Fourth annual Northern Spark was wet and wild

  • Article by: MICHAEL RIETMULDER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 16, 2014 - 5:48 PM

With just a few weather-related cancellations, the Northern Spark festival raved on through a stormy night.

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Rain might thwart a baseball game, but not an all-night arts festival.

The Northern Spark went off Saturday and Sunday in locations across Minneapolis despite thunder, lightning and periods of hard rain. Weather forced some of the exhibits inside and nixed 12 of the 125 projects altogether, organizers said.

Hopping between event hubs was soggy — particularly for the hordes of cyclists Northern Spark usually attracts — but attendees’ spirits were hardly dampened.

After moving to Lowertown in St. Paul last year, the fourth annual Spark returned to Minneapolis, basing most activities downtown and on the University of Minnesota campus. Northern Spark is known for bringing art to unexpected places — be it an eerie installation from yarn bomber Hottea under the 3rd Avenue Bridge or a riverside sauna.

“It’s kind of a bummer about the rain,” said Mayor Betsy Hodges during the opening ceremony, which moved from the Minneapolis Convention Center’s plaza to an expansive indoor hall. “But this event sheds a new light on this space. I kind of feel like I’m in the Thunderdome right now.”

Hodges’ words proved true, as Japanese-style drumming troupe Mu Daiko and local hip-hop trio Grrrl Prty gave Northern Spark a booming kickoff. The all-girl rap group, backed by veteran DJ Shannon Blowtorch, literally had the floor shaking with their elephant-marching “Higher Ground.”

Music played a large role in this year’s eclectic art party. Nearby at Orchestra Hall, the Minnesota Orchestra performed Kevin Puts’ Symphony No. 4 in a free 10 p.m. concert with music-triggered visuals. The tuxedo army, conducted by Courtney Lewis, fired cello shots, brass bursts and balanced with soothing interludes as the light show danced across the venue’s back wall.

The jeans- and raingear-clad audience responded to the immersive production with a boisterous and lengthy standing ovation. “That was so cool,” gushed a twenty-something woman on her way back into the rain. “Great way to start off the night.”

By 11 p.m., eyes already were droopy on the East Bank — at least for two kids watching the Birds of a Feather presentation at the Weisman Art Museum. A rep from the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center lectured the packed room on predatory birds with a peregrine falcon and others perched on her arm. Constant comings and goings made hearing impossible from the back. We wondered what was in the big cage, but the vibe was a little too sixth-grade field trip for Saturday night.

Across the street the rain-displaced Gossip Orchestra jazz-rocked the lobby of the Science Teaching and Student Services building instead of the Weisman’s plaza. Audience members played conductor for the 12-piece improv band, cuing each instrument via lights in front of the musicians.

Chef Scott Pampuch (Corner Table founder-turned-U of M culinary honcho) moved his anticipated 100-course dinner from Northrop Mall to an indoor location near Dinkytown. Around 12:30 a.m. a long line waited for their turn at the table. Our admittedly small eight-course sample size included delightfully zesty oysters and salt-bombed gravlax and capers on a stick.

The micro-plates weren’t always explained well (what was that tastes-like-chicken mystery meat?), but this was a (free!) one-off event with 100 dishes and 100 guests, so demanding normal restaurant standards would be as ludicrous as asking for A1 sauce at Manny’s. Compliments to the chef and crew for orchestrating an imaginative event of that scale — a fun addition to the fest.

Reports of flooding shut down events along the Midtown Greenway around 2 a.m., but soul-rockers Black Diet kept Kim Bartmann’s coming-soon Loring Park restaurant rocking while performing from the mezzanine in the old Cafe Maude space. Worldwide Discotheque DJ Dan McAllister followed, and his vinyl selections prompted one Shaun White look-alike wearing tiger pants and his buddy to de-shirt on the dance floor. As 3 a.m. approached, the party showed no signs of dying.

“What!? There’s a line outside a food truck at 3:30 a.m.!” exclaimed a giddy young man at the Gastrotruck parked outside Walker Art Center. “Only in Minnesota.” Inside the halls and galleries were teeming with people checking out the trippy circuslike “Graffiti Angel in Sophronia” installation (another piece forced indoors) and Christian Marclay’s highly touted “The Clock.” Though an acute awareness of time isn’t always desirable at 4 a.m., Marclay’s 24-hour montage splicing film bits referencing precise times of day (playing in-sync with CST) had the Burnet Gallery filled.

After a brief respite, the rain picked up again around 5 a.m. As daylight neared, the riverfront strip along West River Parkway grew relatively desolate, save for the lingering art shanties and a slow-dancing couple being serenaded by an oddball band under the Hennepin Avenue Bridge.

Shoubhik Sinha and Keddy Conocchioli walked home as the wind whipped and the rain fell harder. Considering the sleepless night behind them, the drenched college students were surprisingly upbeat. Wearing shorts and a half-buttoned shirt, the underdressed Sinha was a Northern Spark first-timer. The 20-year-old said his expectations were exceeded and he plans to return next year with a larger crew.

As for enduring the deluge? No big deal.

“It’s part of the experience. If it rains next year, I don’t care,” said Sinha with a laugh. “But maybe I’ll bring a jacket.”

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