Rock the Garden will returned to the Twin Cities yesterday, and even though it was almost unbearably hot- it was one of the best shows I’ve been to this year. Annually since 2008 (and a few sporadic times before that,) the Walker Art Center has worked with 89.3 “The Current” to put on an indie music festival, and this year’s genre spanning lineup was one for the books.
Entering the festival grounds, I wasn’t sure what to expect for the day. It was so hot, so humid, and there were so many acts to see- I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. The second I really got in, though, that flustered feeling turned to pure excitement. The vendors and food options looked great, and there were over 20 free water stations to make sure everyone stayed cool. In addition to water, snacks, and frozen treats galore, there was lots of shade to be found around the garden to retreat to when the sun just got to be too much. I saw lots of people sharing sunscreen with each other throughout the day, and everyone’s water bottle seemed to stay full. Music fans taking care of each other is what I like to see, and there was plenty of that going around.
If all the amenities weren’t enough, the music itself was sure to keep everyone’s spirits high. It just so happens that the openers, deM atlaS and Heart Bones, were my personal favorite acts of the day. deM atlaS brought out surprise guest Lady Midnight, another Twin Cities local favorite. Her positivity and his high energy performance (as always) made this set one I’ll be thinking about for a long time.
Heart Bones, the project of Har Mar Superstar (Sean Tillman) and Sabrina Ellis, brought a shocking amount of soul to their set even though it was arguably the hottest time of the whole day. “My shirt is made out of a towel, so we’ll see how this goes,” Tillman told the crowd at the beginning of the set. And I’d say it went pretty damn well. Their songs have some very ’80s vibes and pretty much everyone was dancing to the best of their abilities (it’s not always easy when you’re surrounded by thousands of people and sweating like crazy!)
LA punk band, X, brought some much needed gritty energy to the show, and didn’t say one word about how hot it was out there, and South Carolina’s Adia Victoria called for reproductive freedom during her bluesy, soulful set. Bad Bad Hats and The Beths both played the Garden Stage and put on the perfect soundtrack for such a hot day. Multiple times throughout RTG, I stopped to think about how happy I was that there’s music out there that’s good enough to sweat for 8 hours for, and I’m glad so many people seem to agree with me.
Australia’s Courtney Barnett, one of the most anticipated performers of the day, did not disappoint. She had a backing duo with her, and played through a career spanning set that mixed acoustic quiet songs with some punk rock vibes. The set began with her hit, “Avant Gardener” and ended with what seemed to be the crowd’s favorite (and was definitely mine,) “Pedestrian at Best.”
Once Barnett’s set was over, the air was finally feeling a tiny bit cooler, and it was time for headliners, The National. They’re a band that seem to only get better and better with each album, and definitely have a cult following. They’re a quartet from Cincinnati and if you listen to The Current or follow any indie music blogs, you’ve surely heard them before. Just like Barnett’s their setlist was career spanning and genre bending. They brought out guest singers Zoë Randell and Pauline de Lassus for their first two songs, “You Had Your Soul” and “Quiet Light.” The crowd lost it when they played “Don’t Swallow the Cup” late in the set, and was unsurprisingly not ready for the day to be over when the set ended, even though they had just spend hours outside on the hottest day in Minnesota so far this year.
As always, attending Rock the Garden was a great way to spend a Saturday this summer, and I’m already ready to start speculating on who will play next year.