Surly Festival Field has been holding true to it’s name recently. With a slew of beer tents, various food trucks and merch tents, it does feel like a miniature festival when an act performs there, sans the heatstroke and sunburn a day-long festival can bring. While Minnesota has our own versions of these festivals (Rock the garden, We-Fest, and the basilica block party currently on hiatus, to name just a few) Its nice to have a smaller, evening festival experience that doesn’t require PTO be taken out just to enjoy it, even if the cost of the ticket, food, and beer, can add up to the same amount as a full day festival (a single burger and fries for over $20? Really?)
The headlining act for todays show, Sharon Van Etten, called it “Summer camp vibes” in reference to the number touring crew her and her band are working with, the camaraderie of the band, playing these outdoor shows, and getting to know her tour bus or “cabin bunkmates”, Angel Olsen and Julien Baker. The three acts are touring together, calling it the “Wild Hearts Tour.” All three of them bring their own bands and crew along. It’s likely the three acts wouldn’t have been able to completely sell out Surly on their own, but the three of them together were able to get the venue to capacity, as they have their previous handful of dates on tour. Fans who were hoping for a boygenius style-show may have been surprised to see three full sets by each act, instead of all three members playing onstage together with a backing band, playing each other’s songs. But, that meant that we were treated to a catalog of each act’s music, instead of just the ones they could figure out how to play together.
Up first, in the blazing afternoon sun, was Julien Baker. She was last here in September, selling out First Avenue, and the crowd seemed to be a First Ave sized crowd (even though the field could hold up to 8,000 people) As she strummed the first notes of her opening song Sprained Ankle, fans funneled in from the food trucks and merch tents, if they weren’t already lined up on the rail or on their blankets in on the lawn. Like her last show here, most of the setlist seemed to revolve around her latest record, Little Oblivians. 8 of the 12 songs on the record were performed in the 15 song setlist. Only Tokyo, Sprained Ankle and Red Door were the songs that didnt stem from Little Oblivians. While she does have a new EP released July 29th titled B Sides, No songs from the latest release made the cut on the setlist tonight and there was no mention of it either, although Baker has been known to not be much of a talker on stage.
In my previous recap of Julien Baker’s show, I had mentioned that the “full band” sound she brings on stage now was somewhat new, but well received. Tonight’s show, now nearly a full year later, I found the band to be more relaxed onstage, and fans seemed to enjoy the newfound fullness more than they did at First Avenue. Songs like and the set ending Ziptie reached climatic peaks, with Ziptie ending with Baker playing guitar behind her head, gazing out at the crowd, before setting the guitar down and walking offstage with her band. Baker, a headlining act in her own right, set the standard for the rest of the night on that ending.
Angel Olsen came on afterwards, prepared more for the sun with her massive, Elton-John like sunglasses. She was a bit more of a talker than Julien Baker was, but maybe a bit more playful and cryptic. Talking to the crowd after her first song, Dream Thing she tuned her guitar and spoke: “The sun’s out. You can see us, but only I have my thoughts, and my thoughts are very mysterious.” After Ghost On, She even shared some advice given to her by her therapist. “You have to suffer to learn things, and suffering can be a blessing and gift.” Moments later, again after tuning her guitar, she shouted: “But I have enough gifts!”
Her set, while it was the shortest of the night, was both a blessing and a gift, even if the songs were about suffering. Her set featured songs mostly off of her latest release, Big Time, Just under 2 months old and well received by the crowd. Typically, newer material can be hit or miss with audiences, but the crowd stayed put near the stage. Lines for beer and food remained small. While Big Time is new, the crowd did not seem to mind the genre whiplash of listening to Baker’s punchy indie rock, to Olsen’s more twangy country and western album run-through, and eventually, Sharon Van Etten’s muscular synth-pop.
Van Etten’s set started off a bit more eerie than Olsen’s and Bakers. Gone were the cellos, telecasters and acoustic guitars of acts past. Van Etten stood in the back of the stage glaring out of her shortened, gothic black hair at the crowd during the into to Headspace, but quickly took control of the stage with bold movements, Punching the air during the syllables of Comeback Kid, and diving to her knees and arching over the microphone towards the end of No One’s Easy To Love. Energy like that which was typically reserved for encores and climatic, end-of-set songs, came right out on No One’s Easy To Love. Only the third song of the night.
It was this kind of energy that was constant throughout the rest of the set for Van Etten, with many fans mimicking her hand motions and dancing similar to Mitski’s set only a few weeks back. While her set started off powerful and spooky, it became increasingly more sentimental as we neared the end of the setlist. She brought back Everytime the Sun Comes Up, a song from 2014’s We Are There under a newer, more upbeat style, however the majority of her set came from the more recent We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong released back in May. She spoke about how that song feels embarrassing now, especially after a discussion with her mother about the lyrics, but how she’s not ashamed of the songs she’s wrote in the past.
As emotional as the Wild Hearts Tour shows are for fans, it was not without supporting a good cause. Sharon took a moment on stage to let us know about the tour’s partnership with PLUS1, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing support for people rebuilding their lives after incarceration. Every $1 from ticket and merch sales would go towards the organization, and based on the amount of “I went to the Wild Hearts Tour and all I got was emotional” tote bags held by fans in the crowd, There was a phenomenal amount of people willing to support a good cause. Van Etten ended the evening with Seventeen, long anticipated by the crowd, and welcomed Angel Olsen back onstage to duet with Van Etten on their collaborative single Like I Used To, and threw roses into the audience.
The summer-camp-vibes referenced by Van Etten was a good indication of how the acts felt about each other. Soon camp would be over, and they would go their separate ways back home, but perhaps remain pen-pals for future shows.Hopefully a Wild Hearts reunion tour will happen sometime in the future, based on how successful these run of shows have been for indie rock’s most acclaimed female artists.