Local Current Blog

Recap: Rock the Garden 2018 goes swimmingly with Feist, Kamasi, and more

'Spoonbridge and Cherry' through the trees of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden at Rock the Garden 2018. Photo by Nate Ryan | MPR.

If you’ve heard anything about Rock the Garden 2018, you know it got hot. Just like last year, a sell-out crowd stood under the sun, basking in summer heat and good music. Of course, the first priority on a warm day is hydration. So in honor of Rock the Garden’s 11,000 attendees and all the sweat they shed, I’ve paired each act with a beverage available at the festival — and included some shots from photographers Nate Ryan, Emmet Kowler, and Lacey Young below.

Low Cut Connie

These South Philly rockers skyrocketed the Sculpture Garden’s energy as the first act of the festival. “Are you ready to get your hair messed up?” frontperson Adam Weiner asked the crowd before “Dirty Water,” already sweaty from jumping off his piano bench a few times. The people responded with cheers. Later on, they pulled out their swamped-up Prince cover, performing “Controversy” before bounding offstage.

Drink pairing: the Vodka Bootlegger (Tattersall lime crema, lemon, mint, and soda water), if it were served in a gold-studded highball. Low Cut Connie were all grins and glissandos, as bright and energizing as this drink’s mint and lemon. The lime crema represents that surprisingly boozy, pull-no-punches feel from “Shake It Little Tina” and “Revolution Rock n Roll,” yet just like the cocktail, the band proved remarkably approachable. Taking a cue from Weiner’s tailored gold jacket – “We got Freddie Mercury out here,” a man called from behind me when he saw it – I’d serve this drink in the showiest glass you’ve got.

Nikki Lane

Country artist Nikki Lane only seemed mellow by contrast to Low Cut Connie. Equal parts polish and twang, her voice rose above an electric guitar, bass, drum set, and her own acoustic guitar as she chanted lines like “Any day or night time/ It’s always the right time/ To do the wrong thing” from “Right Time.” The outlaw country artist broke into a yodel while covering Jessi Colter’s “Why You Been Gone So Long.”

Drink pairing: Summit Keller Pils. Both Lane’s music and this beer feel more straightforward than their peers – lighter and simpler, with the slightest bite. They’re craft products, but you won’t catch them getting too fancy.

Set list:

Highway Queen
Gone, Gone, Gone
You Can’t Talk To Me Like That
Send The Sun
Love’s On Fire
Right Time
700,000 Rednecks
Why You Been Gone So Long (Jessi Colter cover)
Lies
Jackpot

U.S. Girls

“Best replacement you’ll ever get,” U.S. Girls frontperson Meg Remy said on the Garden Stage, referring to her band’s late addition to the Rock the Garden bill. She dropped the words out of her mouth one by one. From there, things just got weirder. This band and their new album In A Poem Unlimited have been hyped at SXSW and Pitchfork. Between dancey songs, Remy triggered political commentary samples: “I am only a child, yet I know,” we heard 12-year-old Severn Cullis-Suzuki tell the United Nations, “if all the money spent on war was spent on finding environmental answers, ending poverty, and finding treaties, what a wonderful place this earth would be!” Remy mouthed the words, staring out into the crowd, her eyes accusatory and pleading at once.

Drink pairing: Le Coeur de la Reine Gamay. This red wine is sultry, in the U.S. Girls pouty-looks-and-smoking-licks way. It’s ripe and a bit languid, light-bodied with berry aromas.

Set list:

Rage of Plastics
M.A.H.
Navy & Cream
Window Shades
Rosebud
Time

Kamasi Washington

Saxophonist/composer/producer Kamasi Washington provided a highlight of the fest. He and his band – including background vocalist Patrice Quinn, knockout keyboardist Brandon Coleman, and guest star “Pops” Rickey Washington (yep, Kamasi’s dad) – entranced thousands of slack-jawed, even teary-eyed patrons with their persistent, shape-shifting jazz. “The Rhythm Changes” lived up to its name; “Fists of Fury,” from upcoming album Heaven and Earth, landed punches thanks to an epic drum-off between Tony Austin and Ronald Bruner Jr.

Drink pairing: All right, this set was beyond compare, but here’s the best I got. Washington’s song “Truth” juxtaposes five unique melodies, in honor of the diversity in languages, cultures, and people of the world. Truce’s “Morning Greens” juice blends apple, cucumber, romaine, kale, lemon juice, spinach, and ginger. The drink is good for you, but goes down smooth. Ginger provides that experimental kick.

Chastity Brown

Chastity Brown has a sense for the sweet spot. She’s a storyteller, using her voice, harmonica, guitar, and words to set your heartbeat at the right pace. And when she’s performing, it all feels right. At Rock the Garden’s smaller stage, she played just five songs – the first four off her latest album Silhouette of Sirens, plus a new one, inspired by an encounter with a white supremacist and called “Mad Love” – but made the most of each note.

Drink pairing: Summit EPA, a beer that’s been on this earth almost as long as Brown herself. It’s a solid local standard; a consistent brew; an excellent option that always hits the spot.

Set list:

Drive Slow
Whisper
Carried Away
Mad Love
Wake Up

Feist

By the time Feist’s set rolled around, the sun had lowered somewhat, but the temperature had not. Referring to the humidity, she stated, “[It] feels like we’re swimming, all together.” A song later, she suggested, “Let’s get a swimming pool.” During “Any Party,” she encouraged her audience to leave the festival with someone and “go swimming in a lake you’re not really supposed to swim in but go swimming anyway.”

This swimming motif was just one way Feist endeared herself to the Rock the Garden crowd. Performing music from all over her catalog, including a lovely “My Moon My Man” and four tracks from introspective new album Pleasure, Feist made me swoon with her fresh, often hilarious set. During “Century,” she brought on The Current’s own Mark Wheat to perform the spoken-word section that Jarvis Cocker handled in the studio version; Wheat adapted the chronological monologue to declaim how long it’s been since Feist played the Twin Cities. Truly adorable.

Drink pairing: Sociable Cider Werks Freewheeler. Light and crisp, both Feist’s set and the cider breathed life into my evening. Freewheeler hews closest to the “traditional European cider,” while Feist was one of this Rock the Garden’s most stalwart indie rockers.

Set list:

Pleasure
My Moon My Man
The Bad In Each Other
A Man Is Not His Song
Any Party
Sealion
Mushaboom (performed solo)
Century (feat. Mark Wheat)
I Feel It All
Let It Die

P.O.S

P.O.S played only one “real rap song,” “Wearing A Bear,” on Saturday – and even that felt like a crash-and-burn collision of ideas and samples, from the screeching loop at the beginning to the oscillating synth wall at the end. For the rest of his 30-minute set, he packed in punk-rap favorites as fresh as “Faded” (Chill, dummy, 2017) and as time-honored as “Optimist (We Are Not For Them)” (Never Better, 2009).

Drink pairing: No one beverage could represent P.O.S’s fire-and-family-espousing set, but a mash-up might. Just inside the Walker, Esker Grove sold mango and pamplemousse LaCroix. I’d propose cracking them both open, pouring them into the same glass, and trying a combination that could echo Stef Alexander’s own rule-breaking.

Set list:

Let It Rattle
Purexed
Wearing A Bear
Get Down (feat. Dwynell Roland)
Optimist (We Are Not For Them)
Lock-picks, Knives, Bricks and Bats
F– Your Stuff
Faded
Thieves/Kings

Father John Misty

Father John Misty, aka Josh Tillman, aka “Mr. Tillman” of eponymous and “Came To Our Apt.” fame, headlined Rock the Garden 2018 with a long set of new and old music, loosening his physical and musical posture as his set wore on. Minnesota-based players Leah Ottman (aka LOTT), Cameron Kinghorn, the Laurels String Quartet, Dan Lawonn, and Devan Moran gave him a boost.

Drink pairing: The Salty Dog, a cocktail made with Tattersall grapefruit crema, Tattersall gin, and grapefruit soda. Sweet, tart, and briny, this cocktail demanded you enjoy it while you could; in the heat, it started melting fast.

Set list:

Nancy From Now On
Chateau Lobby #4
Total Entertainment Forever
Disappointing Diamonds Are The Brightest Of Them All
Only Son of the Ladiesman
Mr. Tillman
Just Dumb Enough to Try
Please Don’t Die
Bored in the USA
Funtimes in Babylon
Hangout at the Gallows
Pure Comedy
Holy S—
Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings
Date Night
I Love You, Honeybear

Low Cut Connie’s Adam Weiner performs at Rock the Garden 2018. Photo by Nate Ryan | MPR. Low Cut Connie perform at Rock the Garden 2018. Photo by Emmet Kowler for MPR. Nikki Lane performs at Rock the Garden 2018. Photo by Nate Ryan | MPR. U.S. Girls perform at Rock the Garden 2018. Photo by Lacey Young | MPR. Kamasi Washington plays saxophone at Rock the Garden 2018. Photo by Lacey Young | MPR. Chastity Brown performs at Rock the Garden 2018. Photo by Emmet Kowler for MPR. Feist performs at Rock the Garden 2018. Photo by Nate Ryan | MPR. Rock the Garden 2018. Photo by Nate Ryan | MPR. P.O.S performs at Rock the Garden 2018. Photo by Nate Ryan | MPR. Father John Misty performs at Rock the Garden 2018. Photo by Emmet Kowler for MPR. Father John Misty performs at Rock the Garden 2018. Photo by Emmet Kowler for MPR.