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DFL cooks up Labor Day event

Normally, Labor Day in Cloquet is a busy day filled with all kinds of festivities, from parades to picnics to carnivals and rabble-rousing folk singers in the park.

Add one more coronavirus casualty to the list. Instead of adding to more than a century of festivities, this year’s events were canceled to keep people from gathering in large numbers and potentially spreading the disease through close contact.

It was about the time that the Labor Day events were canceled that Carlton County DFL party chair Patty Murto said she was driving by a birthday party at Veterans Park in Cloquet and realized a person (or an organization) could actually rent the park.

“When I figured that out, I started cooking up a plan,” she said.

What Murto and her fellow DFLers came up with was a new “Covid careful” way to hold their traditional chili cookoff fundraiser, which features various DFL candidates and different counties facing off for the rights to claim the best chili. Then members of Michelle Lee’s campaign — which has its own entertainment committee — offered to add an outdoor concert to the mix, as they’d already had a practice run at Oldenburg House in Carlton.

Murto figured, why not?

The chili cookoff will be held outdoors — carhop style — at Veterans Park from 3 to 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 7. Admission is $10 per person. Five counties are competing, including Carlton, Pine, Kanabec, Aitkin, and Itasca counties, and all the politicians have to bring chili too. The music and political speeches runs 3-6:30 p.m.

“Last time we told (the politicians) they could get up and give a speech, but they had to convince people in the audience that their chili was the best,” Murto said. “Of course, if they wanted to weave their policy positions into that speech, that was fine. This time I think I will be a little bit less strict.”

People are asked to drive in to the park and bring their own lawn chairs. Masks are required when not sampling chili.

“You’re gonna drive in and we will have three different chilis in a bag with a ballot and numbers on the chilis,” Murto said. “You’ll get sour cream and cheese, a spoon and a napkin, and people will be able to sit on the driver’s side of their cars. They’ll be spaced far enough apart so they’ll be distanced and have a good view of the stage. Voters will put Post-it notes on their windshield and someone will pick it up.”

Live music will be streamed on an AM channel into car radios. Featured musicians include Spencer Walton, Jeff Gilbertson, Colleen Myhre, Nathan Frazer, Lyz Jakkola and family, Brook and Caleb Anderson, and the Iron Man Trio, featuring Timothy and Diane Soden-Groves.

Murto described the musical lineup as closer to “Peter, Paul and Mary” and marveled at the breadth of talent in Carlton County.

“We even have professional stagehands in Carlton County — I didn’t know that,” she said. “The arts community is bigger than I thought. And there’s way more local talent than I ever dreamed.”

There is an open class for the chili cookoff, but cooks should hurry up and call Murto at 218-879-4262 to register by 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 4.