Rock the Garden 2017 returned to its home at the Minneapolis Sculpture Gardens this past weekend, with over 11,000 fans in attendance to welcome the event back to the Walker.One of the biggest critiques of the event has always been its lineup. Some years it hasn’t been local enough, and some years it’s been too local. For 2017 however, it’s lineup seemed to be just right. With a great mix of international acts and local heroes, most fans found it difficult to find an artist they didn’t want to see.
Kicking things off on the mainstage was Margaret Glaspy, whose unique voice drew concertgoers in as they entered the gate and found their spot on the hill. Running down the setlist mostly comprised of songs off her debut album Emotions and Math, she and her band brought the album to life in a live setting, at times angsty and emotional.
Up next was Car Seat Headrest, entering the stage one at a time during the beginning of Vincent. frontman Will Toledo donned a black turtleneck with the sleeves rolled up, making him the warmest person both onstage and off during the 90+ degree heat. The set began quietly and rose into structured guitar shredding, bringing the Rock back to Rock The Garden.
Dwynell Roland, a rapper from just a few blocks away in Minneapolis, brought the beginning of local talent to the Garden Stage across from the Spoonbridge and Cherry. A humble and honest rap artist, Dwynell mentioned to the crowd at one point: “Be honest, who here was looking at the lineup going ‘uh huh, I know them, I know them, wait, Dwynell Roland? Who the fuck is Dwynell Roland?’” even if some people didn’t know who Dwynell was when they went to see him, they knew the name afterwards. With a set including a guest appearance from P.O.S, Dwynell represents the new era of DIY Hip-Hop, no manage and no label Dwynell is doing everything himself, including making a tee-shirt with a Brian Oake tweet complimenting his talent.
Benjamin Booker took over the mainstage around 5:00. Concertgoers by now had trampled most of the grass and were covered in sweat, but were not deterred from seeing the L.A. rocker’s bluesy and high energy filled set, complete with Benjamin’s unique raspy voice making him sound almost 3 times his age. With songs from both his self titled debut album and the newly released Witness fans were treated to a majority of Booker’s catalog.
Bruise Violet brought even more local talent to the Garden Stage, with the all female punk group blasting through their songs. “Everyone keep hydrated or i’ll tell your mom” threatened drummer Danielle Cusack, also celebrating her 21st Birthday. Bassist Bella Dawson and guitarist Emily Schoonover slung on a matching pink bass and guitar from MPLS Guitar company, making it loud and clear (literally) that both music and instrument were made here. Between stories, screams, and head banging, Bruise Violet delivered a hot set only cooled by a gust of wind carrying mist from the Spoonbridge and Cherry over the audience.
Just as Rock the Garden Returned to it’s home at the Walker, so too did The Revolution, returning home to Minneapolis after beginning a tour earlier this year at Paisley Park. There really wasn’t anyone that shied away from singing along and dancing to the songs, even Justin Vernon, who joined the band on Erotic City. The Revolution played through their catalog without their purple maestro, but made it clear through their set that this wasn’t a tribute act or a cash grab. Comprised of its original members and featuring Stokley Williams of Mint Condition, The Revolution was spot on with their songs as they echoed over the crowd and around the city. “These songs belong to you.” said guitarist Wendy Melvoin, smile on her face. “We’re just the band.” You’re a cold-hearted person if you didn’t have a tear in your eye during the opening chord of Purple Rain. I know I did.
As the sun began to set and provide relief to the crowd, so too did Dead Man Winter. They’re campfire-esque songs had calmed the crowd as the local Americana act lead by Trampled by Turtles Dave Simonett. With a Minnesota twins cap on his head, he asked for a score update before a song, and received a response from an audience member afterwards. 5-0 Twins. While the band’s set mostly composed of Furnace, an album they released earlier this year, they also treated fans to a few numbers off their EP’s Lake Superior and Careful I Think It’s Loaded both released just a day before.
Headlining Rock The Garden this year was local-ish act Bon Iver, who was the only artist to ever play the event twice, opening the event almost 10 years ago. Since then, Justin Vernon and his ever evolving group have won Grammy’s, ascended charts, and have become an international sensation, so it’s no wonder the event had sold out nearly the moment it was announced that Bon Iver would be playing in their own backyard. Bon Iver’s set did not fail to be the most emotional of the night, featuring 22 (OVER S∞∞N) and 715 – CRΣΣKS off of the latest 22, A Million. Between the songs that seemed to put the crowd in different waves of wonder, we laughed along with Justin Vernon’s sense of humor, referencing the group of 6 saxophone players he dubbed as the “sad sax of shit” and, as a siren blared by on the highway next to the event “The cops are coming, quick, everybody run.” the later part of the set was comprised of earlier Bon Iver songs. Holocene had again added the i’m-not-crying-you’re-crying mindset to the audience. Although most of Justin Vernon’s songs through Bon Iver featured autotuned and robotically harmonized vocals, fans were reminded of just how soulful his voice is when he sat down with his resonator guitar for Skinny Love, dedicating it to “everyone who’s been here from the beginning” Beth/Rest was the encore number for the crowd, still packed, and silently engulfed in the music. “You’re a very calm and listen-y audience” Vernon mentioned at one point. Afterwards, fans piled out of the gates sun-burnt and sticky, still in awe of the nearly eight hours of music, and into the cool and quiet filled rest of the evening.