Paella, pizza and gourmet wontons. Pitbull, Aerosmith and Tim McGraw.
Variety is the hallmark of the inaugural Twin Cities Summer Jam this weekend at Canterbury Park in Shakopee.
“We Fest is fun, but having the same genre [of music] for three days gets boring,” Tammy Peterson of Minneapolis said of the long-established country-and-camping fest in Detroit Lakes.
The promoters behind TC Summer Jam — the first big-time multiday music festival in the metro area since 2012 — are betting that people listen to genre-jumping playlists and will pay big bucks to see different styles of music on the same stage for a long weekend.
The artists seem to understand the eclectic tastes of today’s music fans.
“You’ve got Soul Asylum. You’ve got REO Speedwagon. You’ve got Rascal Flatts. Three totally different kinds of music,” REO frontman Kevin Cronin said onstage Thursday night. “With all you people here, it shows music is music. A good song is a good song.”
Rascal Flatts, who’ve scored 14 No. 1 country songs, bought into the multigenre concept by turning into something of a human mix tape, with lead singer Gary LeVox improvising a bit of REO’s “Keep on Loving You” and the full band doing a medley with two of its songs sandwiched around Maroon 5’s “This Love” and Huey Lewis’ “Do You Believe in Love.”
As with most big music festivals, there is a two-tier seating system for TC Summer Jam: reserved plastic chairs in front of the stage and, behind that, a grassy general-admission area where festgoers can bring folding chairs. VIP ticket holders get access to spacious air-conditioned tents on the field, but all festgoers can retreat into the horse-race track’s grandstand, which is air-conditioned with restrooms and full concession stands.
Outdoors, it’s portable toilets, misting power fans and a striking menu at booths and food trucks. Paella with chicken and chorizo and spicy Tater Tots with cheese and bacon bits are for sale, along with the usual cheese curds, corn dogs and tacos. Spiked seltzer and booze-infused coffee drinks are a change of pace.
So, too, is CBD, probably a first for a mainstream music fest in Minnesota. It’s available by the bottle, jar — or franchise if you’re ambitious enough.
You didn’t find CBD at the metro’s last major multiday music fest, River’s Edge, seven years ago when mega-promoter Live Nation presented the Dave Matthews Band and Tool at St. Paul’s Harriet Island.
The big question on Friday — the fest’s biggest night with Rock Hall of Famers Aerosmith in front of 16,000 people — was the weather. Skies were threatening all day, humidity was off the charts. Then things changed, kind of.
“It’s cool and it’s hot, and it’s cool and it’s hot,” said Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry mid-set. “I don’t know what’s going on.”
Lauren MacLeash, general manager of the festival, knew what it meant: “I think we got lucky with the weather.”
Jerry Braam of Mankato is the CEO of TC Summer Jam. The founder of the Lakes Jam fest in Brainerd eight years ago, he hatched the idea for the new Shakopee fest with Chris Hawkey, KFAN Radio personality by day and country-and-rock singer by night, who performed Friday at TC Summer Jam.
Before Aerosmith came onstage, Hawkey, as fest emcee, had the unenviable task of asking fans from the general-admission section to calmly fill in empty VIP seats near the stage at the headliner’s request.
Said MacLeash: “As a first-year fest, we have a learning curve. We’ll listen and learn.”
Stephanie Talatala of Maple Grove had seen Aerosmith 16 times previously. She had no complaints on Friday. “It was very fluid getting around here,” she said.
Canterbury’s infield is no stranger to daylong music events.
Most recently, from 2014-16, Trampled By Turtles, the bluegrassy band from Duluth, curated the hipster indie-rock Festival Palomino. Much more popular was Lilith Fair, the groundbreaking all-female festival that drew an average of 28,000 people for its three years — 1997-99 — at Canterbury, starring the Dixie Chicks and founder Sarah McLachlan.
Festivals in Canterbury’s infield were pioneered by radio stations in the then-Clear Channel chain (now iHeart Radio) from 1998-2003. Country superstar McGraw, who headlines TC Summer Jam on Saturday with Miami party starter Pitbull, played one of those country-themed gigs during pouring rain.
But there was no genre-blending back then.
This weekend at Canterbury, there have been a few glitches typical of a first-year event. The giant video screen at the back of the stage wasn’t functioning consistently on Thursday or Friday.
A week before TC Summer Jam commenced, promoters slashed daily general admission ticket prices from $149 to $99.
“The price for general admission is way too steep,” said Taylor Lehr of Minneapolis, who won free tickets at Mall of America. “I think it should be $50 to $60 a day. I do like that the parking is free, and it wasn’t chaotic at all.”
Added his friend Chelsea Wood of St. Louis Park: “I give them props for pulling it off for the first year.”