Spread out on the thick green grass about a quarter-furlong from the big stage, Cody Scharf was so into the shoes-off summertime vibe at the start of Saturday’s Festival Palomino at Canterbury Park he thought about leaping into the pond in the middle of the Shakopee horse track to christen the inaugural music fest. But then he was reminded of the equine runoff that might be in the water.
“Maybe not, then,” said Scharf, 19, of St. Paul, who was nonetheless eager to dive into the two-stage, eight-hour, nine-band lineup that Palomino offered right out of the gate.
“I bought tickets the day they went on sale. It’s nice to finally have a festival like this in the Cities.”
Organized by Minnesota’s champion-breed bluegrass/folk sextet Trampled by Turtles with First Avenue and promoter Rose Presents, Festival Palomino hopes to curb the drought of music festivals in the Twin Cities, after such fledgling events as Live Nation’s Rivers Edge Fest quickly fell by the wayside. What’s more, the event could counterbalance the fact that the local outdoor music calendar suddenly dries up after Labor Day.
Saturday’s weather was picture-perfect at first and made a strong case for Palomino’s timing. However, heavy rain did roll in around dinnertime at the tail end of Florida soul man Charles Bradley’s set — otherwise one of the sunniest musical moments of the day.
The 10,000 or so fans quickly warmed up to the setting before and even during the rain. Unlike the annual Soundset and Warped Tour concerts, which are held in a field across Canterbury Park’s parking lot, Saturday’s fest was the first big concert in a decade to take place inside the horse track, just a few hundred yards from the grandstand.
When the rain hit, the concert moved into the grandstand itself: New York-based gospel-folk troupe Spirit Family Reunion showed off its street-busker roots by moving its set indoors on the fly. They played to soggy but cheerful fans on a makeshift stage near the Silks Bar, with their cover of the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” sounding like the perfect ode to Mother Nature.
That was just one of many attributes that had fans saying Festival Palomino could be a good bet in years to come.
“It’s a good layout, really easy to ping-pong between the stages,” said Aaron Johnson, 31, a die-hard Trampled by Turtles fan from Bismarck, N.D.
Johnson made the trek to Shakopee after missing his usual trip to the Winnipeg Folk Festival in July, which has a similar rootsy-music flavor as Palomino.
“I’d definitely come back,” Johnson added.
The music was so nonstop, Nashville’s wiry strummers the Apache Relay had not even left the smaller stage at the end of their set before Bradley’s band kicked into a funky groove on the main stage.
Earlier in the day, Wisconsin’s ambient, arty twang band the Field Report was immediately followed by a more traditional, vintage country set by Erik Koskinen. A local guitarist/songwriter, Koskinen seemed to be eyeing his surroundings as he picked out the sweet little pickup ditty “Pretty Girls.”
The music resumed outside in time for the Head and the Heart. The Seattle folk-rockers treated the crowd to two bona-fide hits, “Lost in My Mind” and “Shake” — the latter lived up to its name, too — but they don’t have nearly as deep a discography as TBT and the other Duluth-reared act that came later, Low. The home-team bands cut their sets short by several songs while TH&TH wore on for 50 minutes with filler.
Low managed to cram in two new songs and their cover of Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” in its half-hour set, as well as a heavily distorted “On My Own” that sharply contrasted the day’s acoustic flavor. Trampled kept up the frantic pace it’s known for throughout its set, barely stopping to tune between such songs as “Victory,” “Walt Whitman” and “Wait So Long.” Not that you can really tune a banjo anyway.
As has been the case with TBT’s recent albums, though, the band sharply slowed things down tempo-wise in several tunes, and did so without dragging down the rowdy festival vibe. The haunted “Hollow” and cello-droning “Lucy” especially rang out beautifully under starlight, matching the growing chill in the air. In the end, the show felt like a summer fest that came just in the nick of time.
See a photo gallery from the festival at startribune.com/music