The Basilica of Saint Mary on Hennepin Avenue was built over the course of eight years, and was the first ever basilica in the US. It is a beautiful, landmark building that, when viewed from the Sculpture Garden walkway, contrasts elegantly with the modern skyline of Minneapolis and rolling fields of the nearby Loring Park. The Basilica Block Party came to be way back in 1995 as a way to preserve both the aesthetic and historic value of this building.
When I signed up to cover the Basilica Block Party, way back in May, before I even knew who was playing, all I could think of was a moment last year when I could hear a few notes of a Spoon song making their way across Loring Park, thinking, “Man, I wish I were there.” Then the protest happened.
I would like to go on record as saying that while I support gay marriage in all of its blissful love and gateway to world that values equality, I would like to mention this: the Catholic Church was against gay marriage last year. And the year before. And pretty much every year ever since the beginning of time. It’s not like just this year the Pope decided to @ the world on Twitter, saying, “Two dudes getting hitched? Yucktown. I forbid it.” This is how it’s always been, even last year when many of those protesting this year were rocking out to Weezer.
Regardless, it was great to see to see so many people exercising their free speech and coming (or not coming) to the festival wearing stickers that read “I Support Marriage Equality.” These tools of silent protest were being passed out peacefully and diligently by a group called Catholics for Marriage Equality, who stood their ground all weekend outside the main entrance, catching festival-goers on the way in. While the voyeur in me was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more hoopla, the human inside of me was proud to see the protest handled gracefully, and that the real show was inside the gates.
If you haven’t yet been to the music/food/beer, family-friendly weekend-long extravaganza that is the Basilica Block Party, here is how it works:
There are three stages of varying sizes, exhibiting three sets of bands of varying fame. This year the stages were sponsored by Vita.mn, Walser, and Sun Country. Of the stages, I would say that Walser, while not the stage hosting the “biggest” acts, definitely was the best for band viewing, being located central to all-day shade and a variety of port-o-pots, ticket sales, and concessions. It is for this reason that the VIP section was also in this area, making the air around the stage smell like the air of kings–rife with cooked meat and free wine.
Both the Vita.mn and Sun Country stages were difficult (at least for me, with all my red hair and pale skin) to spend too much time at, because there was absolutely no shade—which, combined with the wide swaths of blacktop and crowds of people, made seeing bands that I really wanted to see more of a punishment than a treat. However, Sun Country did offer up a makeshift sprinkler-shower under which one could cool off and come back from the edge of a total body meltdown.
Though the heat was torture, there was plenty of beer and water to be had. While beer cost six tickets (or $6, since one ticket = $1), water was fairly cheap at the cost of three tickets, although the staff wasn’t allowing customers to keep their water bottle caps, so carrying a bottle of water around all day in your purse to sip between beers was out of the question. Bottle after bottle of water was purchased. Luckily, all of those empty used bottles didn’t end up all over the ground, because the Basilica Block Party had volunteers everywhere cleaning up dropped trash, and emptying recycling and compost containers. This was probably the best waste management group and system I’ve ever seen.
With 20 bands lined up to play over the course of two days and the area of three different stages, music superfans trying to see and absorb as many bands as possible must have had a ton of exercise. There were times that while at the Walser stage, I decided to skip a band I would have otherwise loved to see over at the Sun Country stage because it was just too far to go check out a band for 20 minutes before another band I wanted to see started back at Vita.mn or Walser. So, I mainly took in bands at the stages closest to one another, and ventured out to Sun Country only to see Lissie, Gomez, and the Jayhawks.
While I’m very unfamiliar with Lissie and Gomez, both bands came recommended to me by friends. Lissie struck me as that classic sort of female-lead folk-rock radio band that is catchy, energetic and full of feeling. I wouldn’t be surprised if she showed up on a lot of beach trip mixes getting passed around in college.
On Saturday Gomez weren’t quite as lively on stage as Lissie was on Friday, but they made the crowd happy with their sweet and singalong-able ditties.
Seeing the Jayhawks was special for me, because I have a lot of strong, awesome memories surrounding their hit “Blue,” and apparently so do a thousand-plus other people in Minneapolis. For three minutes and eight seconds on Friday, July 8th, 2011, we all paid a nostalgic visit to 1995.
The Vita.mn stage brought me back to the present day, where I saw Zoo Animal do their thing before a crowd of, sadly, very few. They were the first band to play on the first day, and so not many people were there to witness them in action, although they play around town pretty often, so it will definitely be possible for those who missed to catch them again. This was my first time seeing Zoo Animal. Holly Newsom (a friend of mine) performs the way I imagine I am performing while doing drunken karaoke: awesomely and with astonishing sangfroid.
While many of the bands who played on the Vita.mn stage were exceptionally proficient, most of them didn’t put on an exciting or high-energy show, which is 80% of the reason for seeing a band live in the first place.
However, I would put pretty much any of them on a summer road trip mix: bopping along the highway to the Oneders-inspired sound of the Arms Akimbo, or trying to be cool despite the car overheating in the middle of nowhere to the upbeat tunes of Usonia. It was a perfect small stage warm-weather lineup that went well with a Michelob Gold in hand. I even walked away with a new favorite local band: The Hunting Club, which has sort of a K Records, Built to Spill kind of sound.
Over at the Walser stage, things rocked a little harder than anywhere else, with performances by G. Love & Special Sauce (big ups to Philly), Fitz and the Tantrums, the 4onthefloor, and Michael Franti & Spearhead. Talk about a super summer mix tape. This was all music that people don’t mind sweating to, because they’re probably shaking their butts anyway.
G. Love had his typical maxed swank happening, giving his performance like it wasn’t a big deal.
Fitz and the Tantrums rocked everyone’s sweaty socks off in the blazing evening sun, looking sharp as the day was long.
The 4onthefloor brought a little blues and beats to the party–each band member pounding away on their bass drum, and reminding a sea of glistening faces that summer is meant for partying with a hype man who came dressed in a suit, but left in only his underclothes.
However, Michael Franti & Spearhead were definitely the crowd favorites, drawing what seemed like everyone at the Block Party like moths to the smoldering flame of good tunes.
Although the festival itself was probably not as fun as I had anticipated when I was living it, looking back on it I feel all warm and fuzzy. After all, isn’t summer all about building memories? Mission accomplished. Thank you, Basilica Block Party.
G. Love and Special Sauce
The Arms Akimbo
White Light Riot