A rain delay that turned into an impromptu parking-ramp rave with Dan Deacon. Low’s now-infamous 27-minute, one-song, “drone-not-drones” set. A homecoming for former Hüsker Dü front man Bob Mould. After Rock the Garden 2013, it’s hard to imagine the event getting any more memorable. But next June, we’ll try: In 2014, the Walker and 89.3 […]
In 2014, the Walker and 89.3 The Current are expanding Rock the Garden to a two-day festival for the first time in the event’s history. Mark your calendar for Saturday, June 21 and Sunday, June 22, 2014.
Held nearly every summer since 1998, Rock the Garden has welcomed a diverse array of bands to its stage. including David Byrne, Stereolab, Sonic Youth, Wilco, Bon Iver, Doomtree, Trampled by Turtles, and the New Pornographers, to name a few. Be the first to get the announcement this spring about the on-sale date and lineup for 2014′s two-day festival by following Rock the Garden on Facebook and Twitter. Or sign up to receive Cross Currents, The Current’s weekly newsletter, and Walker emails.
Tickets to the two-day event will be available to Walker Art Center and MPR members first, with an exclusive pre-sale to be announced at a later date. To purchase Walker memberships visit http://www.walkerart.org/membership; The Current/MPR memberships can be purchased at mpr.org/support.
Defying expectations and offering courageous, surprising, pure, extreme, heartfelt, and sometimes even beautiful expressions are some of the things we count on artists to do. The fact that Low was able to do them all in one 27-minute set at Rock the Garden I found remarkable. Others apparently weren’t so thrilled with the extended version […]
Low’s Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker at Rock the Garden 2013. Photo: Amy Fox
Defying expectations and offering courageous, surprising, pure, extreme, heartfelt, and sometimes even beautiful expressions are some of the things we count on artists to do. The fact that Low was able to do them all in one 27-minute set at Rock the Garden I found remarkable. Others apparently weren’t so thrilled with the extended version of the band’s 1996 song “Do You Know How to Waltz?”: Angry tweets and blog posts appeared, and before the band had even arrived back home in Duluth, Low’s Alan Sparhawk was on the phone doing an interview about the set. (Listen to Low’s Saturday performance and tell me you can’t find dark, redemptive beauty there.) I guess the kind of riots that erupted in Paris after Stravinsky’s premiere of TheRite of Spring in 1913 now happen online.
Rock and roll long ago transitioned from solely entertainment into an art form, one that often serves as a wake-up call to boot. When Low walked on stage, the deluge had just passed, dark clouds were still hanging low but beginning to break, and wet, straggling fans were finding their way back from the underground onto the wet field. At that moment, their decision to play an extended version of “Do You Know How to Waltz?” felt inspired — one that fit the unsettled day and our unsettled times. How does a band better create a transition from Dan Deacon’s equally memorable underground parking lot digital throw-down to what would surely be more song-based, hits-oriented, high energy music coming later in the day?
Of course, strong artistic statements inevitably spark strong counter-responses, especially when presented to large, unsuspecting audiences. To my mind, Low’s set was one of the most exciting moments in Rock the Garden history. Yes, it served as a jolt to some listeners who had expected something different. It introduced noise, distortion, and drone in an artful, low-keyed, actually rather peaceful manner — cascading, swelling layers of sound, floating electronic harmonics, and patience-inducing stoppage of time. Low chose to place themselves in the company of sonic renegades from rock’s history: Hendrix, John Cale, Lou Reed, Brian Eno, Godspeed You Black Emperor, Sunn O)))), Patti Smith, Sonic Youth, and dozens of others, including some of today’s most popular rock artists — Neil Young, Wilco, and Radiohead, to name a few. They opened a dialogue with the avant-classical side of the aisle as well, represented by artists/musicians familiar to Walker visitors: Yves Klein, John Cage, La Monte Young, Tony Conrad, Philip Glass, Yoko Ono, Rhys Chatham, even Tim Hecker. The success of Rock the Garden has for some time brought commercial and broad-based expectations of accessibility to an event never intended to exclusively carry such, certainly not with all or even most of its chosen bands.
The Walker and The Current both strive for diversity and innovation in the RTG lineup. The event grew out of a 50-year old Performing Arts program at the Walker dedicated to new sounds, new movements, and new forms of theater and interdisciplinary art, where traits like innovation and audacity rank high. Equally, on the radio, The Current has helped open up the airwaves, forging a new model for public radio nationally, actively supporting independent artists from Minnesota’s strong rock scene and far beyond. While I find some of the angry, closed-minded online responses to Low’s set dispiriting, I remain thrilled with the debate that ensued — seeing directly what the power of art, in this instance a strongly made musical statement, can evoke. Low’s set is in line with both Rock the Garden’s roots and its ongoing efforts to champion innovators like tUnEyArDs, Yeasayer, Bon Iver (then an unknown with a brand new sound), Howler, Andrew Bird, The Bad Plus, Retribution Gospel Choir (Alan Sparhawk’s last RTG appearance), and Calexico, all Rock the Garden performers in recent years.
Witnessing Low’s set Saturday, I admit to my own initial confusion, which melted quickly into gratitude and then awe as the piece unfolded. So much so that when the set ended I rushed backstage to give Steve, Mimi, and Alan my thanks and my well wishes before anyone else could reach them, wanting to counter in advance any unhappiness or criticism I assumed — correctly, it turns out — was likely to follow.
Philip Bither is the Walker’s Senior Curator of Performing Arts.
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 […]
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
The Rock the Garden 2013 Lineup has been announced! On April 16, Mary Lucia and Jim McGuinn (89.3 The Current) with Philip Bither (Walker Art Center) revealed this year’s bands. Here’s who’s playing the festival: 5. Dan Deacon (Baltimore, MD) 4. Low (Duluth, MN) 3. Bob Mould Band (San Francisco, CA) 2. Silversun Pickups (Los […]
The Rock the Garden 2013 Lineup has been announced! On April 16, Mary Lucia and Jim McGuinn (89.3 The Current) with Philip Bither (Walker Art Center) revealed this year’s bands. Here’s who’s playing the festival:
Tickets will be on sale to Walker and MPR members only this Friday, April 19, starting at 11 am. Any remaining tickets go on sale to the general public Saturday, April 20.
Last year’s festival sold out in less than an hour, so be sure to mark your calendar and double-check that your Walker membership is up-to-date. Walker/MPR membership ID numbers will be required for all pre-sale purchases.
There wasn’t much to complain about at this year’s Rock the Garden. The skies gave us a go ahead by clearing up just in time for the show, the “goat path” stayed in place leading to easy movement up and down the hill, the food offerings were delicious, and the bands all seemed happy to […]
There wasn’t much to complain about at this year’s Rock the Garden. The skies gave us a go ahead by clearing up just in time for the show, the “goat path” stayed in place leading to easy movement up and down the hill, the food offerings were delicious, and the bands all seemed happy to be there and gave it their all.
Oh, and the Mayor once again proved that he knows what it takes to be awesome on Twitter.
(More of those tweets plus photos can be found right here on Storify.)
“Reverence for the Twin Cities music scene was in overflowing supply during the 2012 running of Rock the Garden.” City Pages‘ Gimme Noise blog review every band and also reports on the number of mosquito bites the reporter received during the show: 3. (There were mosquitoes out?)
During the show, Local Current’s Andrea Swensson wrote a play-by-play of every band’s performance, including posting their set lists.
Rock the Garden a city unto itself: Star Tribune’s Chris Riemenschneider says that we were “daring” by changing up the formula by including so many local bands, and says this is why: “A punky hip-hop group — the first rappers ever booked at RTG — going on before a bluegrassy string band, both following an Afrobeat-influenced experimental group, with two straight-up, guitar-heavy rock bands for the opener and headliner. That’s how widely Saturday’s RTG lineup reached.”
Rose City Live admits they were watching the #rockthegarden tag all day long.
METRO finishes off their review saying, “No, Minnesota is not the center of the musical universe. But on this afternoon, at this venue, it seemed pretty close.”
Cake in 15 wants us to expand our drink selection and has a fantastic animated gif of Sims really, really moving.
First of all, thanks to everybody who posted their photos and stories on our Rock the Garden wall! We love having them there.
The Rock the Garden 2012 lineup was announced at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul Wednesday. Here’s who’s playing this year’s show: 5. Howler, Minneapolis, Minn. 4. tUne-yArDs, Oakland, Calif. 3. Doomtree, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn. 2. Trampled by Turtles, Duluth, Minn. 1. The Hold Steady, Brooklyn, New York Don’t miss our interview with the Hold […]
The Rock the Garden 2012 lineup was announced at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul Wednesday. Here’s who’s playing this year’s show:
Whew! How are you all feeling? Standing my ground on a goat path of mud and avoiding dirty-footed crowd surfers in the marsh pit took quite a bit of energy out of yours truly, but I’m jazzed to see all the reviews and photos on the web and Twitter from before, during, and after the […]
Getting rocked. Photo: The Current
Whew! How are you all feeling? Standing my ground on a goat path of mud and avoiding dirty-footed crowd surfers in the marsh pit took quite a bit of energy out of yours truly, but I’m jazzed to see all the reviews and photos on the web and Twitter from before, during, and after the show.
Here is a round-up of some of your tweets: @hansenwithane: My Morning Jacket melts faces. #RTG2011 #amazing @misslibrarian: I wonder what hair products Jim James uses. #hairtwins #RTG2011 @_SamChoo: #RtG2011 was sprinkley, but good. Bands were solid – though this will be known as the the year I finally tasted @chefshack1′s mini-donuts! @ChaseThisBear: Favorite part of #rtg2011 was lost child alert and to pick him up at the Vodka tent and Mark Wheats annual drunk speech. @thatredgirl: Oh the glory of dry pants and clean feet! Who knew it was so lovely, thank you @RockTheGarden for reminding me of this pleasure #RTG2011 Celebrity sightings!@EamonCoyne: Saw Craig Finn, the Sklar Bros and Josh Hartnett @RockTheGarden today. Oh and some pretty good music too! #rtg2011 – you have exhausted me! @maggieckane: “You could stare into that cherry [on the spoon] for hours and hours. God bless it.” –My Morning Jacket #rtg2011
And related (intentionally or not…) @vholst: My Morning Jacket was the cherry on top of an amazing day. #rtg2011
And finally… @dane_ray: It may have rained, but it sure was fun as hell! #rtg2011 @mlindstrom: Watching @mymorningjacket as the sun goes down in the best city in America. #rtg2011
* = reviews that mention Jim James’ reverent comments about Spoonbridge and Cherry
The number one question I hear when someone finds out I drive the bands around at Rock The Garden is: “How the (expletive) can I get a job like that!?” Actually, the process is quite simple. Deep inside the corridors of The Walker Art Center is a small room that contains a broken golden […]
The number one question I hear when someone finds out I drive the bands around at Rock The Garden is:
“How the (expletive) can I get a job like that!?” Actually, the process is quite simple.
Deep inside the corridors of The Walker Art Center is a small room that contains a broken golden harpsichord. When WAC’s Performing Arts department is in need of a nuanced and compassionate Production Assistant, they collectively brush their hands against a few specific strings. All you have to do is recognize the particular vibrations and meet them at the correct unspoken space and time. For me, the experience happened something like this:
Me: (cautiously approaching my buddies):“So… I think I’m gonna move to Minneapolis.”
West Coast Musician: (approvingly) “Prince is from there.”
West Coast Musician’s Girlfriend: (amazed)“Target is too…”
Naturally, I moved to town for yearly tributes to the gods of rock.
Today, my fellow PA Jesse Leaneagh and I will be picking up bands from the airport, listening to their stories of being on the road, answering questions about Minneapolis (“So, how many people live here?… How cold does it really get?”) all the while trying to prepare them for this ‘little’ midwest rock show that brings 11,000+ people and is an impressive orchestration of solid work from the Walker staff. They always leave quite impressed with the event: the crowd’s enthusiasm, the a excellent outdoor venue, and especially the stellar Tech staff that bring them the best possible support.
We drivers have a little trick in our back pocket we like to call The Glory Lap. If a band needs a pep talk, nothing wakes them up after a long flight (aside from the Sugar-Free Red Bulls they request) than a drive around the perimeter of the site, starting with a view of the hill from the top. It’s a cool scene indeed, an impressive stage/vendor set up, with the skyline as a backdrop.
Since I probably won’t have this blessed job forever, I took advantage of an opportunity to document this experience. I will be posting from time to time throughout the weekend to give you the inside scoop. You, the reader, can ask yourself questions like, “What is it like backstage and on the road?” - “Do the artists sing in the van or ask for blue M&M’s?” or “Did this guy luck into this gig or is his presence more like manifest destiny?” And hopefully I’ll have the answers!
See you at the big show,
DG with Sharon Jones and Gabriel Roth at RTG, 2010