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Rock the Garden returns to the Walker

Sun, sound and sweet treats abounded at the first Rock the Garden, hosted by the Walker Art Center and MPR’s The Current, since quarantine.
Image by Ray Shehadeh
A crowd forms in front of the Rock the Garden stage at the Walker Art Center on Saturday, June 11, 2022.

After a two year pandemic-induced hiatus, music lovers gathered in Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center Sculpture Garden for a Saturday of music, good eats and all around sensational vibes.

The event was a much needed release for the festival-goers, many of whom expressed feelings that the community was in need of a day of gathering and relaxation.

As crowds sporting their best festival-wear meandered across the fluorescent pedestrian bridge over Interstate 94, their excitement was palpable on the comfortable, 70 degree breeze.

The day kicked off with a performance by Saharan rock band Bombino, whom the buzzing crowd warmed to immediately. The band’s danceable instrumentals mirrored the easy-going joy of those gathered.

As Bombino’s performance came to an end, waves of people began the pleasant stroll to the other side of the garden where instrumental doom band Divide and Dissolve was slated to perform.

Divide and Dissolve Performer Takiaya Reed plays guitar on stage of the Rock the Garden event at the Walker Art Center on Saturday, June 11, 2022. (Ray Shehadeh)

Up the hill, volunteer Jackie Drolet and her longtime friend Anna Santos stood by three waste bins, sporting mauve shirts that signified their role as helpers at this year’s festival. Drolet has been volunteering at Rock the Garden for 11 years.

“It’s good to see the music and help out,” Drolet said while helping a passerby choose the right receptacle for their empty food carton. “It’s one of the best festivals around as far as I’m concerned. I love [being back] because it’s just a really joyful experience for everyone.”

Near Spoonbridge and Cherry, the iconic Walker sculpture, multicolored tents housing different sponsors and volunteers lined the path to the garden stage.

As visitors passed along the way, some stopped to pose for photos or to collect freebies from the various organizations, including Planned Parenthood. As the day continued, many in the audience accessorized with the reproductive health nonprofit’s intricately designed, hot-pink and white bandana.

Returning to the main stage, an ascending wall of faces lined the zig-zagging path up the hill toward gathered food trucks offering street food, fresh fruit and local brews. Concert-goers saved seats on the soft ground while others in their groups went to fetch snacks and beverages, many filling the time between sets with comfortable chatter.

The jovial atmosphere lingered as folks wandered back and forth between stages.

Attendee Nanette Missaghi, barefoot on the garden’s tall grass, made herself comfortable while live-painting the stage before her with a travel watercolor palette.

She admired the energy of the day and commended those performing for inspiring her. “I just do it for fun, and I hope I can inspire others because everybody needs to create something,” Missaghi said.

British-Filipino indie sad girl beabadoobee followed, lulling the crowd into a trance with her whisper-soft voice and heaving bass lines. During the 22-year-old singer-songwriter’s more upbeat songs, audience members tossed around multi-colored beach balls that remained through the night.

If beabadoobee brought a crowd of young people afflicted with minor social media addictions and ‘90s culture obsessions, Sleater-Kinney attracted those who actually remember the ‘90s. Their first show of the year embodied the spirit of riot grrrl era punk feminism they’re known for, with heavy instrumentation and strong vocals that rippled out through the like-minded crowd.

Back again to the garden stage, Duluth-based LOW filled the air with slowcore dream pop. Soon, the sun was setting and the air grew electric with anticipation for the day’s headliner, Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, an ensemble best known for high energy, folksy rhythm and blues like in their song “S.O.B.”

Despite having a day in the sun, not one crowd member was immune to the act’s electricity as Rateliff serenaded those gathered with a thunderous energy.

The day felt therapeutic in its comforting atmosphere. Co-existing with hundreds of strangers, laying in a field, drinking a beer and checking out some bands – Rock the Garden’s simple pleasures have never before carried such potent nostalgia.

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