get anywhere else,” he says.

On Friday, when War Bonnet takes the Bayfront Festival Park stage on the Duluth Harbor Basin, the first song they intend to play references an Indigenous prophecy surrounding a white buffalo calf. “They don’t appear too often—it’s a symbol for change, or a change that’s about to happen,” he says. “It’s kind of like a prayer, that people can make a change for the better.”

Wild Waters Music Fest
Friday, August 16
Bayfront Festival Park
350 Harbor Dr., Duluth