For the past six years, Paul Creager has staged a film and music festival on his hobby farm north of Stillwater on Square Lake, but it's unlikely that the bucolic bash has ever captured the prevailing zeitgeist quite so vividly as it will this year.
The confluence of bicycle culture in the Twin Cities; the green movement gone gangbusters; the Gopher State's never-say-die spirit of independent music and film -- all will intersect in one groovy grass-roots moment Saturday.
"I desire creating meaningful connections with people," said Creager, a 32-year-old drummer, documentary filmmaker, husband and, as of last month, father. "And I think many other people who devote their energies to the festival desire the same thing, and that comes from how our country has changed over the past seven, eight years. It's been a tough stretch.
"It feels relevant to invest one's energies in something that does a little bit to create new community connections or to give people a chance to experience the arts in a way where they don't have to go through a fence, or there isn't a beer garden, or they aren't preyed upon for $4 bottles of water. It's giving people an opportunity to have a little bit of a part in an event. They can interact in it a little bit more."
Creager's eclectic taste will be on full display, what with 45 independent films and a wide array of local music: the tabla-electronica stylings of Ragassa, the hypnotic chamber jazz of Spaghetti Western String Co., the pining pop of the Owls, the old-timey rag of Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles and the exuberant soul-hop of Black Blondie.
Each year, one local group is asked to write an original score to accompany a public domain film. Last year, Fat Kid Wednesdays did "The Great Train Robbery." In 2006, Low riffed on Pare Lorentz's classic documentary "The Plow That Broke the Plains." In 2005, Spaghetti Western took on "The Red Balloon," which "people are still talking about," according to Creager. This year, baroque art-rockers Fort Wilson Riot will perform to the 1909 French film "The Devilish Tenant."
Creager said he loves giving the musicians freedom to do what they want with a film, and then sit back and watch as the chemistry of film, music and people come together for a one-time-only moment.
Redefining 'bikable distance'
Another crucial part of the Square Lake experience is getting folks from the Twin Cities to make the trek to the festival on bike.
Last year, dozens of cyclists met online and formed pelotons to Square Lake. People who arrive by bike get $10 off the ticket price of $15.
"We offer the bait; we offer the event at the end of the bike ride, and we think we might be able to redefine what people think a bikable distance is," said Creager.
"And Peace Coffee is a great supporter, because they provide what's called a 'sag wagon,' which is basically a van that transports people's camping gear. So you don't have to be a professional camper to come to the festival."
While attending Stillwater High School, Creager hosted battles of the bands and other ad hoc events in the hobby farm's barn. After graduating from the University of St. Thomas, he taught English in Japan, where he attended several "small and spontaneous" outdoor music events, which, along with a new appreciation of how unique his home was, inspired him to begin the festival in 2001.
"Square Lake is very well-known around the Upper Midwest for its clear water," Creager said. "It's a spring-fed lake, and divers from all around go there. I grew up on that hobby farm, so it's very near and dear to me, and I have memories all over that 14-acre property. And, chance of a lifetime, I just purchased the 10 acres next to it."
Which only means that the Square Lake Festival will grow along with his farm -- and his family.
"It's so memorable," said the obviously smitten new dad. "These days are just lodged in my memory -- planning the festival and having our daughter, Stella. If I can keep it going, I'm hoping that she would enjoy it and maybe bring her own flavor to it one day."