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How Dan Deacon Decided to Go Underground: Rock the Garden 2013

It wasn’t going to stop raining. The radar flashed a train of yellows and reds that churned toward and over Minneapolis. The doors to Rock the Garden 2013 had opened 20 minutes earlier and decisions had to be made. An hour before, Dan Deacon and I had a conversation about the dodgy weather that was […]

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Parking-garage dance party. Photo: Greg Beckel

It wasn’t going to stop raining. The radar flashed a train of yellows and reds that churned toward and over Minneapolis. The doors to Rock the Garden 2013 had opened 20 minutes earlier and decisions had to be made. An hour before, Dan Deacon and I had a conversation about the dodgy weather that was headed our way. He was fine playing in the rain and would ask some kids to hold a tarp over his gear during his show. I thanked him for his adventurous spirit. “Gotta keep it punk somehow,” he smirked.

Rain is one thing; lightning changes plans.

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Dan Deacon talks to Philip Bither, the Walker’s Senior Curator of Performing Arts, after covering his gear with a tarp. Photo: Greg Beckel

The storm helped us make an easy decision (safety first, right?). A volunteer evacuation to the parking garage was announced over the PA by Jill Riley (The Current host and voice of god), and she then kept the audience informed with storm info and ETAs for sun. But now it was raining quite hard and was looking like we’d have to play it safe and skip Dan’s set, hoping at that point to somehow salvage at least one song by Low.

At 3:30 pm, the rain had become torrential and I was huddled in the production tent with the key decision makers, including RTG production manager extraordinaire Maury Jensen, Randy Levy of Rose Presents, and Walker tech staff genius Ben Geffen. We all agreed: we couldn’t ask Dan to perform in such conditions, but we’d wait another five minutes or so before pulling the plug. It’s not a pleasant moment for any of us — we try to keep the mood light, buoyed with half-formed jokes and optimistic reads of the radar, but we all know this totally sucks. Months of work have gone into this one seven-hour period, and it’s taking a turn for the worse.

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Rock the Garden attendees waiting out the rain in the ramp. Photo: Gene Pittman

Then I see a beautiful sight — a purple hoody and the bespectacled and bearded face of Dan Deacon making his way toward me through our tiny tent. He’s Cheshire smiling. I’m flummoxed. I’m about to launch into my friendly chat about how it’s not going well with the weather when he blurts out, “I can play in the garage.” A moment of clarity hits me. “Of course you can play in the garage!,” I think to myself. Turning to Maury, I ask if he can pull this off and, without doubt or hesitation, he says, “I can make it happen.” We all thank Dan and experience a collective bit of much needed cheer. A generous twist of fate is at hand and the rest of us agree quickly to suss out if this is possible, with little time to waste. We confer with the MPR broadcast team and the TPT filming crew and realize this might just work. Ben Geffen and his team deploy to the garage to find a proper space and power to set up Dan’s gear. Ten or so minutes later, Ben radios up that they’re all set and Jill makes the announcement that Dan will be “rocking the underground,” sparking the remaining weatherproof stalwarts on the hill to quickly hoof it to the garage. A bullhorn is found and Current host Steve Seel agrees to do the intro for Dan.

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“Electro Pied Piper” Dan Deacon. Photo: Gene Pittman

What ensued in the depths of the parking garage is one of the most spontaneously joyous performance moments I have witnessed. Electro Pied Piper Dan Deacon led an ecstatic dance party with thousands of wet and ponchoed people – all dancing, drinking, and feeling the relief of being dry just for a moment. Deacon also concocted a dance contest and prodded thousands of people to make a giant circle within the cars and pillars — “Keep moving, all the way back to the Acuras!” This well-executed salvation and truly remarkable moment was all captured by hundreds of phones — check YouTube today.

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Dance battle. Photo: Gene Pittman

Dan ended his set right on time, the crowd spilling out of the garage as the rain lightened and eventually stopped, allowing Low to take the stage a mere 10 minutes behind schedule. Midway through Low’s (now also legendary) set, the sun broke through as the cheer of thousands echoed throughout the neighborhood.

Many thanks (and virtual hugs) to Dan Deacon for his inspired improvisation that set the perfect tone for RTG 2013 and clearly showed us how the essential the artistic perspective can be. And even more thanks to all the staff and crew (and audience!) who made this wonderful and super fun moment happen so fluidly. Dan’s performance became instant Rock the Garden lore and will certainly be hard to top next year.

Doug Benidt is the Walker’s Rock the Garden programmer and band wrangler.