Beautiful weather, a beloved singer/songwriter and, of course, beer added up to a big time for 11,000 people Friday at the opening of the 23rd annual Basilica Block Party.
Here are some takeaways:
We love her, she loves us. Brandi Carlile may be from the Seattle area, but the Twin Cities is her biggest market. In front of a big crowd on the main stage, she talked about how honored she was to be at the block party once again. She gushed about the joys and frustrations of being a mom with a 3-year-old. And mostly she sang her heart out, whether it was folk, country, gospel or pop.
An indelible image from her set: As Carlile belted out "Dreams" under a rising full moon, two women toward the front sang along — one into her beer can, the other into her water bottle. They were having as much fun as Carlile. And they clinked can to bottle at song's end.
Finally. For years the complaint about cult-loved indie rockers the Shins was that they weren't strong live. So James Mercer enlisted all new band members last year, and the Portland, Ore., group convinced a sizable crowd on the church stage. As he's done on record, Mercer gave a pop history lesson, evoking such influences as Paul McCartney (on "Name for You") and the Byrds (on "Mildenhall"). The music sparkles, even if his lyrics tend to be a downer.
Turn the dial. Cities 97 is the longtime radio sponsor of the Basilica Block Party. But as the format of the station has evolved, the disconnect between its Top 40-leaning playlist and the block party's acts couldn't have been more apparent.
Cities plays Ed Sheeran, Shawn Mendes and James Arthur, not Carlile and the Shins. You might hear an oldie by Walk the Moon or Gavin DeGraw, who are playing the Basilica on Saturday, but little else. (Full disclosure: The Star Tribune sponsors the local band stage at the block party.)
A higher purpose. The block party is a fundraiser for the Basilica of St. Mary. Over the years, the event has raised $5.8 million to help with the restoration of the basilica and its outreach projects.
No issue. Some years, the Basilica Block Party has been entwined with what's going on in the world. For instance, last year's event took place right after Philando Castile was shot. In 2011, there were protests aimed at the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis' support for banning same-sex marriage.
This year there was no overarching topic. But Carlile, a married lesbian, spoke about being proud to be in a state that supports same-sex marriage. And Jaedyn James, a Minneapolis soul singer, delivered a protest song about Castile's killing. Afterward she said, "I wish I never had to write that song."
Try it, you'll like it. There were numerous booths promoting products and businesses. For instance, Caribou Coffee was offering free samples of a non-coffee smoothie that "tastes like fruity Pebbles — the cereal." The woman was right. Yum.
A few feet from the Basilica School, the Mystic Lake Casino booth let attendees play five hands of blackjack. No money was exchanged. Prizes included a deck of cards and $5 coupon for blackjack at the actual casino.
Who's that? There seemed to be more little-known acts than usual. John Paul White showed a gorgeous tenor on country-folk songs; he's better known as half of the defunct Civil Wars. Cobi, a generic one-named rock singer-guitarist, proudly proclaimed that Minneapolis will always be home though he lives in California now. How come his website says he's from Grand Marais, Minn.?