This year’s Rock the Garden Festival a joint venture by The Current and the Walker Art Center was forced to Boom Island due to construction at the Walker. The extra space allowed for two stages squeezing 8 music acts in one day. A mix of local and national talent brought out 14,000 to this sold out event.
Mostly sunny skies and sweltering temperatures made for a gorgeous but challenging afternoon but the evening hours cooled things down just in time for headliners Chance the Rapper and The Flaming Lips to heat things up again. If there was any room for improvement it would be on the long lines to for the two water stations. The crowd took it in stride and the overall mood through the day was very upbeat and friendly. Staff and Volunteers did a great job, and Security helped to cool fans in the front rows going from squiring water bottles to rolling out a garden hose and spraying down the crowd.
California surf rockers opened up the hot day with rock stylings reminiscent of screaming past punk rockers. Loud vocals, loud guitars, and tons of stage energy, this band set the spirit for the day ahead. This West Coast foursome played songs from their sophomore album BLOODSWEAT, which got the early bird crowd dancing. Lead singer Brandon Blaine enticed the audience with some crowd surfing, all the while borrowing an audience member’s hat and sunglasses. Plague Vendor definitely set Rock the Garden moving at full speed ahead.
Local Minneapolis favorites Grrrl Prty stirred up some action as the second act for the day. This was a very special performance for this foursome because it was their last show of their musical career as a group together. Sophia Eris, Manchita, Lizzo, and DJ Shannon Blowtorch brought down the house with all their favorite hip-hop hits, including “Wegula” and a remix of Notorious B.I.G. “Hypnotize”. Halfway during their set Manchita brought to light some facts about mental health, including 1 out of 4 people will experience some form of mental health crisis in their lifetime. Bringing the bass and treble to Rock the Garden, Grrrl Prty ended their set with the audience chanting their name, giving them a perfect final career send-off.
Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats
Stomping his way into the crowd’s hearts, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats rocked out the late afternoon with some bluesy country tunes. With guitar riffs, a red bandana, and a black bowler cap, lead singer Nathaniel Rateliff wooed the crowd with songs from their latest self-titled album. Weaving bits of folk, country, and blues into a danceable set, this dynamic supergroup closed their set with their single “S.O.B.”, sending the crowd into a giant sing-a-long. Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats were a mixture Southern goodness and down home rock n’ roll, adding a perfect addition to this all-day festival.
Another Minneapolis fan favorite, Hippo Campus, graced the Rock the Garden Stage and brought a bucket full of pop energy. Playing some fan favorites as well as some new tracks, this local band delivered a show that was full of solid horn sections, upbeat lyrics, and fun beats. Delivering a danceable set that kept the audience moving, Hippo Campus revved up the 14,000 person crowd with ease. This band has grown quite a following, and the energy in the crowd was a direct reflection of that.
Next up was singer-songwriter M. Ward, a musician of many trades who often works with artists in other projects. As a solo artist, he is a force to be reckoned with, commanding the stage powerfully. Backed by a full band, complete with a horn section, M. Ward worked his guitar like a well-oiled machine. During his set, the heat was at a high max so the security guards started spraying the crowds down with water, adding to the excitement. He dedicated a song to Paul McCartney, towards the end, and instead of words, just playing a searing guitar solo that set the stage to high intensity.
Diving deep into synthy heaven, Polica swam on stage, bathed in live drum and bass. Also hailing from Minneapolis, this foursome ebbed and flowed with dark wave, high synth, and ethereal vocals. At one point, lead singer Channy Leaneagh dedicated a song to the Mississippi River and brought awareness to the polluting factories that line the river in North Minneapolis. Their live show contained two drummers, complete with two full drum kits. Each of the drummers dueled at the structural backbone of their songs as Leaneagh crooned into the mic, sweeping the audience off to a faraway magical land. Polica was just one of many local Minneapolis bands at Rock the Garden and definitely celebrated the musical magic that happens in the Twin Cities.
Chance the Rapper
Turning Rock the Garden into Rap the Garden, Chance the Rapper graced the stage as one of the final headliners. With charm, charisma, and humility, he owned his set and molded it into a rap/spoken word/jam fest. From his live band to his deep throaty but soft staccato vocals, this artist enriched this all-day festival with some beautiful talent. Met with screaming fans in the crowd, Chance smiled non-stop, often exclaiming how much fun he was having during his set. He played songs from his newest album Coloring Book, closing his set with his powerhouse jam hit “Sunday Candy”. Chance the Rapper was a great addition to Rock the Garden and added some genuine jazz sounding elements to a rock-filled day.
The Flaming Lips
Last but not least, the main act, that people had waited in the scorching sun for hours to see, exploded onto the stage. The Flaming Lips majestically drifted from the heavens above and graced Rock the Garden with mystical cosmic music, complete with out of this world stage styling. Covering the crowd with confetti and balloons, including a giant one that said ‘Fuck Yea MInneapolis’, this band knew how to work the crowd into a frenzy. Playing their hits including “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots”, lead singer Wayne Coyne danced on stage with blow up figurines, Chewbacca, and other wild props. In the middle of their set, they dedicated a song to our cosmic warrior Prince, saying that they would always forever dedicate it to him.
The entire band was decked out in glow-in-the-dark face paint and illuminated by cascading neon waves that bathed the stage. At one point, Coyne and 14,000 Minneapolis residents sang Happy Birthday to a 9 yr old kid named Matt who was in the front row. Even though it wasn’t his actual birthday, they sang to him anyways, which was pretty awesome. The Flaming Lips definitely know how to create mystery and wonderment and weave it into a musical experience, including making the most interesting non-birthday celebration happen.
Overall Rock the Garden on Boom Island was a smashing success. While the more “intimate” setting of the Walker are quite unique, Boom Island showed it self as a very legitimate festival venue and even with 14,000 fans in attendance did not feel overcrowded.