Now in its second year in the State Fair Grandstand, Friday night’s Minnesota Music-on-a-Stick proved that a sizable audience will turn out to support an all-local lineup. This year’s installment smashed last year’s attendance records, with the 8,834-strong audience more than doubling the turnout from last year.
Fans were pressed up on the barricade in front of the stage from the show’s very first moments, and the crowd steadily grew from that smattering of dedicated fans to a sea of bobbing faces as the Chalice warmed the crowd. The hip-hop trio once again proved that they can handle a large stage, nimbly working the massive space with songs ranging from their most-spun banger “Push It” to a brand-new song that features the line “There you go making it personal again” that leans more toward R&B.
P.O.S. was up next accompanied by hypeman Ander Other and DJ Fundo, and the audience was clearly familiar with his work as they sang along to new songs like “F Your Stuff” and older favorites like “Optimist.” It was a triumphant set for P.O.S.; just the day prior, he announced on the Current that he has found a kidney donor who is a match and will soon undergo surgery to attempt to resolve his longstanding health problems.
The middle slot of the night was held down by Mason Jennings, who brought out a new live band—early-career bass player Rob Skoro, plus guitarist Jake Hansen and drummer Sean Carey of Bon Iver—to play a joyful set that pulled from nearly every album of his 16-year-long career. Early favorites like “Ballad for My One True Love,” “Nothing” and “Butterfly” were sprinkled in alongside newer numbers like “Clutch,” which found Jennings moving to a piano. He closed with what might be the finest song of his career to date, “Sorry Signs on Cash Machines.”
After the quietest, most acoustic set of the night, the Suburbs blasted out of the gate with a full band, including three horn players and backing singer Janey Winterbauer, and immediately dug deep into their early catalog with songs like “Reset the Party” and “Dish It Up.” With their first album in decades, Si Sauvage, just released days before the show, Chan Poling announced sheepishly that they would also be playing some new material, but truthfully the band blended new and old so skillfully that most songs seemed like they could have been written in either era. The new Beej Chaney-led “What’s It Like Out There” was one of the set’s most gripping and somber moments, while at other times Chaney seemed less engaged, leaving the heavy lifting to capable newer member Steve Brantseg.
Trampled by Turtles ended the evening in top form, favoring their older, more rip-roaring bluegrass material over the more poppy, acoustic songs on last year’s Stars and Satellites. Which was appropriate, really; if any band on the Minnesota Music-on-a-Stick lineup was meant to play a State Fair it was Trampled, and their charged take on Americana had the audience bouncing like they were at a barnraiser.
The band also took advantage of the big stage to bring out some special guests, starting with Erik Koskinen on pedal steel and Eamonn McLain (of Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles) on cello and ending with a gorgeous version of “Alone” that included Claire de Lune of the Chalice on backing vocals and a septet of bagpipe players bringing the evening’s music to its largest, most chill-inducing swell.