Rock the Garden

A small army of bicycles standing
guard outside the Walker Art Center glints like miniature sunbursts
while lines stretch like anxious snakes down the sidewalk. The sold
out crowd of 7,500 brave hour long entry waits, sunburns, and sweat for
Rock The Garden and a chance to see indie pop’s brightest talents.

As Bon Iver opens the afternoon
with his mellow orchestrations and hushed melodies, onlookers pack the
closed street allowing only inches of legroom. On the hill overlooking
the stage, a man relives childhood revelry by rolling down the grass
carpet in shoeless, summer bliss. Squinting eyes are shielded by Wayfarer
sunglasses. A speckle of straw hats and a gaggle of patchwork quilts
break up the patches of sunbathers. A small gathering on the Walker’s
roof looks out with a bird’s eye view. And as Bon Iver’s band ring
out the last echoing trumpets, bony arms raise to clap, creating their
own grateful windstorms, then return to wiping brows.

Minnesota’s own Cloud Cult
takes the stage next. Singer Craig Minowa greets the throng with a cheerful
"Hi ya!" before launching into the band’s emotional and raw set.
As a group focused on ecoconsciousness, Cloud Cult no doubt appreciates
the festivals "zero waste" policy. Crushed beer cups and litter
are noticeably missing, as is moshing and the general raucousness accustomed
to outdoor concerts. A beach ball quietly bounces on top of the crowd,
as they stand intently watching Minowa hop around the stage, pounding
his feet and acting in stark contrast to his lyrics steeped in struggle
and loss. His vocals are fragile. If you could reach out and touch them,
they would turn to dust and dreams. Embellishing the band’s already
lush sound, is violist Shannon Frid. She raises her bow in the air,
like a lightning rod or a rain stick. The audience applauds at the end
of Cloud Cult’s cover of Neil Young’s "Hey Hey, My My," equally
for the band and for a brief moment of shade provided by a passing cloud.

Then comes The New Pornographers.
There’s something about their rich harmonies that make it feel like
summer. Maybe it’s memories of the Beach Boys with their sandy, tight
harmonies and stories of ocean waves that feel like they could drench
even the center of this city. This is The New Pornographers’ feel:
bouncy, upbeat guitar pop. Most of their tunes include heavy doses of
harmonious la-la-las, ba-da-das, no-no-nos and a sprinkling of enthusiastic
aaaaahhhhhs. This is OK. Save those wallowing songs of heartbreak or
spoutings about social causes for the dreary winter-or at least the
riots outside the Republican National Convention later this year. Summer
is the season of joyous pop music, and The New Pornographers deliver
with their trademark boppy, poppy controlled spazz.

As the sun sets on Rock The
Garden, the Walker’s silver sheen looks like a melted orange popsicle.
Smoke from food stands rise in wisps, joining threatening gray clouds.
When Andrew Bird steps onstage to close the event, cool breezes storm
through the audience, smacking like full kisses on the lips. Bird’s
music, laden with whistling and tender-sounding violins, sounds like
an intricately wound toy. Camera flashes match bolts of far away lightning
in their intensity. In turn, a light rain grows fiercer as die-hard
Bird fans brave the weather to see the evening’s star. A group at
the bottom of the hill cowers under a red blanket in an attempt to keep
dry. As the wind whips the blanket, it looks like a super hero’s cape,
readying them to take flight.

See the Rock the Garden Flickr Pool.