Brother Ali was the headliner—delivering a relaxed, confident, and supremely enjoyable concluding set—but on Friday night, the Mainroom at First Avenue belonged to a relatively little-known rapper from the Red Lake reservation in northern Minnesota.
Baby Shel, who won Vita.mn’s Are You Local? contest for a cash prize of $1,000 and a slot performing at SXSW, was visibly moved to be standing on a stage where so many of his heroes have performed, but didn’t hesitate in claiming that stage as his own with a fiery performance that everyone in the room seemed to recognize as a special moment for Minnesota music, and an introduction for many to an artist who—as MC (in the master of ceremonies, not hip-hop, sense) David Campbell safely predicted, we certainly haven’t heard the last of on the Mainroom stage.
As Chris Riemenschneider notes in his Vita.mn profile of Baby Shel, the rapper is five years into a career that’s seen two solo albums as well as extensive collaborative work and a string of dates opening for Yelawolf. He’s overcome personal adversity—his father has just finished a decade-long drug sentence—but has a base of support that continues to increase, both on and off the reservation. “I feel people are rooting for me up there,” Baby Shel told Riemenschneider—and indeed, they showed it by waving a Red Lake flag.
Earlier in the evening, Baby Shel played one of four slots at the 7th Street Entry among performers who all won new fans, even if the acts couldn’t all go home with Grover Cleveland portraits in their pockets. First was the country-folk of Sam Cassidy; then Baby Shel; then Molly Dean’s synth-pop band Moon & Pollution; and finally the anthemic rock of Ciaran Daly’s new band The Stress of Her Regard.
Warm-up acts in the Mainroom were Tiny Deaths, who treated the crowd to a nifty Highwaymen cover in addition to material from their self-titled EP; and the Blind Shake, aptly introduced by Campbell as “the band saw of rock and roll.”
Nate Ryan was able to grab photos of many, though unfortunately not all, of the artists who performed on Friday.
Moon & Pollution
The Stress of Her Regard
The Blind Shake