Inspired by outdoor events covering the Twin Cities summer calendar, in 1998 the Walker put together a concert that brought the Garden and the Center together for a day of drinking and snacking and mingling and, of course, rocking out.
That first Rock the Garden, featuring the Jayhawks, was a relatively small-scale endeavor: Put up a stage on Vineland Place, bring in a band, show some Garden visitors and music fans a new side of our contemporary arts center. It was an immediate sucess, and in fact drew larger crowds than expected, thus inspiring another outdoor show in 2000.
The next year, Rock the Garden 2003 became a full-on, multiple-band festival. Still rocking Vineland Place as a sweetly oversized block party, the Walker hosted Fog, The Bad Plus, and Wilco as guests crammed together in sweaty celebration of indie music.
David Byrne in 2004
RTG, as it’s known to Walker staff, was on hiatus for 2005, 2006, and 2007, as Vineland Place transformed. The Walker’s expansion went up, along with an underground parking ramp, and the ’60s-era Guthrie came down. In 2008, the festival was revived in a new partnership with a public radio station that had gone on the air in 2005 — 89.3 The Current — and welcomed not three but four bands: Bon Iver, Cloud Cult, The New Pornographers, and Andrew Bird.
Last year, Rock the Garden’s stage was turned 90 degrees to face the rolling green hill along on the west side of the Walker. This seemingly minor adjustment made for a whole new kind of experience as fans got off the street and spread out on the lawn — and the festival escalated to grande proportions in a fantastic show put on by Solid Gold, Yeasayer, Calexico, and The Decemberists.