A sure sign of summer is upon us—as the complete lineup for the eagerly anticipated Rock the Garden has been revealed. Rejoice! Unplug the SAD lamp. Cut binge-watching out of your diet. Tune up a neglected bicycle. This news means it’s finally time to celebrate the demise of our long-suffered winter. Naysayers might feel this sentiment premature, but these cynical Minnesotans lack imagination and furthermore are kind of a bummer to be around anyway. The summer sun is just on the horizon. We are practically salivating sunscreen.
This handy guide will help you get to know all of the acts performing on the Walker hillside and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden on June 16, a veritable who’s who of who will take the stage on this glorious day. And, given the unique setting for this annual festival, I’ll attempt to answer the question burning on the lips of all prospective attendees:
If each artist were a piece in the Garden, which would they be and why?
In short order, Rock the Garden’s 2018 headliner has become a breakout success story in the world of impressionistic indie-rock. The former Fleet Foxes drummer has now amassed an impressive array of albums in his own right, including last year’s expansive Pure Comedy. Misty (real name Josh Tillman) is famous for his luxuriously paced live sets that often showcase the artist’s rye oratory skills in compliment to the music. Expect some next-level banter from the difficult to categorize Tillman as the sun sets over what will be a crowd packed to the gills with ecstatic, contemplative joy.
What sculpture best represents Father John Misty? The answer is rhetorical in this obvious meeting of rocker and sculpture. Clearly, Misty’s vibe gels with Katharina Fritsh’s Hahn/Cock, the boisterous blue rooster that’s quickly become a favorite in the redesigned Garden. In addition to Han/Cock representing Papa John’s oozing masculine cocksureness, the headlining positions shared by Misty and the rooster unite these stars of the field in brotherhood. Hann/Cock will look especially mystifying to Tillman if he’s still micro-dosing.
Leslie Feist brings with her an angelic voice so uniquely powerful it could captivate the heart of even the most hardened curmudgeon interested in an outdoor music festival. Feist’s gorgeous register has added depth to collaborative work with Broken Social Scene as well as being the engine uniting each of her five albums, including 2017’s excellent Pleasure. Expect an exquisite performance that will span Feist’s always evolving cannon of brilliantly left-of-center pop.
Feist’s sculptural counterpart? While the songwriter’s many artistic phases could each represent sculptures of their own, Kiki Smith’s Rapture best exemplifies the whole of Feist’s catalogue. Observe the graceful, tasteful and powerful signal of feminine force having slain a wolf (potentially a nod to doubters) and this melding of songwriter and sculpture clicks together harmoniously.
Washington gained prominence as a studio ace while working with hip artists like Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus. In 2015, the modern jazz auteur stepped into a spotlight of his own with the release of his appropriately titled Epic. In touring Epic, Washington’s band has built an extraordinary reputation for its new-age spectacle, entrancing fans who might otherwise veer away from jazz. Twin Cities fans had a chance to catch Washington’s intimate Icehouse performance a few years back, but expect an entirely different kind of thrill with Washington spreading his wings on the big stage that Rock the Garden provides. The meticulously crafted post-modern jazz will be rapturous in this setting. This is the kind of music as art that one has to see to believe.
The well-balanced back and forth of Washington’s acid-jazz arrangements are exemplified by the steel Arikidea of sculptor Mark Di Suvero. These are strong structures that from afar might seem at risk of collapsing into chaos, which lends the true compositional sturdiness of these artistic expressions a power above their respective brethren. Washington and Di Suvero: together at last.
The Twin Cities’s most consistent (and best) rapper has always been a ferocious presence on the stage. He might be best known as the anchoring force of hip hop collective Doomtree, but it’s on his solo records like last January’s Chill, Dummy that P.O.S. been able to showcase his vast growth as an artist. Armed with a heavy arsenal of bangers, expect P.O.S. to send Rock the Garden’s late afternoon crowd into variously manic states of hedonistic bliss. P.O.S. will provide a punchy energy to the party as he always does. The man is an institution.
P.O.S. is, of course, the Garden classic Spoonbridge and Cherry personified. Popular stylings meet uncommon depth with grace in these unquestionable, longstanding and reliable centerpieces. P.O.S. and Spoonbridge are both known attention-grabbers, and deservedly so. Pioneers without question. Classics that demand to be seen again and again.
Country artist Nikki Lane will journey to Minneapolis by way of Nashville to kick up some dust at Rock the Garden. The singer gained notoriety a few years ago working with the Black Keys’s Dan Auerbach before refining her sound further on last year’s Highway Queen. Lane’s blend of old-school country chops and hipster credibility make her a welcome outlier to this year’s stable of artists. Listeners will notice a common bond between the fiery Lane and Rock the Garden alumnus Neko Case.
A sculpture to match Nikki Lane? She creates songs that cut the big sky drama of country music down to slices easily digestible to the pop set. In this way, she shares artistic DNA with James Turrell, whose open-air Sky Pesher frames the larger world in miniature. The post-modern reaches back with a nod to pastoral tradition in both works, illuminating the quotidian pleasures of life hiding in plain sight.
Local favorite Chastity Brown will open Rock the Garden with the soulful vibes she’s built her reputation on. Chastity’s stock has precipitously risen as she’s transformed herself from a solo acoustic artist to a more polished songwriter now backed by a full band. Expect to hear a combination of the café stylings of her origins alongside songs from her latest collection Silhouette of Sirens released in December of last year.
The mindful influence and thought-provoking lyrics of Brown’s music are best represented by Kinji Akagawa’s Garden Seating, Reading, Thinking. This match is so on the nose that their respective placements at Rock the Garden will forge an amalgamation to enhance appreciation of both artistic expressions. It’s a pairing that will make you wonder why it took so long for these forces to unite.
Low Cut Connie play a kind of high-energy Springstonian rock that feels tailor-made for barrooms and festivals alike. The Philadelphia band is comfortable in Minneapolis, having played two Twin Cities shows in the past year and patronizing our hearts with a cover of Prince’s “Controversy.” Low Cut Connie will have new tunes to play by the time Rock the Garden arrives as their new record Dirty Pictures (Part 2) comes out in May.
It’s hard to find a more perfect marriage of band and sculpture than Low Cut Connie and For Whom… by Belgian artist Kris Martin. Low Cut Connie and For Whom… are both battle-tested and will be fully functional in the Garden. As a bonus, the charm of For Whom… will have a familiar feel to Low Cut Connie as they come from a city with their own famously distinguished bell.
Rising British rockers Shame bring muscular, guitar-heavy rock music ready-made to fire up the crowd as it settles into the field. The group is touring on the heels of its debut record, 2018’s Songs of Praise, with this set being the band’s first ever gig in the Twin Cities. These promising lads from across the pond are here to make an impression on a new audience, and our expectation is that they’ll bring the heat.
Like Shame, Mark Manders’s September Room (Room with Two Reclining Figures and Composition with Long Verticals) is a newcomer to the Walker’s Garden and both pieces will captivate audiences at Rock the Garden. The music of Shame is a force to be reckoned with as is September Room and the two collide swimmingly in a pairing that will not be lost on Rock the Garden’s famously astute attendees.
Update: Shame has dropped out of Rock the Garden 2018 and has been replaced with US Girls, American artist Meghan Remy’s Toronto-based band.