Day two of Midwest Music Fest began with a different feel from Friday. Lots of reasons. First, committee leadership had fully gone to Plan B due to weather concerns. Everything had been re-scheduled indoors. Unlike Friday where the wet and gloom teased until it hamstrung some events at the last minute, Saturday actually looked good early on. Found myself looking at some blue sky during the afternoon and wondered if organizers jumped the gun. Could they have pulled it off outside? Most of all, rather than running around downtown like I did on Day 1, I felt more inclined to walk. Slowly. Kind of like a zombie.
As I tried to talk to my feet into being happier, I remembered an admonition to self while attending SXSW some years ago. You can’t catch it all without the ability to teleport. Let it come to you. Saturday, I tried to do that.
Truth be told, when I pulled up the app and tried to figure out where and when I needed to be to catch my must-see bands, it dawned on me that I wasn’t as excited to see the Saturday line up as I was for the previous day. It wasn’t that the quality was any less. More the fact that I wasn’t as familiar with many of the acts. That, and the fact that the schedule seemed to be a bit more backloaded with bands from the Southeast triangle than Friday. Those bands are a lot of fun but it’s also a scene I know well. That often means satisfaction without surprise. Satisfaction is what we usually get at a run of the mill music festival. Surprise is what makes things special for me. So, the question was: would there be enough surprises to make it special?
The short answer is Yes. More on that in a bit.
Day began with Annie and The Bang Bang. Annie Enneking has been playing her trade around the area for a pile of years now. In many respects, I’ve always felt like she never got her due. Hard to say exactly why. When you go to see The Bang Bang, you’re going to be surrounded by hardcore music fans. Those who have been out trolling the scene for years. You’ll find other musicians. These are not the fair weather, trendy fans. They truly know what’s what. And they know Annie isn’t going to mess around. She’s going to deliver her brand of righteous rock.
My only comment about the Eagles set up is the lack of a raised stage. When a band is on the floor, you can set up all the chairs you want. But that limits capacity or it hurts the sightlines. That was the same issue I then encountered with Dark Bunny, who had moved into Blooming Grounds from Peter’s Biergarten. The place was packed and unless you were there early, you heard Emily Youel’s lush, twilight melodies without seeing her in person.
A quick stop for some food and quick shout out to Heirloom Seasonal Bistro which became our go to when we needed fuel and a quick sit. Great food. Originally prepared. Simple, elegant and dare I say…healthy. That might have been the best Cubano sandwich I’ve ever had. I’ll admit to being tempted to lick the bourbon sauce, blue cheese puddle off the plate when the chicken wings were gone.
One of the bands I had marked as a must see was Twin Cities buzz band Durry. You’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard their music. Durry has only been around about a year and is an example of one of those Tik Tok viral sensations with their song Who’s Laughing Now?
But the litmus test, at least to me, is whether you can you deliver the goods live through a full show. That litmus test was taking place at Island City Brewing. On Friday, everything was outside with the stage under a canopy. It hosted both Mae Simpson and Haley. Saturday, it had moved inside.
I’d arrived early. Perhaps midway through Why Not’s set. There was already a long line to get in. I thought: This can’t be good! But the line moved fast because the venue wasn’t capped. It was serving as a check in point for the festival, so a lot of people were showing their vax cards and picking up wristbands.
Why Not is one of new bands from the Twin Cities that has developed a solid following of young fans. They have a slacker meets electro pop kind of vibe that is popular, even if it isn’t exactly my cup of tea. However, I came away impressed with their musicianship. Lead guitar player Isaac Dell was the first of the day’s surprises.
As far as I’m concerned, rock and roll is built around a guitar. There’s a million people who can strum one. Make it sound like a band. Only about 5% can truly play lead guitar. Those who pick up the instrument and play “with it” as opposed to “on it” are unicorns. Frankly, you can count on one hand the number of people who have that kind of ability around here. Two of them are in their 20s. I think Isaac is going to be one of those.
Durry was up next and by now people truly were waiting to get in. Seemed like it took the 5-piece outfit, fronted by siblings Austin and Taryn, long to get through a soundcheck. I found myself wondering if the band wasn’t quite ready for prime time in a live setting. But when they launched it was worth the wait.
This is a fine rock and roll band. It delivers without posture or trying too hard. The songs tend to be superficially irreverent and off the cuff. The look with torn jeans and trucker caps matches the sound. There is something that always works when genetics meet harmony vocals. I thought they killed it and the crowd ate it up.
One other litmus test? Do your fans sing the songs for you? Can you just back off the mic and let them take over the chorus? Two bands during the festival managed to pull that off. The Shackletons did it Friday. Durry did it Saturday.
Walking out of Island City, I sidled up to Front Row Paul who confessed that he, too, had just seen Durry for the first time. He had a smile on his face as he confirmed he loved it the same way I had.
By now the rain had moved in and my tired feet carried me back to No Name Bar where dad bod was holding court. The indie sound was distorted and a bit shoegaze. It was only dinner time, but a good crowd was already beginning to settle into the venue.
I’d come to the venue primarily to check out bugsy. bugsy has some pedigree and I wanted to check out the development of band leader Emily Schoonover.
The Twin Cities has a really established reputation for producing edgy female musicians. In many respects, I think we’ve always been at the forefront of what some call Grrrrl Riot. Lori Barbero has a star on First Avenue’s wall from her time banging it out for Babes In Toyland. Seven or eight years ago a teenage Emily Schoonover led a young female punk band called Bruise Violet to the First Avenue Best New Bands Showcase. If you want to understand the lineage, look no further than the name. Bruise Violet comes from the Babes in Toyland catalog.
I remember thinking: there’s more fury than sound here. But you’d be ignorant to miss the fact that attitude and fury often make the rock star. Some young musicians grow and evolve before our very eyes. Some have a vision of themselves. They build that vision and then find a way to inhabit that avatar. That’s what I take away from Emily and the new bugsy project. This isn’t a young girl wanting to be a punk star any longer. She’s just Emily. The band is young, but it fits together. There’s a wealth of experience many of their peers are still seeking.
As much as I liked Bruise Violet and as popular as they became, bugsy is a big step up. And a step in a good direction. Along with Durry, this was the other pleasant surprise to the day. I always get a rush seeing a young band for the first time and seeing the potential. When I write, I do my best to find the silver linings. Who am I to criticize someone else’s art? Particularly if people are buying tickets and applauding? So when I think something is better than most, I’m going to say it. There are four or five bands of this ilk cutting their teeth around the MN scene these days. Somebody is going to get paid. bugsy might be that band.
Graveyard Club was back at Island City Brewing. It occurred to me that other times I’d caught them, it tended to be at Halloween. Is that weird? Darkness had set in and the venue went from good to great. The space filled with colored light. The sound system was rock solid. And the stage was a good 4 feet off the floor which made for easy sightlines.
Vial is the newest addition to the Minneapolis Grrrl Riot scene. They would have been a perfect fit in The Beer Garden as originally scheduled. Moving into the Blooming Grounds space made it tough. It’s punk. It’s visual. Tough fit in a small acoustic venue. I’ve written previously that I like the band’s potential. What separates them from those that have gone before them is that they showed up to the party knowing how to play their instruments. After all, rock and roll will always be about attitude and comportment. But it sure helps when you can play right from the get-go.
Nobody gave up their spots for re-located headliner Polica back at Island City. Channy Leaneagh seems to have been around for ever even if we don’t get to see her band around here very often. That feeling has been exacerbated by a confluence of Covid and a fall she took from her roof. Broke her back. She’s just getting back up to speed.
Maybe it’s just a crazy impression but Polica has always seemed to me to be more of a European band. I know they’ve got quite a fanbase beyond the Atlantic coast. Polica, where have you been?
Leaneagh has always seemed to me to be striving for some greater art than just music. Hers is a heady brew of electronics, mood, melody and visual art alchemy that defines the band. Last night, the chanteuse in the black unitard directed a fully realized theatrical event that capped my evening.
My main takeaways from MWMF 2022? It’s still an effort that’s growing. There are still some logistical kinks that will always be hard to work around if you want to schedule something outside in April. This is the state of Minnesota. You might get the best of times or the worst of times. So there will always be some Plan Bs. Organizers did an outstanding job of pivoting but it’s going to be important that those B options can step up to an A level.
It’s still a Homecoming. If you hang around the local music scene, you come to recognize a lot of the same faces. There’s a Twin Cities bunch. And there’s a SE Triangle bunch. They’re mixed down at MWMF. A lot of people trekked down the Mississippi River for the festivities. Rain or no rain, I know they’ll be back next time. You should be, too.
MWMF, more than any other gathering during the year is… us. Minnesota has a remarkable music scene that’s open to all. Hang around awhile and you’ll find your share of kindred spirits that will help get you out to more shows. Take the time to talk to and get to know the young musicians. It’s a fact that to get as accomplished at something as these people are with their art, it takes a special type. Befriend them and they’ll enrich your life.
We’ll do the September version of MWMF later in the year. The line up will be just as good. The weather hopefully will be better. Do not let that little voice of Inertia lull you into staying on your couch. Your feet may complain. Your ears may be left buzzing. But it’s part of contributing to a music scene that is truly unique. Revel in it.