I've heard it mistakenly called the Concrete & Grass Fest on the Current, and I'm guessing some fans showed up to last weekend's Lowertown Block Party expecting to see Mason Jennings and Cloud Cult (hopefully they stuck around for Ill Chemistry).
However, the confusion around this Saturday's Lowertown Music Fest hasn't been nearly as messy as the streets around its namesake corner of downtown St. Paul. Lowertown is currently ripped to shreds to make room for light-rail trains.
Thus, while it was dreamed up several years ago by Station 4 nightclub and concert promoter Mr. Chan Presents, the inaugural incarnation of the LMF wound up being perfectly timed for letting people know that St. Paul's hippest district is alive and well amid all the dust and debris.
"Hopefully it'll be something to feed this neighborhood during a starving period," said Station 4 owner Steve Ledin, who complained of his business being off 50 percent of late -- including a recent 10-day stretch where he said "you literally couldn't even get to our club."
Don't let any of this messiness scare you away from what could be one of the biggest local music events of the year. Saturday's concert is being staged along a sloped part of Sibley Street on the edge of Mears Park, away from the construction. Concertgoers can still easily navigate to and from the usual parking garages and metered spaces on the "up" side of downtown.
"Lowertown has been such a thriving area the past year or two, the festival seems like a way of keeping that momentum going," said Mr. Chan promoter James DeCoursey.
Ledin admitted that the performers aren't the type to play Station 4, "so this was a way to finally get them over to St. Paul," he said. Most of the acts are the type that choose their hometown gigs carefully, and each seems to be coming into the fest with its own momentum:
•Jennings, the headliner, is garnering more Current airplay and press for his new track, "Machines," from the soundtrack to the documentary "180° South." He hasn't performed locally since the Current's birthday gig in January.
•Not seen since April, Cloud Cult has been making its cultish, eternity-pondering fans wait for what seems like an eternity for its new album, "Light Chasers," which produced the local hit "Running With the Wolves" over the spring and finally went on sale a few weeks ago via CloudCult.com. Wide release is Sept. 17. Pretty much everybody I know who's heard the album already agrees it's the band's best to date, with more ambitious string/horn arrangements and the sheer joy exuded from the birth of frontman Craig Minowa's new son.
•Tapes 'n Tapes recently finished recording its third album and handed the mixing off to Peter Katis (Interpol, the National). The band will hit the road next month to preview the disc.
•After the big re-release of its debut "Inter-Be" on Jagjaguwar Records, howling, young folk-rock duo Peter Wolf Crier has been on tour for the past month with Heartless Bastards and is about to go out with Midlake. Can you say "road tested"?
Also on the bill is odd U.K. man out Frank Turner ("this generation's Billy Bragg," bragged DeCoursey) as well as alphabetizing duo Koo Koo Kangaroo, part kids act and part hip-hop kidders.Smaller-scale Riot
Like most rock operas, Fort Wilson Riot's 2007 album "Idigaragua" was so ambitious and grandiose, most listeners either adored or abhorred it. The group has scaled back on several fronts on the much more accessible follow-up, "Predator/Prey," which it's promoting Friday at the Kitty Cat Klub (10 p.m., $5), with Zoo Animal opening.
Most of the creative work was left up to the core duo of singers/multi-instrumentalists Amy Hager and Jacob Mullis, who stripped out a lot of the excess instrumentation and stuck to nine carefully honed songs. There's still a lot of variety in those tunes, though, from the playful Tin Pan Alley ditty "Diamond Blues" and the sultry, leave-the-light-on romp "All My Friends" to the full-on rock closer "Lead Me On (Pieces of the War, Part 2)." Best of the bunch is the reverby, Grizzly Bear-like harmonizer "Gold-Flecked Morning," while Hager's long, "Leader of the Pack"-like cooing bit in "Lately" is priceless. I'd say this one's adorable.Blocked in
Three more block parties will be squeezed in before summer's end, and two will even bump up against each other on Aug. 21: the Red Stag party in northeast Minneapolis with Corey Chisel, Heiruspecs, E.L.nO., Bight Club and more (free); and the new, CedarFest-like West Bank Music Festival, featuring Mark Mallman, Dessa, Chooglin', Lucy Michelle, Red Pens and many more spread out between the bars and an outdoor stage ($5).
The lineup for the Aug. 14 Pizza Luce Block Party pretty well takes the cake of all this year's free outdoor parties, though, with Brother Ali, Lookbook, Caroline Smith, Pink Mink, City on the Make and Dessa and Red Pens again. No wonder people aren't paying for concerts this summer.Random mix
Lots of comings and goings among local musicians: Following the news that Haley Bonar is back from Oregon and Doomtree's Paper Tiger is leaving for New York, Darren Jackson has accepted a job as a grade K-12 music teacher in his hometown of Bison, S.D. The new gig hardly means the end of his original music, though. Jackson has a new Kid Dakota record in the can, "Til Dawn Do Us Part," featuring Andrew Broder, Martin Dosh and Bonar. He and Heath Henjum plan to forge ahead with the Hopefuls without the other members. One of the reasons Jackson said he's moving is for more isolated working environs. Yep, Bison (pop. 326) should about do it. ...
Also on the move is collegiate pop-rocker Ari Herstand, who is hosting his "Last Kiss" farewell show Aug. 12 at the Varsity Theater before packing up for Los Angeles, where he plans to collaborate with fellow songwriting friends. ...
Considering the fact that her new album finds her brazenly bellowing out, "I don't know which I hate more: Minneapolis or you," it's no wonder that wry, devilish country tunesmith Jennifer Markey is heading over to the Turf Club in St. Paul on Friday night to promote the CD, "The Sparta Session." The session in question was produced by Rich Mattson, who is reuniting Ol' Yeller and bringing along the Gleam for Markey's bash (10 p.m., $5). In addition to her live staple, "Minneapolis or You" -- which really isn't a dis on the City of Lakes -- the album includes such colorful story songs as "My Wedding Day" and "And the Jukebox Played 'Sweet Child o' Mine'." ...
Dan Wilson's well-received "Live at the Pantages" double album, heretofore only available at gigs and local stores, is now available digitally on iTunes and elsewhere. That's just one of many haps in Danland. A song he wrote and produced with the Bravery, "Ours," is featured on the "Eclipse: Twilight" soundtrack, and he most recently has been writing songs with operatic pop star Josh Groban for his next album. ... Wilson is also one of the all-star roster of local singers who lined up to record Vic Chesnutt songs for a tribute album due out in the fall that also features Dave Simonett, Charlie Parr, Bonar, Broder, Wendy Lewis, JoAnna James, Eliza Blue, Luke Redfield and more. Redfield spearheaded the project to help Chesnutt's widow pay off his medical bills. Sounds like an awesome effort all around.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658