Huddled under a tent in the VIP area of Soundset, Kimberly and Nicole Bell looked as if they regretted coming out to the Twin Cities’ biggest music festival for the first time Sunday — yet another year the annual hip-hop celebration was deluged with Memorial Day weekend rain.
Instead, the sisters said they intend to come back year after year now, like so many other of the event’s 30,000 attendees.
“It’s like the Midwest version of Coachella,” said Kimberly Bell, 28, of New Hope, referring to California’s trendiest rock fest. Never mind that Coachella rarely sees a drop of rain.
“I don’t care if it’s snowing or a tornado is coming, I’d want to be here,” Nicole Bell, 22, added. “This is the big thing in Minnesota now.”
Held once again in a field outside Canterbury Park horse track in Shakopee, the eighth annual festival demonstrated why it leads the pack among the large summer concerts. Fans poured into the grounds early for such local stars as Dessa and Dem Atlas, and they stayed put in front of the stages through national headliners J. Cole and Ice Cube, despite a steady drizzle of rain lasting through about eight of the festival’s 10 hours of nonstop music.
The bad weather — in the forecast since early last week — did not dampen ticket sales, and neither did a lineup that was heavy on future stars and older pioneers but not current hitmakers. Sunday’s Soundset sold out two days beforehand, the second year in a row tickets weren’t available at the gates.
“This is beautiful,” said Logic, one of the rising newcomers to take the main stage Sunday. Staring out at the sea of people standing in the rain watching his set, the Maryland-reared rapper added, “When I started out, I just wanted to tour. I didn’t care who came to see me. Now look at me.”
Atlanta Top 40 star Ludacris sounded impressed by the diversity in the crowd during his hits-filled Soundset debut, as he made individual shout outs to all the Asians, Latinos and African-Americans on hand. Oh, and he also singled out the three women he said he’d like to take back home with him on his private plane.
“It’s really all ages and colors here,” said Brian Hillson, 32, of Milwaukee. “It shows how much hip-hop culture has become integrated into Midwestern culture.”
Women were better integrated into the festival this year, with out-of-towners Sa-Roc and G.L.A.M. earning rave responses in the Fifth Element performance tent while Dessa delivered one of the day’s most innovative sets with a full band that included venerable violinist Jessy Greene. Dessa proudly wore her misfit status in the Soundset boys club, too.
“Do I have lipstick on my teeth?” she asked, grinning into one of the cameras for the giant video screens beside the main stages.
Hawking his CDs and T-shirts at a merch stand, Minneapolis rap vet Terrell Woods (aka Carnage the Executioner) — who has been coming to Soundset since its 2008 launch outside the Metrodome — praised the festival’s organizers at Rhymesayers Entertainment for keeping the lineups fresh eight years later.
Next year, the event is going to move back into town to take place on the State Fairgrounds, it was revealed during Sunday's run -- another testament to the event's growing clout.
“They keep bringing in relevant artists,” Woods said, “whether they’re the hot newcomers like J. Cole or the old greats that these kids need to know are relevant, like Ice Cube.”
Atmosphere didn’t finish off Soundset as usual, but frontman Slug did sum up the day well for fans: “You love this music so much, you’ll stand in the rain for hours just to feel it.”
Read a Soundset review in Tuesday’s Variety section or at startribune.com/soundset