Maybe we should not be all that surprised about a little bit of divine intervention. When the summer festival season rolls in, concert goers cross their fingers that thunder storms don’t wash out their favorite acts. Or that heat and humidity bouncing off black top aren’t dropping fans like flies. On Saturday the weather woman delivered a blue bird day and clear cool evening. As good as it gets.
Day 2 of Basilica’s 24th annual show featured 10 bands over 3 stages. The grounds sprawl over an area packed with food, merch, cold beer and thousands of music lovers.
One of the great conundrums of a festival like BBP is figuring how out to get from place to place to catch your favorite acts. To stake out a prime spot near the stage requires you get there early. What if you also want to catch an act on the far end of the grounds first? Give up a good spot and speed walk? Or just stay put? If your job is to review the entire event, you spend the evening pounding the pavement. Weary legs weaving through throngs of weaving party goers.
Reviewing ten bands, most of whom I was only able to watch for a relatively brief period, is beyond the scope of this recap. Instead, I’ll attempt to relate some of the highlights and impressions of the evening stage by stage.
The Preferred One Stage is in the southwest corner of the grounds at the foot of the Basilica’s front steps. For many years it served as the main stage. The primary appeal of this stage is the gently sloping lawn and shade trees that comprise the viewing area. Much of that prime real estate is now reserved for VIP’s with their own bar, food and table seating. This leaves less area for the common folks who pack to the front of the stage. Normally, this kind of set up bugs me. Tom Petty preached that when money begins to limit access to music, rock and roll loses a bit of its soul. However, in this particular case it’s understandable. The bottom line is that this a major fundraiser for the iconic building’s ongoing renovation. So you get the dollars where you can get them.
P1 kicked off with local pop band Early Eyes laying down their Hippo Campus type vibe for an early bird audience. By the time Judah & the Lion took to the stage, fans were packing the space in earnest. They immediately laid out the ground rules for their show: no politics, no religion, no you and them. Just us. It’s a party and they share their beats meets Mumford and Sons kind of sound. Andy Grammar finished off the evening in that same vein. If you like your dance music light and breezy, this was the place to be.
My favorite venue of the day was the Star Tribune Stage. Tucked behind the Basilica and ringed with the delightful smells of a convoy of food trucks, this is the most intimate of the three stages. Although the surface was pavement, there were some tables and shade. The main standing area in front of the stage enjoyed the shade of some strategically positioned trees. The focus of the ST Stage is on emerging local bands. Given that this is Minnesota, one would expect an eclectic line up and they delivered. Because the venue is more intimate, artists and audience are able to connect and interact in a manner the other stages can’t match.
Lazy Scorsese opened the evening with a dreamy sound that felt like summer breezes. They reminded me of Cloud Cult or early Star Sailor. Next up were The Shackletons, who the Star Trib dubbed as one of the must see acts of the summer. If you grew up raised on Husker Du, Replacements or Soul Asylum, this is a direct descendant. This was evident when Lori Barbero, founding member of Babes In Toyland, joined the band to cover Sweet 69. The evening finished with Reina Del Cid and her country tinged styling. I loved the range as the band drifted from bluegrass to a bit of 70’s disco. Reina has a smile and authenticity which brings you in and makes you welcome.
The Great Clips Stage has become the major band venue. It’s a bit of a hike north, under the 394 overpass to an immense expanse of asphalt. I found it a bit strange that the sound board was set up in a large, solid-sided tent which effectively blocked any view of the stage from the center of the space. Fortunately, there was plenty of room on either side from which patrons could see. For those blocked by the tent or a long way back, a pair of jumbotrons added a closer look at the stage. My only question is whether it’s really worth the money to watch a band I want to see on TV? On the other side of that set up criticism, however, is the backdrop behind that stage. The setting sun lighting the downtown skyline and should make us all appreciate what a beautiful city we all have within reach.
Michigan based band Flint Eastwood opened the GC stage festivities. I’ll confess that while the tunes I heard were fine enough I was a bit put off by the fact that while my ears heard guitars, synths and stacked vocals, my eyes saw only a drummer, a bass player and a vocalist. I’m sure it saves some money skipping the musicians but I prefer the guitars have strings. Third Eye Blind next brought their nostalgic 90’s sound, centered around their hit Semi-Charmed Life. If the movie Shrek still brings a smile to your face, you enjoyed this one. Borns rolled into the 3rd slot and created a bit of a dance party. If nostalgia was there for the taking with the prior band, Borns topped it with his Michael Jackson vibes and tenor vocals.
Cake was the headliner not only for the stage but for the evening. In many ways, this was an interesting choice because this is not your typical festival stage band. They are a bit quirky, slow paced and ironic. Some of their songs come off as mailed in little ditties. Some are wildly creative and engaging. Talking to patrons during and after, the opinions ranged from perplexed to a couple of “best concert I’ve ever seen”.
The bottom line is that BPP is the grand daddy of summer festivals in Minneapolis. It is well organized and well run; these folks know what they’re doing. It’s highly anticipated. People pack the grounds for the best of local and national acts. All for a great cause. Next year marks the 25th anniversary and based on how this event has grown, you can bet that they’ll pull out all the stops for BBP 2019.