Jimmy Carter was running for president; we all wore red, white, and blue; and something called punk rock had just made its first stain. In July 1976, the good folks at the Walker programmed two evenings of film with music at the Lake Harriet band shell — nice. Fast forward 30 years and leap over to Loring Park: our Summer Music & Movies (SM&M) series, launching tonight, has become the grandpappy of all the local outdoor film and band events. This summer we celebrate the 30th anniversary of this amazingly convivial experience, where hipsters, picnickers, kids, and canines converge to share six sultry Monday evenings and collectively forget that January is even a possibility.
Let me take you on a brief ramble about curating music for a series that has helped define summer in Minneapolis. No doubt programmers over the decades have found selecting bands an easy pleasure. Heydays are frequent and ‘next big things’ bloom perennially in this town. SM&M has grown up with the music scene, and the array of bands (Jayhawks, Babes in Toyland, Lifter Puller, Low, Wallets, Moe Tucker, Har Mar Superstar, Christian Marclay, NNB, Trashmen, 2i, Deerhoof, Suburbs, Slug, Le Tigre . . . you get the idea) that have played the park may conjure warm memories of pivotal rock moments. OK, maybe not so much for a few of the Mondays, but SM&M has consistently offered the most interesting free music around. The satisfying equation of informed audiences, a beautiful setting, and a boundless wealth of local talent – punctuated over the years with national and international luminaries – has resulted in a series that has proved to be both petri dish and platform for some of the Twin Cities’ most memorable musicians.
Throughout the life of SM&M the encompassing forms of jazz, rock, pop, and hip-hop were well represented. But today (and over the past 10 years, really), things are decidedly different. Our silent companions 0 and 1, the pliant particulates of the cybersphere, have altered listening as we know it. The Internet has allowed musicians’ “influenced by” lists to grow exponentially. Styles and sounds, past and present, are all there for the clicking (and sampling). Want to know what Silver Apples sounded like in 1968? Great, it’s here. Need a traditional sub-Saharan beat that’ll work with Balkan-tinged flute solo? Cool, this dude has a link. The stylistic walls have turned to glass and the creative process for musicians is evolving as quickly as the entire music industry itself. As programmers, our charge is to decipher the meaningful and interesting mutations – what’s the next logical step? And, well, does it have to be logical?
As part of our continuing mutation research, I traveled to Austin, Texas, for the 20th anniversary of the SXSW (South by Southwest) music festival in March. Now the largest music conference in the world, it’s an exhilarating, stamina-testing crush of keypad kids, industry idolaters, and true believers. Five days at maximum volume equals 1,500 bands, 50 stages, perpetual lines, free Shiner, and transcendent moments. I did catch excellent sets by Mogwai, Animal Collective, Detachment Kit, Why?, and dozens of others. A decided highlight was a set by a band billed as Special Guests (aka Flaming Lips). These merry pranksters of alt-rock came out with dayglow gear, hundreds of six-foot balloons, confetti canons, and strobes, and did a full-on, faithful cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” – I thought there might be a riot. While I reveled in the chance to envelop myself in live music each day, it did seem that the festival staggered under its own weight and too easily lurched in a green-greedy, heady rush toward the band buzzing loudest. But back to Minneapolis. Film curator Dean Otto, my performing arts colleague Diana Kim, and I feel the flush of finding that magical mix of sound and vision. We’ve always felt with SM&M that “free” shouldn’t equal “dull,” so we hope to present film and music that are unexpected, excellent, and will perhaps scare the wildlife a bit. A special thanks from the SM&M folks at the Walker to the countless bands, DJs, and crowds that have made the previous 170 (or so) Mondays feel so right.
Assistant Curator, Performing Arts