Roots, Rock & Deep Blues Festival, 7/19/2014
Roots, Rock & Deep Blues Festival
Photo By Tony Nelson
with Sonny Knight & the Lakers, Black Eyed Snakes, STNNNG, Black Diet, Eleganza!, the 757's, Crankshaft, Black Market Brass, Molly Dean, Spider John Koerner, Jeff Ray and Hurricane Harold, and more
Patrick's Cabaret, Minneapolis
July 19, 2014
Beneath perilously low-hanging clouds that never quite delivered on the persistent threat of rain, the fourth annual Twin Cities Roots, Rock & Deep Blues Festival livened up an otherwise quiet South Minneapolis neighborhood this past Saturday afternoon. A short line of food trucks stood buzzing alongside the Current-sponsored main stage as an impressive roster of 30+ performers kept the festival's five stages rockin' through a gray dusk and into the night.
Gimme Noise arrived just in time for Black Diet, who have refused to slow down as they enjoy the success of their debut album, Find Your Tambourine. Vocalist Jonathan Tolliver's unruly head of loosely-dreaded hair towered over the rest of the band while he shimmied to and fro, long, slender legs bending deftly and hips gently twisting to the music. It is apparent that the band's busy performing schedule has allowed for Tolliver to grow fully into his confident, commanding stage presence.
Bassist Garrison Grouse was up to his usual antics, dramatically swinging his instrument high and low while coaxing notes from its strings. Mugsy provided backing vocals with her eyes closed in an expression of ecstasy, as she danced delicately about. Behind dark shades, Sean Schultz pounded on his keys with enthusiasm. Guitarist Mitch Sigurdson kept it cool, casually strumming beside the animated Grouse. A friend of the band's stood in for drummer David Tullis, who was overseas. Throughout a set that looked just as fun to perform as it was to watch, it was obvious that everyone was sincerely enjoying themselves.
Photo By Tony Nelson
The stand-out moment was an emotional rendition of "Cry," a gentle tune rife with Tolliver's impossibly long falsetto cries. Several couples drew each other in close for a slow dance. Tolliver descended from the stage and wandered into the audience, coaxing us into a group hug. "I'm 28 years old. I cry about once a month. Is my rate of crying acceptable?" he asked. He then invited us to sing along with Mugsy through to the end of the song as his lustrous voice cascaded over a complex array of notes, effortlessly soaring through the higher registers. "Cry" ended in several touching moments of a capella, with the audience singing just as enthusiastically as Tolliver and Mugsy.
At the same time, folk artist Molly Dean was performing at Patrick's Cabaret on the only indoor stage of the festival. She stood with her guitar atop a carpet set upon the hardwood floor, facing two chair-filled risers, accompanied by a cellist and violinist. She sang softly, her voice at times barely hovering above a whisper. Occasionally she utilized a looping pedal to create layers of her vocals. Her song lyrics avoided complexities, sticking to sing-song rhymes and poetic notions like, "Sometimes an open heart can be swallowed in secrets." The music was pleasant, and the presence of cello and violin added depth to her guitar-playing, and even a sense of sadness as their strings seemed to weep.
Dean's voice never once faltered, yet sometimes she seemed hesitant to really belt out her songs, coming across as somewhat timid and meek. There were moments, though, in which she appeared to shed this layer of self-consciousness and allow herself to sing with force and conviction. In these moments her voice was strong and incredibly rich, commanding attention. Despite this subtle struggle to hit a stride, Dean's performance as a whole was satisfying in its simplicity. The intimate setting in which we enjoyed her music lent itself perfectly.
Back outside on The Hub's PBR-sponsored stage, STNNNG pounded the crowd into submission. Some older observers seemed confused, if not actually offended by their raucous display. Judging by their pained expressions, members of the band seemed equally troubled, perhaps by the intense amount of concentration and heart required to execute the complexities within their music. Each song seemed to contain several different worlds that the band traversed together. These compositions were like miniature noise rock symphonies, a product of many smaller, intricate parts.
Underneath this miniature tent it was really fucking loud -- loud to the point where it kind of hurt. It was quite a departure from the last performance we'd taken in.
Photo By Tony Nelson
When we first approached the tent, it was unclear where vocalist Chris Besinger was hiding. His voice was audible, but he himself was nowhere to be found. Finally we tracked him down - sitting in a lawn chair towards the back of the tent. He stood abruptly and proceeded to stalk the audience, appearing to single individuals out, standing directly before them as he belted out song lyrics. At one point he briefly stepped out of the tent to hand his empty PBR to an unsuspecting fan, grabbing the full one in the fan's other hand and heading back under the tent. The man, at first confused, quickly figured out what had just transpired and was left shaking his head in disbelief as his girlfriend giggled. Besinger did not return the beer.
The band's playing was tight and controlled. STNNNG has been a band since 2003, and they are obviously very skilled performers, but in this particular case the performance was clearly all about Besinger.
On the KFAI stage inside Harriet Brewing, Alex "Crankshaft" Larson of Crankshaft and the Gear Grinders asked, "Have you heard any blues music here today?" The crowd seemed unsure, responding with a few cheers, but mainly remaining silent. Indeed, there hadn't been much blues music at this "blues" festival yet. Crankshaft aimed to remedy the situation. "We're gonna play some blues music for you right now."
Photo By Tony Nelson
With that he launched into "All Night Long," a song he described as "ass shakin' music," a description that was quickly confirmed by those in attendance, especially a middle-aged man clutching his beer as he gyrated wildly. Crankshaft's voice was deep and commanding, as he sang in a slow drawl. A Robert Johnson cover drew cheers. Their energy and sound transported us to another time and place, perhaps a rowdy old bar somewhere deep in the country. People clustered around a wooden bar top strewn with empty cups and beer cans, swaying. The group felt just right for the occasion. The creeping bass lines played on upright bass, friendly banter between songs, and neatly pressed black suits worn by the musicians -- it all made for a wildly entertaining ride, embodying the great spirit of the band.