While the Walker’s yearly music festival, Rock the Garden, may not have had the Sculpture Garden as a backdrop this year, on Saturday the show went on — this time, at Boom Island Park.
The sold-out show was headlined by The Flaming Lips and featured Plague Vendor, GRRRL PRTY, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, M. Ward, PoliÃ§a and Chance the Rapper. It seemed as if the whole city was there to enjoy a day of being serenaded in the sun.
Rock the Garden usually takes place over the course of two days, but the change of venue called for two stages that allowed for a constant flow of music. According to The Current’s Brian Oake, festivals have employed this technique lately, giving Rock the Garden a “real festival” edge that it’s searched for in the past years.
As people entered the gate, they were offered a button with a number on it. Festival-goers were instructed to find their “loon partner,” someone inside the park with the same number. Those who found their partner were offered goodies — and hopefully a dance partner.
The grassy area of Boom Island Park was covered in picnic blankets, and those who chose to sit coexisted peacefully with those who preferred to stand.
The day’s musical festivities began with Plague Vendor, a so-so Californian punk rock band. Aside from aesthetic appearance — long, greasy hair and animal print shirts — they weren’t very punk, with a sound settling somewhere between classic rock and The 1975 (before they were good).
Minneapolis favorite GRRRL PRTY came next, playing their last live show as a group. As they took to their phones to snapchat the event, they blew the crowd away with their brand of hyper-bravado. The truth of the matter is that GRRRL PRTY member Lizzo is the clear stand-out, but the one-time groundbreaking act was buoyed by nostalgia.
Next on the bill was dad-rock aficionado Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats. Sweaty, bearded men and toddlers with earplugs swayed as they were mercilessly bombarded with his most popular song, the Lipton Iced Tea jingle “S.O.B.”
As Hippo Campus performed the fourth set of the day, parents lounged peacefully in the grass to the summertime sweetness of “South.”
The gaggles of teen girls, however, were nowhere to be seen. Any time lead singer Jake Luppen addressed the audience, his statement was met with screams.
When asked about his first Rock the Garden experience, Zach Sutton, bassist for Hippo Campus, recalled the sweltering heat and the honor of being included in the festival’s lineup.
“It was amazing,” Sutton said, a little embarrassed he couldn’t think of a better way to phrase it.
Sometimes “amazing” is enough.
Throughout the event, artists made mention of pride month — encouraging festival-goers to take care of each other. Mentions of Minnesota’s charm were plentiful as well — nice to hear, although probably a pandering plot for a round of applause.
As the weather began to cool, the boyish charm of Hippo Campus faded into Matthew Ward’s rasp. M. Ward began their set with “I Get Ideas,” a cover of Tony Martin’s 1951 hit.
While folks began to tire, PoliÃ§a provided background music for more laid-back festival activity. Singer Channy Leanagh appeared emotionally drained, yet chic, in torn leggings and a black T-shirt. From the never-ending water line, fans jumped up and down to the beat of their hits.
Tracks from PoliÃ§a’s new record did not receive as much excitement and clamor from the crowd, but regardless, the American synth-pop band was still one of the best acts of the night, closing their set with a bizarre cover of the ’80s hardcore band Crass.
Although not the headliner, the main attraction of the festival was Chance the Rapper.
Backstage, Chance wore a red sweatshirt and a hat that read “3” — a nod to his third album, “Coloring Book.”
Chance and friends laughed coolly.
“Are you excited?” we asked Chance as he strolled to the stage.
“Of course I’m excited. Let’s get it,” Chance said with a grin.
As Chance stepped out onto the stage, the crowd went wild. He sang, with the crowd echoing.
As the set list moved from “Ultralight Beam” from Kanye West’s latest album to a cover of the “Arthur” theme song, to audience favorite “Sunday Candy,” Chance conducted his band and his audience with happy hands.
“Radiation exists in sociology too,” Chance said as he demonstrated how music can move from person to person.
He left the stage smiling as the crowd ran to the backstage area in hopes of catching a glimpse of the 23-year-old.
Finally, the Flaming Lips took to the stage. No cowards of theatricality, color was promised, and color was received. The Oklahoma natives started off slow, letting the audience settle in before the big shebang. Just when the crowd was feeling centered, the confetti cannons fired.
Engrossed by the fantastical story of Yoshimi’s battling the Pink Robots, the audience tossed giant balloons around in utter glee. The ground was cooling, but elation was boiling over.
Classic Flaming Lips antics — Coyne in the hamster ball, strange costuming — all delighted the crowd.
The festival went on without a hitch. The park was beautiful, the food was tasty and the organization well executed. The main issue this year was the quality of the acts. In years past, most of the artists were either at the peak of their popularity or enduring favorites. This year, the festival seemed less concerned with who was playing and more so with ensuring the event happened.
As the sun set, stragglers meandered on the Plymouth Avenue bridge. In the air, confetti pieces floated lazily as boats stalled on the Mississippi to hear the closing song.
“It was hot and sweaty and crazy, but that’s what a summer music festival should be,” Oake said.