Local Current Blog

Rock the Garden 2016: Eight artists, one epic day

Rock the Garden crowd during GRRRL PRTY (MPR Photo / Evan Frost)

14,000 people converged at Rock the Garden on Saturday, prepared for a line-up that bridged genres and age brackets. Some had bought the ticket for veteran party rockers the Flaming Lips; some went for young indie-rock sensations Hippo Campus; many jumped on the opportunity to see the boundary-breaking Chance the Rapper. All day long, fans bounced from stage to stage as sets alternated between sides of Boom Island. Music kicked off at 2:30 p.m., and tight set times kept the show rolling until 10:00 p.m.

Kayakers on the Mississippi near Boom Island Kayakers on the Mississippi near Boom Island (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan)

Relaxing before Rock the Garden starts. Relaxing before Rock the Garden starts. (MPR Photo / Evan Frost)

California’s dark, frenetic Plague Vendor kicked off the festival with a punk jolt to remember. Even while singing songs such as “No Bounty” and “Jezebel,” vocalist Brandon Blaine pulled off stunt after stunt, convulsing through Jagger-esque dance moves and doing a handstand on drummer Luke Perine’s kit. He used the whole stage and then some, spending a song or two in the photo pit and crowdsurfing during “Ox Blood.”

Plague Vendor Plague Vendor (MPR Photo / Evan Frost)

GRRRL PRTY—fiery local MCs Lizzo, Sophia Eris, and Manchita with DJ Shannon Blowtorch—tore through their last show ever on Saturday, playing 12 songs in just over a half hour and dancing through the heat. After “Top Floor” ended with, “99 problems and a d— ain’t one,” a girl behind me decided she adored GRRRL PRTY. She said, “That’s the realest s— I’ve ever heard.”

Thank you @RockTheGarden !! What an amazing day! ❤️💙😭🌈

A video posted by claire monesterio (@manch1ta) on

Even though I spent the day at a music festival, shivers hit me hardest when GRRRL PRTY’s set cut to a conversation break. Between “Nightwatch” and “Can I Live,” Manchita got real about mental health, asking audience members to help “end the stigma” about the mental health conditions she says affect one in four people. She had a mental health crisis recently, she shared, but Abbott Northwestern took great care of her. Asking the crowd to donate to Northwestern via her webpage, Manchita offered hopeful words to anyone who might need them: “There is help. I promise.”

Manchita at Rock the Garden Manchita at Rock the Garden (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan)

Sophia Eris from GRRRL PRTY Sophia Eris from GRRRL PRTY (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan)

MCs Sophia Eris, Manchita, and Lizzo of GRRRL PRTY (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan)

Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats played an organ-heavy, fun set of jams, including “Howling At Nothing” and “S.O.B.” The band have real chemistry, jumping from rumbly folk choruses to trombone solos (played by Minneapolis’s own Matt Darling).

Nathaniel Rateliff Nathaniel Rateliff (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan)

Nathaniel Rateliff Nathaniel Rateliff (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan)

Next up, Hippo Campus hit the stage for a set of polished, easily digestible indie rock tunes. “How many of you are hotter than you’ve been this whole summer?” Andrea Swensson asked the crowd before the set began, and several hands went up—but at this point, no one could be hotter than the Hippos. Rock the Garden was just one stop on their packed summer tour. “It is amazing to be home right now,” said vocalist/guitarist Jake Luppen.

Bonus: the band is working on new music. As promised in last week’s in-studio session at The Current, they played two new songs (“Baseball” and “Conviction”) for the fervent Rock the Gardeners.

Hippo Campus at Rock the Garden Hippo Campus at Rock the Garden (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan)

Jake Luppen Hippo Campus’s Jake Luppen (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan)

Rock the Garden Rock the Garden (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan)

Shade blanketed the park just as M. Ward went on, and that relief foreshadowed a mellow, enjoyable set from the Portlandian folk-rocker. Many in the audience took a seat and enjoyed dinner as they watched M. Ward play; the set was all good vibes, especially because of a happy-birthday jam Ward dedicated to Sir Paul McCartney.

M. Ward M. Ward (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan)

M. Ward M. Ward (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan)

Hometown favorites Poliça roared through a strong set, with double drums setting a titanium foundation and Channy Leaneagh’s voice flowing over the band. She dedicated “Summer Please” to North Minneapolis, where she lives, calling out “factories pumping lead” that harm residents of all ages. Although Poliça’s sound has evolved a great deal from Give You The Ghost to United Crushers, songs from all three of their albums sounded seamless side-by-side.

Polica's Channy Leaneagh Poliça’s Channy Leaneagh (MPR Photo / Evan Frost)

Polica Poliça (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan)

Drummers Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson Drummers Ben Ivascu and Drew Christopherson (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan)

After Poliça, the crowd went crazy for Chance the Rapper. For intro music, Lil Yachty’s “Minnesota” played just hours before Yachty hit the Skyway Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. At Boom Island, though, it was all about Chance. Jade had to laugh, saying, “Chill out, chill out,” as she and Mary Lucia introduced the next set above overwhelming cheers. Then, Chance took the stage, and he said he’d “had no idea it would be this fun.”

Chance played loads of hits, including “Pusha Man,” “No Problem,” “Everybody’s Something” (which BJ the Chicago Kid and TFBSE alum Saba feature on), and Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment’s “Sunday Candy.” A show highlight, though, arrived with the opening notes of Kanye West’s “Ultra Light Beam.” Chance rapped his much-lauded verse, and he declared, “Me and Kanye are now eligible for Grammys,” referencing the recent free-music-friendly rule change.

Chance took the crowd through old music, new music, and the Arthur theme song, saying he enjoyed himself the whole way. “I might do a tour just in Minneapolis,” he said to wild applause.

Chance the Rapper Chance the Rapper (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan)

Chance the Rapper (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan) Chance the Rapper (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan)

Chance the Rapper Chance the Rapper (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan)

Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips bent concert procedure even before his set began, taking advantage of the Lips’ and Chance’s set break and telling a couple stories (reminiscing that the Lips played one of their first shows at the 7th St. Entry). It wasn’t long before the full band took the stage, though, and they played a monster set full of Coyne monologues and shenanigans. From the first-song confetti blast to the game-show-looking cymbal gong to the track performed from Chewbacca’s shoulders in a flowing cape of LED lights, Coyne and the band kept a woman behind me excitedly asking, “What is he doing?”

Coyne noted that many people treat festivals as an escape from their “profound sadness,” and he said it was the “perfect night to be optimistic—to be happy.” The Lips brightened the night with a rendition of “Happy Birthday” for nine-year-old Matt in the front row. They always dedicate “Pompeii am Götterdämmerung” to “our fellow cosmic warriors,” Coyne said, and lately, they’ve been playing it for Prince (“I think we’ll keep dedicating it to him,” the frontman decided). Coyne sang David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” while crowdsurfing in his hamster ball.

The Flaming Lips closed Rock the Garden with a sense of fondness that the audience clearly reciprocated.

The Flaming Lips' visual feast The Flaming Lips’ visual feast (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan)

The crowd for Flaming Lips The crowd for Flaming Lips (MPR Photo / Nate Ryan)

Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips (MPR Photo / Evan Frost) Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips (MPR Photo / Evan Frost)