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Rock The Garden – Bon Iver

July 23, 2017

This was our first Rock The Garden – a one day outdoor music festival in Minneapolis sponsored by The Current (the local public radio pop station – imagine a college radio station with a big budget) and the Walker Art Center (the Minneapolis version of MOMA). My ever vigilant wife spotted the chance to buy the tickets earlier this year (it always sells out in a heartbeat).

We saw three acts: Benjamin Booker, The Revolution (Prince’s Purple Rain era band) and Bon Iver.  Headliner Bon Iver, who despite his proximity, had not played the Twin Cities market since 2011. It was a beautiful sweaty summer eve in Minneapolis.

We spent most of Booker’s set exploring the grounds and getting our bearings.  My wife found a prime spot – balancing comfort and sight lines – flat ground (most of the viewing is on an uncomfortably steep hill) and a close unobstructed view of the stage and the big screen.  We did get a chance to soak in a decent share of Booker’s set.

I had low expectations of The Revolution.  I figured this was nothing more than a high-profile tribute band. If The Dead seems like a silly endeavor without Garcia, Prince’s band without Prince sounds downright absurd.  The Revolution is a solid band, but they need a frontman (duh). This gig was blessed with Mint Condition’s frontman Stokley Williams for half the set. They ended up crafting a sentimental, yet poignant set that truly touched me. It mixed joy and tears: I worked myself up into a lather on “Let’s Go Crazy” and choked up for “Purple Rain.”


I have been a minor Bon Iver fan. I have the albums and I have listened to those albums out of obligation (the Twin Cities have claimed Wisconsin native Justin Vernon as one of our own).  I have to admit Vernon’s stuff has never real hooked me. Sometimes seeing a band live is required. Vernon’s stuff seemed like the work of a studio rat and I was hard pressed to see how he could translate his studio art into a live set.  Wow was I wrong. Bon Iver was amazing live and now I have crossed the threshold to true fandom.

Vernon had an amazing band: two drummers and 5 saxophones is not your typical road crew. Vernon deftly handle the vocals and electronics. I am not sure his hushed set would work in every venue, but in front of 10,000 card-carrying music heads he was in the right place at the right time – pure magic. Since the show I have listened to the Bon Iver catalog and it all makes sense to me now. I am converted – I see the light.

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From → Music Reviews

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