In 10th year, Square Lake Festival small, yet big event

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 3, 2012 - 6:24 PM

The fete pairing music and films, and even a wedding, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

The Square Lake Festival has come a long way since Paul Creager invited a few bands to play on a hobby farm in May Township and used a heat gun to iron out wrinkled vinyl billboards so he could show locally made short films between acts.

Fast forward a decade and the fete has professional-grade projectors and screens. It also has a loyal following and the support of arts organizations such as the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, which this year awarded it a $10,000 grant to help it carry out its mission of showcasing the music, animation and short films made in the Twin Cities.

"The first five years it was powered by my tax returns" and about 10 dedicated volunteers, Creager said. "Looking back, we must have been crazy, but I'm proud of it now. We wanted to make an event and feel like small groups of people can do things. It's inspiring to be part of the arts scene in this way."

Although small in terms of attendance -- ticket sales are capped at around 400 -- the Square Lake Festival has delivered big opportunities for band and movie makers during its history. Last year, the Minneapolis-based band Night Moves caught the ear of an executive from the Domino label, who promptly signed the cosmic indie rockers to a recording contract.

It's difficult to know what this year's diamond in the rough will be, but the music line up for Saturday's 10th anniversary includes KBDS, "Spider" John Koerner, the Retribution Gospel Choir and the Pines.

While the music provides the energy, the festival provides the opportunity for beginning to professional filmmakers to screen their shorts and animated flicks.

On the marquee this year is "Canyon of the Caves," which tells the story of Walter Spink, who has spent 60 years studying a series of ancient Buddhist cave temples in Ajanta, India. Directed by Joel Weber and Dominic Howes of Rikshaw Films, "Canyon" is the featured offering of the day-long festival.

Also included is the debut of "Marcel, King of Turveren," a six-minute animated feature by Tom Schroeder, and "Snow White," a haunting adaptation of the well-known fairy tale by Luke Johnson that was filmed just a quarter-mile from the hobby farm where the festival is held.

At 8:30 p.m., the International Novelty Gamelan with its marimba, gongs and wooden instruments takes the stage to play the score for the film "The Adventures of Prince Achmed."

"That is the marriage of film and music at the event," Creager said. "When you show a film on a large screen under the stars, and an amazing group has just played, that energy is pretty strong. It's amazing to experience it in an intimate setting without distraction."

More than $1,700 will be awarded to filmmakers as determined by a jury that includes Trace Beaulieu of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The festival has a green component to it, and a majority of attendees bike to the farm about 8 miles north of Stillwater. Some ride more than 40 miles to the festival, which runs from 2 p.m. to midnight, Creager said.

This year will feature one new wrinkle. A couple will get married on stage between musical acts, Creager said.

Although extremely popular -- it normally sells out -- there are no plans to expand it to accommodate larger crowds. The farm has a natural amphitheater and just enough room to hold a small crowd. Ticket availability and information about the festival can be found at www.squarelakefestival.com.

"We want something that is sustainable, a tradition and not over commercialized," Creager said. "We hope to go another 10 years."

Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039, Twitter: @timstrib

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