Maybe the planets aligned, or God gave his blessings.
Whatever it was, the stars came out Friday at the 25th annual Basilica Block Party, the fundraiser for the Basilica of St. Mary in downtown Minneapolis. The music stars, that is.
The BBP landed its hottest headliner in recent memory in Kacey Musgraves, who grabbed four Grammys this year, including album of the year. Throw in two local music institutions, the Jayhawks and Semisonic, making a rare appearance on the same stage, and it was a block party to remember.
Even Musgraves had a rarity: Her husband, little-known but standout Americana singer-songwriter Ruston Kelly, appeared on the same stage — four hours and three acts earlier. They seldom land on the same bill. Plus, her father-in-law played pedal steel guitar in Kelly’s band.
Musgraves gave her hubby a shout-out in front of 14,000 worshipful fans. She called him a “badass [bleep]” and then said, “I hope you guys saw him.” Well, maybe 300 people did.
Early in her 75-minute set, Musgraves, 30, asked the fans to give a high-five to their neighbors and then she urged everyone to throw their middle fingers in the air. The rest of her performance — other than her salute to the cheese-curd booths in back — was pretty tame. Perhaps too sleepy for so many people standing in a parking lot at a music festival.
Musgraves drew heavily from “Golden Hour,” which has a gauzy, atmospheric vibe that sounds alluring at home or in a theater. But, like her opening song “Slow Burn” says, her music is mostly slow, either downbeat (“Happy and Sad”) or blithely giddy (“Butterflies”).
Her older material not only has more verve but also more clever wordplay. And the fans recognized her older country hits, including “Merry Go Round” and “Follow Your Arrow,” which has become a singalong anthem. Her current single, “Rainbow,” rained optimism over a crowd that had witnessed a muggy night turn into a pleasant breeze, which is an apt description for her music.
Friday’s lineup on the three-stage fest was heavy on Americana, with Musgraves, Kelly, the versatile Anderson East, Dawes and our local heroes, Jayhawks, who made the 1990s blueprint for modern-day Americana.
Jayhawks frontman Gary Louris was in a playful mood, joking that they were a new band for Minneapolis. “I look at the Basilica,” he said facing the front of the church. “This is where I got married [pause] the first time.”
At least, he found enduring harmony with his bandmates, whether two-part (“Two Hearts”), three-part (“I’d Run Away”) or four-part (“Backwards Women”).
Behind the scenes, there was a new wrinkle this year at BBP. Live Nation, the world’s largest concert promoter, took over the booking of the acts this year from Sue McLean & Associates (SMA), which had hired the Basilica bands forever. However, Tamsen Preston, one of SMA’s top officials, moved to Live Nation’s Minneapolis office last year.
BBP seems to have an ever-increasing disconnect with its longtime radio sponsor, Cities 97. That station plays Musgraves’ new single and oldies by Semisonic and Jason Mraz, Saturday’s headliner. But that’s it among the 20 acts.
By contrast, 89.3 the Current, a public radio station, regularly programs at least seven of the acts at this year’s BBP; however, its DJs are too disingenuous and petty to mention the block party. For instance, when Semisonic stopped by the Current this week, the DJs touted the band’s show last week in Milwaukee but failed to plug the upcoming BBP.
The Basilica Block Party is for a noble cause. The festival has raised more than $5.5 million for restoration of the Basilica of St. Mary and its outreach programs.
The two-day event continues Saturday with cool indie groups Metric and Chvrches, “MMMBop” hitmakers Hanson and breezy “I’m Yours” strummer Mraz.