High on Styx (and butter sticks)

  • Updated: September 3, 2008 - 11:24 PM

What a big bash by the not-so-mammoth AgriGrowth Council said about the RNC party scene.

Aimee Lundberg, banquet server, freshens up one of the food tables at the AgNite banquet while the Lamont Cranston Band plays in the background.

Photo: Steve Rice, Star Tribune

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There was an ice-sculpture-adorned martini bar. Two hangar-sized rooms lined with white tablecloths and video screens. A headlining band that required four spotlight towers and probably $100,000 for the gig. And who-knows-what in the closed-off VIP area.

So which big-shot entity was behind this high-dollar bash at the Depot in Minneapolis? Exxon? Microsoft? PhRMA? That super-rich guy in Omaha who complained that the Republicans haven't taken enough of his money?

Nope, Tuesday night's RNC-related party at the Depot in Minneapolis -- headlined by Styx -- was put on by that big baron of the plains, the Minnesota AgriGrowth Council.

That's right, farm folk. It's either very quaint or slightly embarrassing that the MAGC (I'm not really sure if they even use that acronym) delivered the swankiest shindig I've gotten into all week.

Not that this nobody has had access to all of them. The Republican Governors Association, for instance, turned away the media once again from its party Wednesday at Mill City Museum. Last I checked, isn't governors' business everybody's business? Hold the Sarah Palin comments, please (no, really; I've heard enough from all sides).

Thankfully, the good people of the Midwest farm-biz community were nice enough to let me into their big bash, called AgNite. I knew AgNite was going to be special when I walked up the cornstalk-lined red carpet. A giant John Deere tractor was parked square in the middle of the first big room, surrounded by displays on such things as the joys of sugar beets, and bars giving out wine and cocktails and -- a vice you don't often see at these things -- Minnesota-made ice cream.

Many of the Minnesotans I talked to at AgNite were proud to be representing one of the state's big industries.

"We just saw some people from D.C. posing in front of the tractor for a picture," laughed Bridget Bailey of New Ulm, whose law firm, Gislason & Hunter, works with some of the sponsoring businesses. "It's great to see people are getting into it."

There was something absolutely hilarious and a wee bit scary about seeing a bunch of sequined 50-something women and starch-shirted men crushing toward the stage like teenyboppers at a Fall Out Boy show. And you should've heard the big sing-along to Styx's "Lady," which the keyboardist decadently dedicated to "the pie lady" (yep, there was a table of pies made from Minnesota dairy).

On the most innocent level, AgNite offered a different kind of look at the not-so-innocent business behind all the glad-handing and free-boozing in town this week. Not that it's any big secret, nor anything that wasn't seen at the Democratic convention last week.

Unless there are some bad seeds in the seed business I don't know about, I have to believe that the agricultural businesses involved in AgNite are generally a reputable crowd. Granted, I got a little weirded out that Land O'Lakes flashed an ad proudly declaring itself "No. 1 in milk-replacement products," but I'll assume those don't pose a threat to children.

If the relatively small-potato folks of the AgriGrowth Council (who, I'm sure, actually have big potatoes) need to work so hard to butter up political bigwigs, what kind of freebies are being served by industries with more money and less-savory reputations? Maybe our government really has gone into the crapper. And that's not a comment on the fertilizer lobbyists at AgNite.

chrisr@startribune.com • 612-673-4658

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