Asher Brossoit, 13 months, played in the dirt on the warning track of CHS Field like he was in a sandbox. Adam Goldstein and Megan Gavin grooved in the outfield grass like they were dancing at a New Orleans club. Mark Gitch had his sandals off, beer at the ready and a hand tapping to the beat as he reclined on the lush lawn in foul territory.
New Orleans legend Dr. John was on second base, so to speak, where a stage was set up Saturday afternoon for the first concert at the new Saints ballpark.
“I’m enjoying this immensely,” smiled Gitch, 48, of St. Louis Park. “There’s just joy when Dr. John plays. A little bit of a joy on a sunny day today.”
With gorgeous weather and a free concert, about 7,500 people turned out at the Saints stadium. The show was the signature event for the 17th annual Twin Cities Jazz Festival, which stages free concerts in parks and clubs around St. Paul.
“I’m singing along,” declared Goldstein, 48, of Minneapolis, as he danced to “Let the Good Times Roll.” “It’s a good time.”
“This is a perfect example of how St. Paul needs to be a little more New Orleans — a little more let it go,” said his dance partner, Gavin, 36, of St. Paul. “He’s from the other side of the river but we can still bond over jazz.”
Goldstein praised the stadium for its openness, architecture and greenness. “It’s very organic and alive,” he said. “The sound is amazing, the sightlines are nice. Everything is accessible. There’s no waiting. It’s very intimate.”
Goldstein attended concerts by the Replacements and Bob Dylan at the now-closed Midway Stadium, the Saints’ precursor to CHS Field. He prefers the new ballpark.
“This is much nicer, smaller, more intimate,” he said. “It’s friendly.”
However, for the Midway shows for the Replacements, Dylan, R.E.M. and others, the stage was situated in center field, not second base, increasing the capacity to about 15,000, with a huge portion of the crowd standing on the outfield grass. At CHS Field on Saturday, people were limited to the permanent stands, a small portion of shallow right field and the base paths, with the area between first and second base for reserved for VIPs seated in chairs and at tables. (That’s what happens when AARP is one of the corporate sponsors.)
“If the stage is in center field, we can do 15,000,” said Saints executive vice president Tom Whaley. “In the design process, we took doing shows into account. So it’s easy to do shows there.”
Moreover, the new ballpark had a large video screen, providing close-ups of Dr. John. Midway Stadium had no such luxury.
Concertgoers praised CHS Field.
“It’s modern and cool,” said Aaron Brossoit, 37, of White Bear Lake, as his toddler played in the dirt.
Sondra Raths, 59, of St. Paul, was beaming in her seat at the rail on the concourse between home plate and third base. “This is wonderful,” she said. “I’ve got a great seat. There’s a nice breeze. I can watch all the people. I’m here for Dr. John. And I was the only one in the bathroom.”
Tim Van Driessche, 58, moved from Eden Prairie to St. Paul three years ago and he couldn’t stop bragging about his new hometown stadium. “It’s phenomenal. It’s a perfect location, it’s a great neighborhood, it’s a perfect day,” he said. “It’s what’s starting to set St. Paul apart. It’s going to be hard to get me to Target Field now. This is such a relaxed atmosphere. And you don’t spend an arm and a leg.”
Whaley said no other concerts are booked for CHS Field, but a couple that were discussed didn’t materialize.
Dr. John, the 74-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, may have seemed an unusual choice to headline an afternoon concert. As his first hit song put it, it’s the “Right Place, Wrong Time.” Dr. John the Night Tripper, as he first billed himself in the late 1960s, is a creature of the night, all pale skin, voodoo accoutrements and blues and jazz chords on the piano. Maybe his biggest hit, “Such a Night,” had the right line for the wrong occasion: “Sweet confusion under the moonlight.”
Despite the sun instead of moonlight, the man in the brown suit, red socks and natty chapeau treated the fans to those two aforementioned hits and a host of New Orleans favorites including “Iko Iko” and “St. James Infirmary.” His 90-minute performance was right-on even if it was the wrong time.
As Dr. John found his boogie-woogie groove, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman was bubbling with enthusiasm as he held court in the VIP section.
“We need more concerts here,” he said. “This adds vitality to downtown St. Paul. I think it’ll be a staple of the concert scene for years to come.”
First Avenue general manager Nate Kranz was impressed by the stadium. He can’t wait to see a baseball game there and promote concerts, he said after the Dr. John left the stage.
“I’d give it two thumbs up,” Kranz said. “The challenges of doing concerts in a baseball stadium are making sure the grass is green and tall afterward. I’m excited to do concerts there. I imagine there’ll be concerts going on there next year.”