Two Twin Cities outdoor music festivals are canceled

Costs, lineup issues derail River’s Edge and First Avenue plans.

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Michelle Anthony of Eau Claire danced to Polica as they performed at the River's Edge Music Festival on St. Paul's Harriet Island in June 2012.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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The search for the perfect Twin Cities rock festival goes on, with word that Live Nation’s ambitious River’s Edge and First Avenue’s inaugural outdoor fest both are off the table again this summer.

Live Nation spent and lost millions on its attempted mega-festival at St. Paul’s Harriet Island in 2012, leading the giant concert promoter to back out of its five-year commitment to the city for the second year in a row — and most likely to close River’s Edge for good.

First Ave could not find “the perfect lineup” of music for its July event at Parade Athletic Fields near Walker Art Center, and the club’s staff hesitated to go forward.

Eyed by many fans as the likely event to host the long-awaited hometown reunion gig by the Replacements this summer, First Ave’s outdoor bash is still a possibility for future years — as is a Replacements gig somewhere else this summer.

“We’re not going to bang our heads against the wall trying to make our festival work,” said First Ave general manager Nate Kranz, whose club’s resources were diverted by its purchase of the Turf Club in St. Paul.

Kranz said he put out many feelers to “certain, specific bands” for its big bash, but too few of them were available or willing to perform.

First Ave might bring a stand-alone concert to Parade Athletic Fields in lieu of its festival (scheduled July 19-20). It is looking to produce shows at other outdoor sites, including Cabooze Plaza and Duluth’s Bayfront Festival Park. The latter is where First Ave hosted a successful Trampled by Turtles and Atmosphere double-bill last summer.

“That’s one of the problems: We don’t have that one super-great outdoor site like Bayfront Park,” Kranz said.

Without River’s Edge, Harriet Island has August’s Irish Fair as the only event of this kind on its summer calendar.

“While we’re certainly disappointed by the loss of the Live Nation festival, we’re excited about other things happening more in the downtown core,” said Joe Spencer, director of arts and culture in the St. Paul mayor’s office.

Spencer cited plans that include: the revival of Taste of Minnesota around the Fourth of July at its original location outside the State Capitol; the launching of a new blues festival in Mears Park, and goals to “double and redouble” the size of the Twin Cities Jazz Festival. Branford Marsalis and Dianne Reeves will headline the free June 26-28 jazz fest, held in and around Mears Park.

Those events are small compared with River’s Edge, which featured four stages and such big-name festival favorites as Dave Matthews Band and Tool. The event drew 45,000 attendees over two days but fell short of recouping Live Nation’s $4.8 million investment.

Live Nation representatives did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday. When River’s Edge was called off last year, the company’s co-president Mark Campana blamed it on rising concert costs and an inability to find “a significant enough pairing of artists,” but he said then, “Hopefully, we can come back next year.”

Two other big outdoor festivals, Rock the Garden at Walker Art Center and the Basilica Block Party at the Basilica of St. Mary, are still on for this year.

Both events face increasing competition.

“There are more festivals than ever before all over the country all summer long, and the economics of them are getting pretty outrageous,” said Jim McGuinn, program director of 89.3 the Current and co-organizer of Rock the Garden, which this year expands to two days from one.

While Rock the Garden will face less competition this summer locally, “it’s really a bummer for local live music fans there aren’t more festivals to enjoy here,” McGuinn said.

 

Staff writer Jon Bream contributed to this report. Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658

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