Unsightly Sommerfest

Longtime lovers of the Minnesota Orchestra's Sommerfest may want to find a place on their summer-reading lists for Leonard Slatkin's "Conducting Business: Unveiling the Mystery Behind the Maestro." He was the founder and maestro of the festival for its first decade. And his recollections of those early days, though compressed into three pages, are vivid. "Who could ever forget the sight of 10 pianists pounding out 'Ride of the Valkyries,'" Slatkin writes, "as a pair of ladies decked out in horned helmets and dirndls pranced down the aisle? Not to mention the stagehands who tossed a football around onstage during this spectacle?" The conductor deals candidly with the besetting problem of most summer festivals: the paucity of rehearsal time. Several orchestra members, he recalls, "wore T-shirts that read, 'I survived the Minnesota Orchestra Summer Sight-Reading Festival.'"


A freestyle rap-up

He first caught people's attention via his citywide rock 'n' roll scavenger hunts in the mid-'00s with his old band Brother and Sister. He has since made a name for himself as freakazoid rapper Ice Rod as well as the visual artist behind many eye-popping album covers and posters -- for everyone from Andrew Bird to Johnny Corndawg. So how does Michael Gaughan -- soon headed to San Francisco to attend grad school -- go out in a style befitting his odd local legacy? With his "Chatroulette Dorm Room Freestyle Rap Show," of course, which he's staging at the Turf Club on Thursday (10 p.m., $6). Gaughan, 32, will set up a fake dorm room onstage and proceed to dial up random, unknowing participants around the world via Chatroulette.com and perform improv rap to (and about) them in front of the crowd. "There are so many elements of randomness involved, which I find really exciting," said Gaughan, who has been staging the show for the past several months. "None of it is done in any mean-spirited kind of way, or at these people's expense, so I think it's ethical and fair."


Dakota Fest unplugged

SoundTown wasn't the only music festival canceled this weekend. The third annual Dakota Street Fest, a popular outdoor/indoor multi-stage freebie associated with the Dakota Jazz Club, was scheduled for Saturday. But the plug was pulled because Peavey Plaza, site of one of three outdoor stages at Dakota Fest, is part of the renovation project at Orchestra Hall. "We didn't want to go smaller, we want to make it bigger," Dakota proprietor Lowell Pickett told I.W. "Our sponsors said we can count on them for next year. So we decided to take a year off." The consolation prize: The divine Davina & the Vagabonds, a fest mainstay, are at the Dakota Friday and Saturday.


Taking it up a notch

Theater Latté Da artistic director Peter Rothstein announced that the troupe will stage "Aida" next January in partnership with the Hennepin Theatre Trust at the Pantages Theatre. It will be the biggest production in Latté Da's 15-year history. The company already produces the holiday show "All Is Calm" each December with Cantus at the Pantages. "Aida," though, marks a significant upward step for the company. The 1,000-seat Pantages has three times the capacity of the largest venue Latté Da has used for a non-holiday production. At a private BBQ dinner, Rothstein also announced that "Company" and "The Light in the Piazza" will be staged at the Ordway's McKnight Theatre in the 2012-13 season. Full details on Wednesday.


Sketchbook sale

With a keen eye for summer fun and great bargains, I.W. recommends Groveland Gallery's "sketchbook sale" Saturday afternoon, featuring more than 250 pieces of art by 30 artists, all priced at $300 or less. Popular Marine on St. Croix landscape painter Tom Maakestad literally ripped sketches from a notebook, leaving torn edges visible. Michael Banning's drawings of the Minneapolis skyline from across the Mississippi are topped up with gouache and colored pencil. Rod Massey's playful scenes from south Minneapolis include winter vistas of alleyways and chain link fences. Moorhead artist Carl Oltvedt's still lifes depict pliers, scissors, a wrench and a pear. Other pieces are by Gaylord Schanilec, Justin Terlecki, William Murray, Joyce Lyon, Anne DeCoster, Jim Conaway and Dani Roach. "I'm anticipating that it will be a busy but very fun day," said gallery manager Nicole Watson. Last year's similar event was S.R.O. and sold out by mid- afternoon.


Zoo mates

In his debut at the Minnesota Zoo, Texas troubadour Lyle Lovett impressed with His Acoustic Group, a stripped-down version of His Large Band that favors bluegrassy harmonies and plenty of fancy pickin.' In his chatty, generous 2 1/2-hour show, Lovett gave shout-outs to longtime promoter Sue McLean (he will forever call her "Zoo McLean," he promised), hockey legend Neal Broten (Lovett called him a "great American hero") and Broten's wife, Sally (to whom Lovett sang "Happy Birthday"). Turns out that Sally Broten, of River Falls, Wis., is a champion horsewoman who competes in reining -- the same event in which Lovett competes in his spare time.


New deals

It was a week of promotions, recognitions and renewals in the arts. At Minnesota Opera, the board named longtime production director Kevin Ramach as its new president and general director. He'll work with artistic director Dale Johnson. At the Minnesota Orchestra, Sommerfest artistic director Andrew Litton signed a contract that will keep him in the job through 2014. He's been at it since 2003. This year's Sommerfest ends Saturday with a concert version of the opera "Rigoletto," conducted by Litton. And President Obama on Tuesday said he would nominate Ranee Ramaswamy as a member of the National Council on the Arts in Washington, D.C. She is founder and co-artistic director (with her daughter, Aparna) of Ragamala Dance Company.