The precursor to and the future of the Minneapolis Sound share a stage this weekend at the Seventh Annual Roots, Rock & Deep Blues festival, highlighting the unique musical mix put forth in the fundraiser for the nonprofit Firehouse PAC (the group that runs the Hook and Ladder Theater & Lounge).
Opening the Hook and Ladder Theater stage is 90-year-old James “Cornbread” Harris Sr., who played on Minnesota’s first rock ‘n’ roll song, 1955’s “Hi Yo Silver,” and is the father of Jimmy Jam — the famed Minneapolis Sound producer and original member of the Time. Hours later, the futuristic funk band ZULUZULUU close the stage out.
Thanks to his relationship with Firehouse PAC executive director Chris Mozena, Harris is no stranger at the Hook and Ladder. After a stint booking shows at the Nomad, Mozena moved across the street to Palmer’s, where Harris was part of the Sunday night rotation, along with Cadillac Kolstad, Nicholas David, and Jack Klatt. “Cornbread quickly rose to the top of the heap in my estimation,” says Mozena, adding that the pre-Prohibition venue set the perfect scene. “It seemed like a guy with his history fit in well with a bar like Palmer’s.”
Mozena moved on to book shows at other venues, and brought Harris with him wherever he went (including booking Harris to play his wedding). The Roots, Rock & Deep Blues Festival had been produced by Patrick’s Cabaret (under Mozena’s watch) for its first five years, but last year’s festival was technically the first event at the Hook and Ladder. Asking Harris to mark the occasion with a performance was a no-brainer, Mozena says. “He was at the top of our list to play that stage.”
The venue’s sound system allows for digital recordings, and the recording of Harris’ performance at the festival got Mozena and his team thinking about producing a live album. The Cornbread Live @ The Hook album was recorded over two nights in February, and released in April, on Harris’ 90th birthday.
For ZULUZULUU, the festival marks the beginning of a month-long stretch in which they march down the timeline of Minneapolis music history. After sharing the stage with Harris, they are on a Turf Club bill with André Cymone before embarking on a tour of California with Atmosphere. Considering their summer started with a performance on Soundset’s main stage followed by several out-of-state shows, it’s safe to say the band are still on a tear, over a year after they took the Minneapolis music community by storm with their debut album What’s The Price?
The event has a smaller footprint than in years past thanks in part to the closure of the neighboring Harriet Brewing — which had also been a partner in the festival. This year, the stages are all located inside the Hook and Ladder, or in one of the adjacent parking lots. Despite the smaller layout, the festival delivers in a big way on its namesake music styles. The main outdoor stage delivers a heaping dose of the blues, kicking off with festival regular Kent Burnside (who is a grandson of blues legend R.L. Burnside), as well as performances by Alan Sparhawk’s Black Eyed Snakes, the 4onthefloor, and Erik Koskinen.
In addition to to the festival, which runs 2-10 p.m. on Saturday, there will be a kickoff party Friday night featuring Nicholas David and an afterparty Saturday featuring Useful Jenkins with Ryan Young, Trampled By Turtles’ fiddler. All of the events are located at The Hook and Ladder Theater and ticket packages are available for those interested in attending more than one. View the full lineup and get more info on the festival here.
Bobby Kahn is a writer, performance artist, event promoter, cable access television producer, dance class instructor, accountant, and lifelong resident of Minneapolis. He used to be shy and afraid to dance, but since then he was chosen by the funk to serve as one of its ambassadors.