An estimated 17,000 fans packed Prior Lake’s Lakefront Park on Friday night for the first night of the sold-out two-night Lakefront Music Fest. That nearly matched the population of little, old Prior Lake (pop. 25,863) What’s even more impressive, is that this was on the same evening that 14,000 were attending the Basilica Block Party. Wow, has this event grown. It started in 2010 as the Lakefront Jazz & Blues Festival, a free event with maybe 1,000 attendees. Since modifying the format in 2012 to a two-night festival with one “country” night and one “classic rock” night, the event has continued to grow in attendance. This year for the 10th Anniversary of the event, the Prior Lake Rotary Club brought in some serious big-name acts with the Steve Miller Band and Joan Jett on Friday, and Brad Paisley and Chris Lane on Saturday.
After a brief storm whipped through Prior Lake in the early afternoon, Friday evening turned into the mid-summer night that outdoor festival planners dream of when making their plans. It was a muggy 86 degrees as we walked in from a nearby elementary school lot. Most attendees were smart to park and ride on the free shuttle buses from Prior Lake High School or the closer middle schools. An added opening act, Matt Andersen, was already playing as we arrived at 6pm. Signs at the door reported there were no further ticket sales, as Friday night joined Saturday in being completely sold out shows. Entrance lines were short early on, but I heard there were significant lines to enter later on.
Lakefront Park is the primary city park in Prior Lake, located near its small “downtown” and Highway 13. In the winter it provides two zambonied ice rinks and sliding (sorry kids it’s sliding not sledding) hill and even an Edina-like warming house. In the summer, it’s a massive open field used for youth soccer and baseball. Tonight it looked completely different, with the baseball field and parking lots crammed with numerous tour buses. The large stage was set-up facing the big hill which stood across the vast open space. Thousands of concert-goers had already staked out their spots in time for the opening acts, just beyond the “standing only” area closest to the stage. VIP tents were set-up adjacent to the stage while food vendors and beer tents lined the sides of the field. Food, pop, and water could be purchased with cash but beer and cocktails required drink tickets which had massive lines. The boggy turf was still retaining water from the day’s early downpour which might have ruined a few pairs of sneakers.
Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives started around 6:30. They provided a preview of Saturday’s country night to the many in attendance that bought the discounted two-night ticket package. Those that are not country music fans may have wondered if the five-time Grammy winning, Platinum country artist, showed up on the wrong night. But Marty Stuart and his band are currently touring with the Steve Miller Band to provide a special combination of classic rock meets classic country. The Fabulous Superlatives includes guitar great Kenny Vaughan, famed drummer Harry Stinson, and multi-instrumentalist Chris Scruggs. Fans sang along to Stuart’s biggest hit, “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’,” that he co-wrote and recorded with Travis Twitt. Stuart looked out at the growing crowd and said, “We play all of the cool places. Like here and The World’s Largest Truck Stop, in Walcott, Iowa.” I looked it up and Iowa 80 is the world’s largest, with an 123,000 sq. ft. truck stop with parking for over 900 trucks. He next played “Whole Lotta Highway (With a Million Miles To Go)” which he wrote after playing a show at Iowa 80 with over 40,000 attendees and over $50 MM of trucks on exhibition. But Iowa, we have the World’s Largest Candy Store in nearby Jordan. Rock and country fans alike celebrated “Ring of Fire,” especially when performed by the man that had a long stint playing guitar in Johnny Cash’s band and whose first marriage was to Johnny’s daughter Cindy (he later remarried to country music singer Connie Smith).
Now, 60 years young, Joan Jett still looked the same from afar, with her short “Jett”-black hair and silver eye-shadow. While many fans sat in their lawn chairs during the first bands, everyone immediately stood as the legendary female rocker played. She quickly got to “Cherry Bomb,” the hit from her early days in The Runaways, which most recognized. She mixed several covers into her set, including Gary Glitter’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)” and the song Bruce Springsteen wrote that Jett sang with Michael J. Fox in the film of the same name, “Light of Day.” She would also play the Mary Tyler Moore Show theme song, “Love Is All Around,” by Sonny Curtis which I heard many people exclaim, “I know that song from somewhere.” The meat of her set began with The Arrows tune Jett turned into the legendary rock anthem, “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Everyone, from teens to retirees, stopped in their tracks to sing and dance along to this universal hit. She continued with Tommy James and the Shonells’ “Crimson & Clover,” allowing the crowd to sing the chorus several times on their own. Making it a tremendous closing trifecta of hits, Jett played my favorite, and her original, “I Hate Myself for Loving You,” before ending with the 60’s happy song, “Everyday People,” by Sly & the Family Stone.
The sun had completely set before the Steve Miller Band’s headlining set. This made it easier to see now, without the sun in your eyes. The Big Dipper was high above the stage with a waxing gibbous moon (you learn these things from your middle-school kids) to the left providing some maneuvering light. Mystic Lake’s lighted bracelet handouts lit up the park with changing colors. The opening song was “The Stake,” from the 1977 Book of Dreams album that I owned as a kid. I remember carefully choosing six albums (tough choices between the Eagles, the Bay City Rollers, KISS, and the Steve Miller Band) from the record club offer and taping a penny to it when mailing in (sorry, back to the concert.) Fans sang along boisterously to “Jungle Love” and “Abracadabra” to complete the strong trio of opening songs. With these being just a few of plentiful hit songs they would play, the band proved why they were selected for this special 10th Anniversary festival. Addressing the crowd for the first time, Miller asked if the sound was good, which it was. He also asked for some applause for the opening acts, which they received.
Miller used the middle of his set to slow things down. He jumped back in time to play a couple of his late 1960’s songs, “Living in the USA” and “Space Cowboy,” that many did not seem to know. But his monster hit “Take the Money and Run” quickly re-involved the crowd. Next Miller discussed the history of the delta blues before playing a trio of blues covers, including “I Wanna Be Loved (But Only by You),” “All Your Love (I Miss Loving),” and “Stranger Blues.” “Dance Dance Dance” and “Wild Mountain Honey” concluded the slower segment of the set and from there out it was hit after hit.
“True Fine Love” featured a great guitar duo by Miller and the other guitarist in the band. “Fly Like an Eagle” and “Rock’n Me” took us to the conclusion of the regular set, causing a few folks to leave early to beat the rush to the shuttle buses. The band returned for a tremendous encore that started with “Swingtown.” The video screen next showed the popular clip from the Simpsons for a lead-in to #1 hit “The Joker.” FYI, there was very obviously a midnight toker next to us. With the crowd applauding like the show was over, Miller asked if we would like one more song. With a unanimous “Yes,” he concluded with “Jet Airliner.” If anything, the Steve Miller Band seemed more polished and strangely “younger” than when I last saw them in concert, at the Minnesota State Fair, over 20 years ago. I won’t forget that show as we went for my best buddy Fletch’s birthday. I won’t forget this show either, not only for its massive sold out crowd, but for the great evening of easy-listening music spent with good friends on a perfect summer night.
Country music was set for day two and the lineup was full of star power. The night started with Riley Green who was followed by both Chris Lane and Brad Paisley. The park somehow felt more crowded than the sold out day one with droves of people as far as my eye could see in every direction. What felt like the hottest day of the summer was not going to stop anyone from making this Lakefront Music Fest anything short of spectacular.
Unfortunately, due to some issues at the gate with a photo pass, I missed much of Riley Green, but the one song I did hear was great. Being the first act up on stage the crowd was filled with people who were there to see him. People know every word and sang loud and proud along with the artist who had a huge smile on his face the whole time he was up on stage. His down home country sound filled the air and made for the perfect country music atmosphere. His short time on stage came to an end and he was met with cheers from the people filling the park. The brave souls sweating their butts off lifter their beers in the air in a salute to a great show.
Following Riley Green the music took a short break as the stage was set to honor what the festival was all about. The Prior Lake Rotary Club presented a check for 66,000 dollars to non-profits around the world. One thing that I thought was really cool was that over the years the Prior Lake Rotary has taken a stand against Pollio around the globe. Something we don’t hear much about here in the United States still affects people around the globe and thanks to the Prior Lake Rotary we continue getting closer to ending diseases not just here but around the world.
It wasn’t long before the park erupted with cheers as Chris Lane took the stage. With over a billion streams on Spotify, his lyrics were some the crowd knew well. The ball cap and blue jeans wearing artist was just as good live as I could have hoped and I found myself singing along as I took photos. Hit songs like I Don’t Know About you had every person in the park shouting at the top of their lungs to the point where Chris Lane himself had to stop and say that it may have been the loudest crowd he has ever heard sing his songs back to him. The man knew how to put on a show with gorgeous guitar playing from his band and the occasional Bud Light chugged and crushed the guy seemed like someone you would want to party with. Again the whole time he was on stage he had a huge smile on his face, you could tell that he was truly appreciative of the people who were there and their love for his music and that is one thing that will make me love an artist every single time.
The sun started setting as Chris Lanes night ended and if you thought the concert was the only show going on at Lakefront Park you are sadly mistaken. As we waited for Brad Paisley to take the stage the crowd got to witness one of the most spectacular sunsets of the summer behind the massive stage. The sky was painted with streaks of gold that faded into a vibrant array of oranges and reds before the sky was overtaken with purple as night finally fell on the park.
Thanks to the Prior Lake Rotary Club, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community (Mystic Lake Hotel & Casino), and the hundreds of volunteers that allows this event to happen and raise valuable funds for community charities. The festival provides a nice ticket-selling fundraiser for local nonprofit groups while also raising more than $1 million in its first ten years for both local causes like the STRIVE program, Gateway Park and Bridges Area Learning Center, and to global projects like digging wells in The Gambia. To many more successful years of fun and fundraising for the Lakefront Music Fest!