Things got pretty messy in the buildup to Rock the Garden 2017, and we’re not just talking about all the construction in the newly remade Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.
First there was the scheduling conflict with Justin Vernon’s Eaux Claires festival after the singer/songwriter of Bon Iver fame moved his event from August to mid-June, threatening RTG’s fundraising efforts for Walker Art Center and 89.3 the Current (early supporters of Vernon’s). That led to this new mid-July date with — guess who?! — Bon Iver as the headlining act. In the end, though, the delay proved beneficial to Walker Art Center, since come mid-June the museum was embroiled in a national controversy over its now-demolished “Scaffold” sculpture.
All is forgiven if not forgotten, it seems, as Rock the Garden’s 14th installment in 19 years finally lands Saturday. This year’s sold-out lineup marks the one-day music fest’s welcome return to the Walker grounds (it was held on Boom Island last summer amid renovations). It also stands out as something of an overdue homecoming for Vernon.
Bon Iver was still bubbling under when Vernon opened RTG in 2008. He won the Grammy Award for best new artist and became a college-dorm staple in the interim. But he hasn’t played a Bon Iver concert in the Twin Cities since 2011, despite having band members and other roots here. He also went five years between albums before finally releasing last year’s “22, A Million,” laden with artsy-fartsy song titles like “10 dEAThbREasT” and lots of studio gimmickry, but at its core still a potent collection of dramatic, confessional songwriting.
As usual, the rest of the RTG lineup is an eclectic mix of acts mostly culled from the Current’s on-air playlist. Prince’s “Purple Rain”-era band the Revolution returns to town amid a full summer of tour dates (they also snuck in another First Ave gig for Sunday). Snarky punk poets Car Seat Headrest hope to finally play a strong gig in town, going on before the unfailingly solid Benjamin Booker and after promising Californian opener Margaret Glaspy. There will also be a newly added second stage inside the Sculpture Garden featuring an all-local lineup, with Dave Simonett’s electric twang band Dead Man Winter, teen screamers Bruise Violet and hip-hop savant Dwynell Roland.
Music-wise, Saturday still looks to be quite messy, but in a good way.