This past Saturday the Square Lake Music and Film Festival took over a small private farm in Stillwater. The festival was in many ways the opposite of a hot and crowded summer block party, instead spread out on a green lawn surrounded by trees. The festival, in its 11th year, has intentionally stayed small with only 400 tickets, which leads to a feeling of being at a backyard house show rather than your typical summer festival—but the incredible talent onstage reveals that this is a serious showcase of Minnesota music.
The festival grounds are just off the Gateway State Trail, and over half of the attendees ride to the festival, aided by a shuttle for camping gear. Icehouse was on hand with food for sale, cooking over a wood-fire pit dug into the ground, but many people had their coolers packed with full picnic meals to enjoy as they lounged on their blankets enjoying the music. Between bands, films screen inside the quonset barn, and as the day turns to night, a large screen goes up next to the stage to show the winning films.
Additionally, each year the festival commissions a film score, and this year the Anonymous Choir provided a live soundtrack to a short ten-minute film. Low headlined the event this year, returning after a rainy weekend six years ago that forced the show into the barn. Their set was accompanied by a visual display by video artist Peter Liversidge. A late night set inside the barn by Charlie Parr was a late addition, encouraging people to stay and enjoy the summer night. Also playing were Gao Hong, Frankie Lee, Carroll, Shiro Dame, the Eclectic Ensemble, and Ruben.
It was a perfect, low-key, relaxing summer festival.