By Rebecca Marx Photo Credit Tony Nelson
A cloudless sky crowned with a bright ball of sun, alongside the mighty Mississippi River was the gorgeous setting for the Rock the Garden music festival over the weekend.
I for one, can think of nowhere else that I’d rather be than Minneapolis in the summertime – but with like minded music loving people at the Walker Art Center’s annual event. This year there was no garden, it was held at Boom Island Park as the Walker and its grounds, are undergoing a major renovation. The Walker’s hill was sorely missed for this vertically challenged concert goer, but overall the site worked with space enough for those who wanted to be front and center of either of the two stages, or relaxing somewhere in between.
Why does Rock the Garden work? It is the greenest concert that I’ve been to, with a zero waste policy and staff that guide you on how to separate your garbage into waste, compost etc. For those of us that have had the unfortunate experience to suffer long bathroom lines and find them in horrendous overflowing condition sans TP, there is none of that happening at RTG. All of the RTG events that I have gone to have had ample port a potties and TP to boot. Hey, just being real.
The main difficulty with RTG 2016, was in fact related to the spectacular weather. The park space’s water spigots were limited in supply, leading to long waits in the blazing sun in heat index temps of 90 degrees plus. I overheard a lot of negative comments, but utilized my thirty minute water line wait to chat with fellow festival goers. In hindsight, I do think that they should have brought in water. At least one attendee was removed from the concert after passing out, I don’t know if it was heat stress related, but quicker access to water would have made the day easier, and safer for all in attendance.
Barring that, the show was spectacular. The line up was stellar with a great representation of established local acts, although not any real up and coming acts. I would like to see a real surprise act to start the day, someone local, but without a huge following. You know, give the little guy a chance!
The day started off with a roar from the California foursome Plague Vendor. I had heard comparisons to bands like the Cramps, and in particular, comparisons of their lead singer Brandon Blaine’s’ stage antics to those of the legendary Iggy Pop. A mild version, but who could really compare to Iggy Pop? Blaine was a dynamic performer, good with the banter, and with a bit of crowd surfing – he had the audience eating out of his hand. Plague Vendor excel at the good raucous rock with a bit punk style ala My Chemical Romance. Thoroughly enjoyable, and just what the crowd needed to get amped up!
Grrrl Party took the party to a whole different level with their female forward messages and skillful stage moves. This was their last show together. A hometown goodbye. I saw one of their first ever performances when they opened for a CD release for Botzy some years ago, and they were good right off the bat. At RTG they were taking names and numbers. The thing that I love about Grrrl Party is that it showcases four very different, and strong women – and all are equally heard. This was no Lizzo project in my mind. Sophia Eris, Manchita, Lizzo and DJ Shannon Blowtorch all took turns leading this female charge of Hip-Hop empowerment. I will miss Grrrl Party. Nothing like sweating it out to “Poppin'” with a hot, whipped up crowd!
After saying a fond farewell to Grrrl Party on Stage 1, the crowd moved over to Stage 2 to see Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats bring in a more earthy vibe with their “down home”, and catchy R & B rock sound. Rateliff thanked everyone for standing out in the sun to watch the performances, and went right into a good feeling set. The band played many of their recent hits, giving the audience something to dance and sing along to. Rateliff wished everyone a heartfelt “Happy Pride”, and ended the show with the lively showstopper “SOB”.
One band from Minnesota that has been delighting audiences for some time though they are very young, is Hippo Campus. The band were grateful to be playing for their hometown, and thanked those in attendance with a well honed performance of their 1980’s influenced pop rock tunes, including some new ones. For such a young band I marvel at their proficiency and professionalism, and only sometimes do I wish that they’d completely goof up – just once! There music was the completely perfect accompaniment to a sun soaked day by the water.
M. Ward is an Americana singer songwriter who has garnered a lot of acclaim over the years with his various projects, including She & Him, and Monsters of Folk. The crowd was full of his fans and seeing them react strongly to his heartfelt tunes was touching. M. Ward comes across as a modern day troubadour, his song “Confession” is laden with a beautiful vintage feeling guitar sound, and the masterful horn work makes it a winner. With his husky vocals and talented guitar chops, M Ward clearly touches a nerve for the masses, one that many can relate to.
Hometown favorite Polica totally changed the whole RTG atmosphere with their ambient, yet powerful sound. Vocalist Channy Leaneagh has subtracted a lot of her vocal effects from their latest release UNITED CRUSHERS, and it was clear to see that she is owning her stage presence much more than in the past. In fact, Leaneagh gave a shout out to North Minneapolis, and against those who are putting lead into the river. Polica are big hitters (they actually have two drummers – a real thrill to see) and excel at creating an entrancing wall of sound. For RTG, Polica was a perfect gateway to sitting back, listening and being engulfed by sound.
Chicago native, Chance The Rapper took the energy level right up the scale with a thoughtfully intense performance. Chance The Rapper was impressed at the number of veteran fans out in the audience, and certainly made many new ones with a performance that was high energy and engaging. Soul and R & B tinged beats were perfectly punctuated by the deftly played trumpet of Donnie Trumpet. Chance The Rapper is an acid tongued lyricist, especially in the track “Everybody’s Something”, fearless in his honesty, not complacent at all.
The headliner of RTG was The Flaming Lips. I don’t know if there is a better festival act out there. Period. Throughout The Flaming Lips set, frontman Wayne Coyne seamlessly performed with a variety of props: giant blown up suns, a star person, a myriad of balloons, giant rainbows, and atop Chewbacca. He worked the audience up into a frenzy while dancing a blown up silver metallic “Fuck Yeah Minneapolis” sign around the stage – which he threw into the appreciative crowd. Not to mention; Coyne crowd surfed in a giant clear plastic “Hamster ball” all the while singing David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”. What!?! Coyne is the ultimate party animal! He also seems quite the humanitarian if you listen to his lyrics. His writing emphasizes the overcoming of obstacles, and working together to attain a level of greatness. The melancholy hit “Do You Realize” though romantically redolent, is really about the time spent loving someone (and letting them know it), not the time spent missing them once they are gone. As for the 9 year old boy named “Matt” in the front row? He had a memory made for the 103 year old him that he will remember forever. You really had to be there! Completely magical.
Rock the Garden 2016 was beautiful. The people were chill, the weather was stunning, and the music overflowed my cup. The team that puts it all together is to be commended, a tight ship that once again did not disappoint. Can’t wait for Rock the Garden 2017!