New St. Paul fest adds to a rocking summer of 2012

Promoters hope to draw 40,000 to Harriet Island June 23-24, a month before the inaugural First Avenue festival in Minneapolis.

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Hometown stars Atmosphere performed on Harriet Island in 2010 during the last Taste of Minnesota. Officials say the new festival won't be like Taste.

Photo: Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

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Next summer could see more outdoor concerts in the Twin Cities than ever before.

The world's top concert promotions company, Live Nation, announced a partnership Thursday with the city of St. Paul to produce a "national destination" festival that could draw 40,000 people to Harriet Island -- think Chicago's Lollapalooza, not St. Paul's defunct Taste of Minnesota, they say.

A two-day, multi-stage event scheduled June 23-24, the as-yet-unnamed fest would add to an already busy summer of outdoor live music.

First Avenue nightclub got final approval last week to host a two-day festival July 20-21 at Minneapolis' Parade Athletic Fields, next to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. That's on top of Target Field's inaugural concert July 8 with Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw and another festival or two at the remade Somerset (Wis.) Amphitheater. There are also persistent rumors of a Madonna concert at TCF Bank Stadium.

No acts have been named for the new St. Paul festival. In fact, it's not even clear whether the performers will be drawn from the rock or country music realms or both. Whoever they are, they'll have to be pretty big to draw 40,000.

"We want it to be a very cool festival at what is really a very cool concert site," said Jon Reens, director of marketing in Live Nation's Chicago office.

A taste of 'Flugtag'

Just across the Wabasha Street bridge from downtown St. Paul, Harriet Island played host to many concerts and festivals in the 1980s and '90s but saw only sporadic music events in the past decade, including the short-lived River Rocks festival. The island's annual July 4th fete, Taste of Minnesota, was shut down after 2010 because of poor attendance and unpaid bills, leaving only the late-summer Irish Fair for music lovers.

However, there was a different kind of event on the island in 2010 that might have helped seal the deal with Live Nation: The Red Bull Flugtag, featuring homemade flying machines, drew an estimated 90,000 people with only minimal complaints of traffic and overcrowding.

"The Red Bull event certainly showed we can handle and welcome an event the size of what Live Nation is planning," said Joe Spencer, director of arts and culture in the St. Paul mayor's office.

The city's partnership with Live Nation calls for a five-year minimum commitment to produce the festival. Other Live Nation-produced festivals of note include Sasquatch near Seattle and the Reading and Download fests in England.

City staffers had been wooing Live Nation for several years to produce events on the island, said Spencer, who stressed that the event will "have plenty of local flavor."

"It will definitely be something the city can be proud of and can make money off of."

Few blanks in a busy summer

The St. Paul bash will land on the calendar between Walker Art Center's always-sold-out Rock the Garden concert (June 16) and the ever-popular Basilica Block Party (July 6-7). Canterbury Park in Shakopee will again play host to the very youthful Soundset fest and Warped Tour on May 27 and July 8, respectively.

First Avenue's staff chose July 20-21 for its inaugural festival simply because it was one of the few weekends that did not have a competing outdoor music event, said the club's general manager, Nate Kranz.

"It's going to be a busy summer, but I think we already have a built-in audience for our event," Kranz said.

Their main inspiration came from the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago, a consistently well-attended event featuring the kinds of indie bands that regularly perform at Minneapolis' landmark nightclub.

Like Pitchfork, the First Avenue fest will be staged in a park near downtown. It earned City Council approval last week after getting a green light from the Park and Recreation Board and the Lowry Hill Neighborhood Association.

Parade was the site of several major concerts, including a 1983 Simon and Garfunkel show that drew 22,000, before its namesake stadium was torn down in 1990.

Live Nation representatives are not addressing rumors of Madonna's tour (a Live Nation production) coming to the Twin Cities. Nonetheless, Reens said, "We're excited for what the future holds for music fans there."

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