Typically devoid of the kind of messages offered inside Minneapolis’ most opulent church, the Basilica Block Party kicked off Friday with a heavy amount of pseudo-religious posturing on the part of its musicians.
Yeah: God help us.
“In the spirit of full disclosure: We as a band are a bastion of sin,” confessed Ben Larson, whose gospel-toned Duluth band Southwire kicked off the 19th annual party of a higher order.
Michigan-bred soul-pop singer Mayer Hawthorne — who opened the BBP’s biggest of three stages under a blinding sun — also asked for the Lord’s salvation.
“Hey, my man, do you think you can turn down the lights?” he joked, looking up to the heavens.
With “Pray it loud” for a slogan, this year’s Basilica bash even had a popular performer who goes by the rather divine name Father John Misty. And boy, did he have fun playing off the holy ground on which he stood.
“Dear God,” the Los Angeles singer alternately known as Josh Tillman quipped, pointing to the side of the stage, “If you’re so powerful, why do I need a first-aid kit so close to me here?”
As always, money raised from the block party is quite a serious endeavor. It goes toward the upkeep and restoration of the historic Basilica of St. Mary, as well as the church’s charitable efforts through St. Vincent de Paul. Nearly $5 million has been drummed up during the festival’s previous years.
The event carried on this year without the steady presence of veteran concert promoter Sue McLean, who died of cancer in May after making the block party a cornerstone event of the summer.
“It’s a Twin Cities tradition, with a very Minnesotan atmosphere where everyone is friendly,” said Terry Drake, 57, of Eden Prairie, who was smitten with the sounds of vintage local country group the Cactus Blossoms.
“I like telling everyone I’m going to a nice, Catholic charity instead of just a concert,” laughed Linda Ostlund, of Maple Grove, who attended along with her four children.
Aside from headliner Grace Potter — who made her mark at prior Basilica parties — Friday’s lineup featured a lot of young, burgeoning acts instead of known favorites, which brought down the average age of attendees to about 22. Other performers included Pennsylvania soul-rocker ZZ Ward, who was the surprise hit of the night. She performed opposite Father John Misty on a smaller stage but had about a twice-bigger crowd.
With lesser names, attendance was down from last year, to about 11,000 fans. The competing Kenny Chesney concert at Target Field also could have been a factor (it certainly affected pre-party traffic).
Organizers expected a bigger crowd Saturday with Matchbox Twenty and the Goo Goo Dolls headlining — two radio hitmakers of yesteryear. A limited number of tickets will be available at the gate.