Rock the Garden: A hot time, but a good time

Hosted at the Walker Art Center, the annual Rock the Garden music festival featured a lineup of rock and indie artists, including headliner The National

The crowd cheers as Courtney Barnett plays her opening set on the main stage at Rock the Garden on Saturday, June 29 at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

Chris McNamara

The crowd cheers as Courtney Barnett plays her opening set on the main stage at Rock the Garden on Saturday, June 29 at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

Becca Most

The crowd was a sea of sunhats and summery t-shirts Saturday afternoon as audience members gathered in the grass outside the main stage, settling down with glasses of beer and cups of frozen yogurt. 

As the humidity neared 60 percent and the sun relentlessly shone down, some of the artists had a more difficult time keeping their crowd engaged.

“Are we here right now?” called out opener deM atlaS between songs. “Are you alive right now?”

Despite the heat, deM atlaS’s jaunty dance moves and unique sound highlighted the talent of Minneapolis artists, and marked him as an up-and-coming legend in the arts scene. 

With melodic “Music Man” and anthem-like “All We Got” he blended rap, funk and lyrical, giving the first listeners who showed up to the festival a show they’d remember.

Following deM atlaS was the dynamic and wacky Heart Bones, whose stage presence was equally as engaging as their music. 

Donning a bright primary-colored ensemble, Sean Tillmann and Sabrina Ellis showcased their dynamic relationship with eccentric banter and synchronized high-kicks. The group even performed an auto-tuned cover of Eric Carmen’s “Hungry Eyes.”

As the audience moved between the main stage and the garden stage for each performer, New Zealand alternative band The Beths played some of their classics like “Future Me Hates Me” and “Little Death” before X garnered a big crowd for fans of classic punk rock.

Formed in 1977, X proved that they still had a pretty significant following, showing off heavy guitar riffs in songs like “The Hungry Wolf” but providing contrast with smoother tunes like melodic “Come Back to Me.”

Adia Victoria was up next with her signature scratchy-sweet vocals and feminine blues. Her whisper-singing, backed by a heavy throbbing bass, provided a tender contrast to the heavy metal of the last set.

Armed with a tambourine, she sang tunes like “Dope Queen Blues” and “Heathen,” moving gracefully across the stage like a dancer.

By far one of the most anticipated performers was Courtney Barnett, with everyone in the crowd straining to get a glimpse of her mullet and bright red guitar.

Barnett’s narrative lyrics and smooth vocals played well with the audience, with many singing along and nodding their heads to popular songs like “Avant Gardener” and “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch.”

With one more performance before headliner The National took the stage, Minneapolis-based indie rock band Bad Bad Hats warmly welcomed the crowd with their down-to-earth intros and personal anecdotes.

As the night went on and the humidity dropped slightly, their songs like “Midway,” “Nothing Gets Me High” and “It Hurts” were able to rally more of a reaction.

As the sun began to set over Minneapolis and the lights of adjacent skyscrapers switched on, The National finally took the main stage, relying on their strong fan base to help them steal the night.

Although the band struggled with audience engagement at the beginning, lead singer Matthew Berninger went the extra mile by wading into the crowd for several of his songs, touching foreheads to fans and keeping the cord to his microphone held high so as not to tangle it.

As it neared the end of the night, songs like “Terrible Love” and “Mr. November” got the audience on their feet, clapping, dancing and singing along despite the heat.

Overall, the festival featured a good variety of alternative, indie and rock and ultimately fulfilled its role as an iconic outdoor venue where Minnesotans could come together and enjoy some music.

I just hope next year it won’t be as muggy.

Grade: B+