Violent Femmes and Ben Folds Make The Perfect Pair At Sold Out Surly Show


Summer is a wonderful time in Minneapolis. People are friendly and the amount of outdoor events is staggering. Last night was one of those nights and with our inevitable eight month long winter looming in the future, it was clear that people were absolutely stoked to be outside listening to some legendary performances while sipping some of the best local beer that the Twin Cities has to offer all the while sporting some of the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen. Summer events outside in the Twin Cities are one of those things that you just absolutely have to experience and I was fortunate enough to experience one of the best this year has to offer last night at Surly Festival Field.

Kicking things off early was Nashville native Savannah Conley. Although majority of people were just walking up to the field and still had to grab a cold drink and some of the amazing food from local food trucks, Savannah was able to instantly captivate them. Her voice and sound is sweet but mighty. It commands your attention without feeling too pushy. Even if you were in line for food or having a conversation with friends, you heard Savannah’s voice and could feel her passion. At just over twenty years old, I think it’s fair to expect a lot from this very talented woman and I can’t wait to see where her immense amount of talent takes her.

Following Savannah’s beautiful set was a band I have been dying to cross off my bucket list- Violent Femmes. The godfathers of folk punk? I honestly don’t know if that is even much of a stretch. Since 1980 this band has been blurring lines between genres and making hit after hit creating a soundtrack for an entire generation. I am not part of that generation but their influence and importance is not lost on me so being able to see this group live was definitely a highlight of my week. Maybe you don’t know the name Violent Femmes but I’d be willing to bet you know one of their hit songs, “Blister in the Sun”. It’s one of those songs that nearly every band out there has covered but none of those covers come anywhere close to the brilliance of the original. Being able to sing along to that song along with their countless other hits while in the sun surrounded by friends is one of those moments that I will never be able to put into words.

Thankfully last night was a co-headlining tour. Violent Femmes may have been on stage before Ben Folds closed out the night but they were given ample amount of time to give the audience everything they wanted. I honestly lost count of how many songs they played and being that they were a bit before my time, I didn’t know every single song but I could tell from the chatter around me that they were nailing their perfectly curated setlist. Although not every song was a dance number, the audience was dancing around like there was no tomorrow. Last night may have been my first time seeing this amazing band but it surely won’t be my last. What a perfect band to see on a perfect night in a perfect city surrounded by perfect people. Honestly, my night could have ended there and I would have been fine but we still had the one and only Ben Folds closing out the night.

Much like Violent Femmes, there’s no denying Ben Folds’ legend. From his group Ben Folds Five to his solo material, Ben Folds has been a constant in the music scene since the early 2000’s and there’s clearly no stopping him. I don’t recall catching Ben Folds live and even though it’s been years for me since I’ve really listened to his expansive discography, there was still an undeniable sense of excitement that took over me as he took the stage. Although I fell off the Ben Folds wagon years ago, the amount of time I spent worshiping him in high school and the amount of hours I put into trying to learn his piano parts is nearly immeasurable. The way he brought the piano to the spotlight was something that I truly appreciated and to be able to watch him perform sitting behind his piano last night was a dream come true.

Ben Folds’ sixteen song set lasted well into the night as a stunning moon took over the sky. Much like during Violent Femmes’ set with the sun fading in the background, there are no words to do the atmosphere justice as Ben sang through his songs that influenced hundreds, if not thousands of musicians to follow him. From the first note of “Annie Waits” until the very end of “Army” (a Ben Folds Five song), there was a sense of energy in the air that was exciting and kept the night flying by. The mix of solo songs and Ben Folds Five tracks was perfect and, much like the Violent Femmes, Ben Folds’ perfectly curated setlist checked all of the boxes when it came to his hits and even turned over some B-side stones that I didn’t think he would play.

Although the energy was clearly high on the stage and in the audience, there was something beautifully laid back about the night. Maybe it was the perfect weather, people, drinks, food and music or maybe it was just my exhaustion but this was the type of show where you could truly do whatever you wanted and not be judged. You could be right up front loosing your crap as you sang along to songs of years gone by or you could be in the back chugging that last beer that you most certainly didn’t need. Regardless, there was a smile on your face and you were surrounded by people who may have been strangers but treated you as a long lost friend.

I crossed Violent Femmes and Ben Folds off my list when I got home with a giant smile on my face and “Blister in the Sun” playing over and over again in my head. Can you tell that last night was damn near perfect?