You could hear the strain and anxiety in Mick Sterling’s voice this week as he talked about wrangling 50 bands and all the production logistics involved in what he’s ironically calling the Relief Sessions.
“I’ve booked a lot of shows before, but not with this many acts, 12 days in a row of them,” said the veteran Twin Cities rock and soul singer.
You could also hear how excited Sterling was to be offering Twin Cities music lovers what he described as “a much-needed distraction from everything else.”
Staged at the Burnsville Ice Center parking lot off Interstate 35 (about 17 miles south of Minneapolis), the Relief Sessions is a drive-in concert series featuring four or five bands per day and pretty strict adherence to social distancing and other Minnesota COVID-19 guidelines.
Among the acts selling advance tickets in the series ($10-$30 per person) are the Suburbs, Flamin’ Oh’s, Joyann Parker, Chris Hawkey, International Reggae All-Stars, Maurice Jacox, Sara Renner, Sherwin Linton, Patty Peterson’s Jazz Women All-Stars and Sunday night’s headliner GB Leighton, plus a slew of tribute shows honoring the likes of Prince, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Billy Joel (the latter two are the Friday and Saturday finales, respectively).
A couple of acts will also perform for free every day from noon to 5 p.m., with first-come, first-served admission. Among them are Salsa del Soul, Lolo’s Ghost, Tim Mahoney, Hailey James, the Miss Myra Duo and the Native Pride Dancers. Attendance will be capped at 250 people per set.
After hosting a series of Friday night concerts under the same guise in June and July, Sterling believes the setup is “as safe as we can make it.” That includes food trucks on-site that will deliver text or phone orders (menus handed out upon arrival).
“It’s outdoors, the [parking] spaces are distanced, the musicians and crew wear masks whenever possible, everything we know to do,” he said.
Singer/guitarist Robert Wilkinson of the Flamin’ Oh’s — playing their first and perhaps only show of 2020 on Sept. 6 — said he and his bandmates have been hesitant to perform during the pandemic but feel good about this gig.
“A parking lot show seems fine as long as safe, proper protocols are in place,” Wilkinson said, adding this promise/warning: “It’s been over nine months since we played a gig, so we’ll be letting out a lot of pent-up energy and frustration.”
It’s no coincidence the event is taking place over the same dates that would have been the Minnesota State Fair’s run.
Organizers envisioned the 12-day run as an “alternative” to the (COVID-canceled) State Fair, and they tried to line up a diverse array of local musicians in the same vein as the fair’s free stages.
Burnsville City Council Member Dan Gustafson, who helped park cars during the June-July series, believes the series is a win-win-win for musicians, music fans and the city itself. He even urged attendees to stay a few nights in a room at one of Burnsville’s many hotels “who could really use the business.”
“Everybody involved really needs this, including the city, not just for economic reasons but also just for the fun of it,” Gustafson said.
THE FULL SCHEDULE
In reverse order of appearance, noon-8:45 p.m. Set times at thereliefsessions.com.
Thursday: Root City Band with Alex Rossi, “Aretha: Soul of a Queen” with Ginger Commodore and Debbie Duncan,” Lisa Wenger & Her Mean Mean Men, Tommy Bentz Band
Friday: Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute show, New Primitives, Smoldering Roots, “Acoustic EltonSongs.”
Saturday: “A Billy Joel State of Mind” with Mick Sterling, “A Salute to Buddy Holly and Friends,” Tim Mahoney, Salsa del Soul.
Sunday: GB Leighton, Shalo Lee Band, Miss Myra Duo, Escalate Dance.
Monday: “The Johnny Cash Story” with Sherwin Linton, “The Essential Songs of Van Morrison,” Steve Vonderharr Blues Band, Lehto & Wright.
Tuesday: “The Songs of Bob Dylan,” Patsy Cline tribute by Joyann Parker, Galactic Cowboy Orchestra, the Wreck.
Wednesday: International Reggae All-Stars, Johnnie Brown’s Teddy Pendergrass Show, Izzy Cruz & the Moving Parts, Lolo’s Ghost.
Thursday: Steeling Dan, Patty Peterson’s Jazz Women All-Stars, PK Mayo, Hailey James.
Sept. 4: Prince tribute with Chase & Ovation, Dave Matthews Band tribute with Max Krauth, Steve Clarke & the Working Stiffs, O’Shea Irish Dance, Grateful Dead show with Wharf Rat String Band.
Sept. 5: “Just Whitney” with Beverly Savarin, Maurice Jacox & We Still R Band, John Hiatt tribute with Mick Sterling, Native Pride Dancers.
Sept. 6: Flamin’ Oh’s, Sara Renner Band, Kevin Jackson & Ms. Arnise, Red Eye Ruby.
Sept. 7: The Suburbs (sold out), Chris Hawkey Band, Two Girls & a Boyd, “The Gospel According to Elvis.”
Twin Cities soul/R&B vet Maurice Jacox performs Sept. 5.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658 • @ChrisRstrib