Weekend of festivals: Northern Spark, Stone Arch and Rock the Garden

Summer in the Twin Cities is crazy. So much fun, so little time. This weekend was like that on steroids. I managed to get to three festivals – to greater and lesser degrees.

Northern Spark is the all night arts festival in Minneapolis. Except this year it was only from 9 pm to 2 am but it went on for two nights. I brought Aine and a friend – then we met up with a friend of mine there. The festival was set up in three parts of downtown Minneapolis: the public library, near the stadium and on Nicollet Ave. Different artists set up stations – most are interactive. And you can meander from one to the next.

Some of our favorite exhibits include the Meme Weaver – a giant interactive machine programmed by Arduino to weave poetry. Then Keith Braveheart worked with the local Native art community to creatively recreate Buffalo Nation – an historical picture of buffalo skulls killed by settlers in an attempt to eradicate Native people. There we created buffalo skulls that they assembled.

We love the library. The trans dance was kind of awesome – people just dancing in a circle. There was a singalong – although much higher brow than I could do. Aine got a chance to ride a virtual reality bike. And we just got to be downtown last at night with hundreds of other people.

I got to take a tour through the Stone Arch Bridge Festival the next morning on a walk. It was so muggy, so hot and it rained for the whole 8 miles! Stone Arch include dozens – if not a hundred artists booths. A highlight was the robot art. And the free sample of brats at the Weber grill booth. And the area around the Stone Arch Bridge is gorgeous.

Finally – thanks to the generosity of a friend – I got to go to Rock the Garden. It’s a full day of music at the Walker Art Center. Three of my favorites were there – Father John Misty, Chastity Brown and Nikki Lane and I got to hear a lot of new music. It was steamy hot but there was a breeze.

Chastity Brown told a sad story about playing in Eau Claire earlier this year. She was in front of the venue when a white supremacist accosted her – yelling and getting in her face. No one around her helped – until a band member happened to walk outside. It has led to many discussion of “what would you do?” I hope it made everyone in the crowd ask – so that we’re all prepared if something like that happens near us.

Yam Haus album release at the Amsterdam – local pop band on the way up

If you can’t stand the heat of a rising boy band – stand in the back and get your ear plugs out when you come to see Yam Haus – because they are bringing it. And to be heard above their admiring fans, they need to be loud!

They opened their sold-out, album release show at the Amsterdam with the title track – Stargazer, much to the delight of all around me. It is synth-pop music, leaning on pop. The songs are catchy and high energy. They are fun to hear live but they are made for radio. The songs are infectious. The message is positive. They are cute. They are just the thing to make a young girl swoon and scream.

Yam stands for [you are me]. It’s quirky but again positive and lets the fans have an inside secret. Not a huge secret but I think for the target audience, a little something the parents don’t understand is a fun thing.

There are four band members: Lars Pruitt on vocals and guitar,  Seth Blum on electric guitar, Zach Beinlich on bass and Jake Felstow on drums. They are charming on stage. All smiles, lots of dancing and even more personality. They are from the Twin Cities and I think they represent us well. They were gracious to Kaleb Lee, who opened for them. The band was also very gracious about the location – the Amsterdam.

Note: First performance was Kaleb Lee is from The Voice. He is unapologetically country, which I thought was a nice balance with Yam Haus. He may have been the piece to connect kids and parents in the crowd – and the crowd was mostly kids in front parents in back. Both groups seemed happy with Lee and Yam Haus.

Astronomique – Sharp Divide CD release at Seventh Street Entry

I’m a fan of Astronomique. I often feel like their show sounds like Barbarella looks. It’s retro and funky and techno. It’s a dated glimpse at the future. The latest material sounds smoother, calmer, maybe dreamier than earlier material.

I enjoyed the title track from the new CD – Sharp Divide. The live and recorded versions are quite different. Live the song feels like a clever repetition of a simple tune but the recorded version feels more layered; it sounds like a much larger band when really there are only four of them: Logan Andra Fongemie on lead vocals and synth, Sean Hogan on guitar and vocals, Mitch Billings on drums and vocals and Preston Saari on bass guitar.

The keyboard really adds the retro-future feel to the songs. The drum is solid and especially prevalent when live. And the strings keep the band firmly grounded in a rock sense.

There are elements of music from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s across the album. There’s somethings familiar but new. It would make a great house party soundtrack.

Wowed by Caroline Rose and Cardiod at the Seventh Street Entry

Mostly I write about Minnesota music and art, but something I run into a show that strikes me that even though it just takes place in Minnesota, I still want to write about it. Caroline Rose with Cardioid at Seventh Street Entry was such a show!

Both bands are unconventional (maybe creating new conventions), energetic and post-feminist (my observation, not their label), female-led bands. (Though the guys rock too.)

They sing and talk about girl topics – including, but not limited to, PMS and periods. It’s not gratuitous, it’s just every day stuff but refreshing to hear it from the stage, again in a non-gratuitous way.

Caroline Rose rocks, just no other way to put it. And she’s very clever. Every song is her favorite to play.

The band has the energy of a Shonen Knife. Seems like everyone had a guitar (or bass) and a keyboard. And interesting setup, especially for musicians to like to dance too. I can’t wait to see them on a bigger stage.

Jeannie Becomes a Mom should be a techno anthem. It’s a cautionary tale with a beat. Bikini is more like next generation B52s – it’s a female’s POV homage to the two-piece. It’ll get you places – but you have to wear it. A double edge sword.

Cardiod play Fantasy Metal – a genre we should all be promoting to greater heights.

The front women look like they walked off a Broad City sound stage. Lizzy Ellison has a mesmerizing voice.

What I love about both bands’ music is how the use of very specific details, makes the lyrics more universal. I’ve never played Super Mario but I understand the love-hate ambivalence of trying to conquer the top levels of a challenging game.

Rainbow Road, from Carioid, was maybe my favorite song. Written about that vexing level of a Super Mario but also written about when you love someone but they don’t want to be happy so they sabotage the relationship. I have to admit that I’m not sure if that’s universal or a primarily female take on a relationship, but I get it.

And I love the straight-forward, style of Fantasy Metal. Strong voices, unapologetically wide ranges, a nuanced approach to an almost family genre.

I went to the show with almost no knowledge of the bands and left ready to change the soundtrack of my year!

 

Little bit country, little bit rock ‘n roll – Margot EP release at the Icehouse

I went to see Margot at the Icehouse on Thursday because on the recording I thought the lead singer (Hunter Baugh) sounded like Eddie Vedder. Live he doesn’t sound as much like him, but that’s not a bad thing at all. His voice is as compelling. The band maintains a festival level passion and enthusiasm throughout the show. It’s a really enjoyable combination.

The band is folksy – kind of rocking and kind of country. Baugh noted their “terrible transitions” but if you like rock and country, they’re kind of awesome. They started strong with a very folksy build up with strong, exciting drums, like storm about to hit. The violin lends an almost Irish sound, although that may speak as much about my misspent youth at Irish Fairs than anything else. (Sixteen, off the latest album, is a good example of the musical Celtic brogue.)

There were three vocalists on stage Thursday night, which I think help sustain the high energy. There’s an imploring energy in the songs. Baugh announced that Margot will be releasing a new, acoustic EP on July 8. We got a sneak preview of some of those songs too. They are, as you might expect, leaning more country than rock but a nice balance.

Annie Fitzgerald – You, Me and the Sun release at the Hook and Ladder

From the stage, Annie Fitzgerald described her album in one word – summer. It is light but deep, easy but complex. The music, the melody is generally upbeat cheerful but the stories she tells are life lessons, such as Oh Caroline about her grandmother. One sweet story was the connection between the song and a story she read to her son called The Invisible String.

Fitzgerald has a lovely Irish sounding voice with the just this side of comfortable, almost falsetto high tones in a song like Be Like a Tree. Then she turns around with the raspy aspirations of the Rest of Me.

The songs have a pop sound but within that she touches on different genres. Goodbye Now is a slower song with a bluesier feel. Maybe deeper blues played live than on the album but with an imploring twang either way. It’s a nice balance to the refreshing breeziness of the rest of the album.

It was fun to see fellow musicians Sarah Morris, Matthew French and Jen Bluhm share the stage with her – bother in supporting bands but also singing her songs with her on stage. I love when  Twin Cities musicians share the love!

Ghost Wagon and Fathom Lane at the Icehouse

Last week I had an opportunity to see a band I knew I liked to see and a band I hadn’t seen before. Starting with the new band, I enjoyed seeing Ghost Wagon. In the spirit of full disclosure, a band member is a neighbor and so I had come specifically to see them.

Ghost Wagon released their first CD (Crooked & Dark) last year and it sounds like they are gearing up for another release in 2018. With eight band members, they easily filled the small stage of the Icehouse. There’s Chuck Nelson on vocals, guitars and harp, John Mack on guitar and vocals, AJ Swenson on vocals, Jimmy Olson on drums, Marc Dockter on keyboard, Chris Hagedorn on sax, Steve Burnett on bass, and Josh Braun on pedal steel. It’s fun to see so many different instruments on stage – especially something like a sax and pedal steel.

Ghost Wagon has a country rock feel – think Tom Petty or Traveling Wilburys. Also it’s fun to see a band that looks like they are having fun on stage and these folks look like they’re having fun. They have an energy that’s infectious. The guitar and keyboard seem to drive the action of a song like Hold My Heart. While the harmony of Swenson and Nelson rounded out the song. I am looking forward to their next CD, the new songs they played seemed even more introspective and just a little more mellow in a good way.

The night ended with Fathom Lane, the unveiled their newest video – The Queen of All Hearts. It’s strange and memorable. In fact, I think every band should open with a video to build a familiarity with at least one song before the set starts. I like their original music, although I especially appreciate how they tie in cover songs. There final song – a singalong of Knocking on Heavens Door was awesome. (Clearly this is something they do – singers joined them on stage!)

Dan Israel CD release – You’re Free – at the Cedar Cultural Center

The musical stars came out for Dan Israel’s CD release Tuesday night – and many of them joined him on stage to celebrate his fourteenth album. I enjoyed hearing some of his older work like Mama’s Kitchen, which I think is a great showcase for the strings on stage. But his newest work (You’re Free) was the shining star and it feels a little different than past work.

Apparently he left his “day job” to concentrate on his music and dedicate attention to his music. You’re Free (the song) gives voice to the freedom of leaving a job, doing what you want. The words are not veiled “no one body knows what you felt inside, you were along for the lonely ride, how you emerged with your pride is a mystery; All of the world is your oyster now…”  It’s pretty straightforward and it’s a feeling that I think is pretty universal for folks who are lucky enough to have a passion but wait for a while to dive in full force.

The sound is rock and country and makes you sway. It’s upbeat and moving forward. Israel has a warm baritone that feels like an old friend in the room.

I’m a fan especially of Make this Life Mine, the beginning feels like a story or maybe like a Disney start. It highlights the lower vibes of Israel’s voice, unique but comfortable. The drums have an exotic fee and the backup vocals add a ethereal sound. It’s a little melancholy, a little unapologetic in theme with an undercurrent of celebration.

Leading off the night was Rich Mattson & the Northstars. They are always fun too. Glad they played Youngest Old Friend of Mine. They remind me of X, in a really good way.

Happy May Day with the Annual Heart of the Beast Parade

Today was one of the best days for May Day I can remember – shocking given my lake expert informed me that ice out happened on Minnesota yesterday! There are three parts to our May Day event: the Parade, the Tree of Life Ceremony, and a Festival in Powderhorn Park. We caught the tail end of the parade, part of the ceremony and the festival.

The theme this year is – What You Feed Grows – it’s all about love. There were the usual actors for the ceremony – the red boats that cross the river, the gods and goddesses with some new ones including my new favorite pink birds. It’s amazing to see the work that folks do in creating their costumes.

May Day is an ancient holiday – going back to 29 BC and possibly before. It was originally a festival of flowers, which makes sense given the spring timing. In more modern time the May Day was associated with the May Pole or even with the religious ceremonies crowning Mary, the mother of Jesus. I can remember collecting lilacs and doing a march for Mary at some of my schools as a kid. In the last 19th century, the Socialists decided to make May Day International  Workers’ Day. So there’s also a historical tie to Socialism.

The Powderhorn Park version of the holiday is heavy on celebrating spring, socialism and opportunities for inclusive approaches to life and politics. The parade includes floats and puppets that carry the theme – as well as a host of supportive/supported groups. The Women’s March marched. And many candidates march. The festival includes music, food, and booths from various organizations. The ceremony happens on the shore of the lake, featuring characters from the parade, and culminates with the giant sun coming by boat to the shore.

Art in Bloom – family tradition with an added dip into China’s Last Dynasty

Art in Bloom is my very favorite annual event at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. They partner with local florists and artists to create bouquets that complement or contrast or make you think deeper about a piece from the regular collection. This year I went twice once my with my mom and once with Aine.

Because it was a gorgeous weekend following a cruel and late winter snowstorm, the place was packed. But it was fun both times. A bonus from the MiA – on special days, such as Art in Bloom, you can get into the special shows, such as China’s Last Dynasty, for free. So some of the pictures actually come from that exhibit. (That exhibit is awesome, if you haven’t seen it yet!)