Wednesday's at Sir Ben's

BY ERIK GAFFRON | The Statesman “Come on in, bring an instrument and we’ll get you a chair. Sit down around the table and you’ll get free beer…if you’re old enough. If you’ve never played folk or bluegrass before, don’t worry, we can teach you a bit,” Tom Eden said to a bluegrass newcomer.

Eden is a performer at Sir Benedict’s weekly bluegrass and folk session which takes place on Wednesdays.

Eden is here nearly every week for the open-to-anyone session at Sir Benedict’s Tavern on the Lake.

The bar top is nearly full as playoff baseball is shown silently on the TV screen above half-empty liquor bottles.

However, not everything is as silent as the TVs. The brick walls resonate with the sounds of folk music while a crowd enjoys conversation to the musical background. Only a narrow walkway separates barstool patrons from the barroom floor as family members and friends of the musicians enjoy the group playing near the upright piano.

On Wednesdays it’s all about bluegrass at Sir Ben’s and for Tom Eden, it’s all that he’s ever known.

“I’ve been playing bluegrass since the late 1970’s. The first records I bought out of high school were bluegrass and that’s all I’ve ever learned to play,” Eden said.

“They’ve been doing it every Wednesday night for about 30 years,” Sir Ben’s staff member Jeff Niswanger said. “They take turns spear-heading it. One person will be in charge for a while and pick which music they will play and then they’ll switch it up.”

Audience member and Eden’s longtime friend Norman Johnson found bluegrass gradually through a clog-dancing hobby he shared with his wife.

“Clogging is the kind of dancing you do with Bluegrass music. Over time, I started coming to Sir Benedict’s just to listen to the music. Now we’ve been coming here for around 10 years,” Johnson said. “This is the people’s music. It originated here in the heartland of this country. There needs to be more Bluegrass in Duluth.”

Eden wants people to not only come and listen, but young musicians to come and play as well.

“We hope more young people come in and find interest in this music. The more we teach, the longer bluegrass stays around,” Eden said.

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