Rock the Garden: A lukewarm festival in tropical heat

Last Saturday, the Walker Art Center hosted Rock the Garden with headliner Bon Iver.

Headliner Justin Vernon of Bon Iver plays to a sold out crowd at Rock the Garden on July 22, 2017 at the Walker Art Center.

Maddy Fox

Headliner Justin Vernon of Bon Iver plays to a sold out crowd at Rock the Garden on July 22, 2017 at the Walker Art Center.

Gunthar Reising

After relocation last year due to construction, Sunday’s Rock the Garden music festival was back to its native ground — the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.

Thunderstorms were projected, but the sky turned out clear and sunny.

Possibly too sunny.

In the 90-degree heat, the crowd felt slightly sedated, muffling some enthusiasm.

“I know y’all are sweaty already,” local rapper Dwynell Roland said. “But can I contribute to 10 or 20 percent of that sweat?”

Roland was having trouble rousing excitement during his 4:40 p.m. set.

The artists weren’t aided by the sound systems (which were merely comfortable rather than arresting) either. The low volume allowed for exchanged pleasantries in front of the stage.

VIP Skybox ticket holders, who presided over the rest of the crowd on the Walker roof, could likely converse about the music even more comfortably, free from the pesky noise of the bands.

But where the sound stumbled, food didn’t. An impressive lineup of 17 different food vendors offered trendy food to keep the relentlessly hip audience happy. Count on the Walker to find a way to provide sushi at a music festival.

Nevertheless, the lineup churned out plenty of fun live music. Car Seat Headrest and Benjamin Booker kept the audience awake in the heat until The Revolution (Prince’s iconic “Purple Rain” era band) and headliner Bon Iver took the stage.

The Revolution played a host of Prince staples including “Kiss” and “Let’s Go Crazy.” The crowd responded with the obliged enthusiasm of good Minnesotans.

Justin Vernon of Bon Iver brought his signature falsetto to aid the band for “Erotic City,” pairing his feeble dance moves and mesmerizing voice with The Revolution’s funkadelic enthusiasm. The finale, of course, was “Purple Rain.”

When he returned for Bon Iver’s set, Vernon thanked the audience for listening dutifully through the heat.

The festival’s final set list included nearly the whole “22, A Million” album. Despite being an album with tricky production and seemingly inorganic vocals, Vernon’s voice proved clear and controlled without losing the potency found in the album.

The saxophone performance by Mike Lewis, a Minneapolis jazz musician, helped make the act an authentic live experience.

Overall, it was a difficult festival to criticize — all of the artists performed well and everything went smoothly, like a streamlined business process.

The lineup selection was just edgy enough to make Fortune 500 marketing directors and other “creatives” who have good taste in beer feel artistic, while not compromising a family-friendly consumer base. In other words, it was a success in the way a new Target store opening is a success. “Pleasant” is the only word that comes to mind.

Grade: C