They dare to be different. They want to be homegrown. They want to give the Twin Cities something it hasn’t had for a long time: a multiday, multigenre major outdoor music festival.
Twin Cities Summer Jam will present country superstar Tim McGraw and Latin hip-hop hero Pitbull on the same night at Canterbury Park in Shakopee. How ’bout harmony-loving country stars Rascal Flatts with ’80s harmonizing rockers REO Speedwagon on another night? And then there’s the all-rock day starring Aerosmith and Buckcherry.
“There are a million country festivals in Minnesota. That’s why we felt having a mashup would be different,” said TC Summer Jam general manager Lauren MacLeash, a former longtime radio programmer. “It had to be that unique rock-pop-country blend, like the Twin Cities.”
The fest, set for July 18-20, is the brainchild of Chris Hawkey, the KFAN radio personality who also sings in both country and rock bands.
He hatched the idea more than 18 months ago with Jerry Braam, who, in 2010, started Brainerd’s Lakes Jam that featured middleweight country and rock acts on the same stage.
They’ve put together a $4 million event for the infield of the Canterbury Park racetrack. The 11-acre site can accommodate 40,000 people, but the promoters are hoping for 15,000 per day in this inaugural year.
Tim McGraw is a partner in the festival; his exact behind-the-scenes involvement will be determined whenever the TC Summer Jam principals have a sit-down with him. In fact, he suggested Pitbull for his opening act; they had collaborated on the ACM Awards.
Another partner is Snap Fitness founder Peter Taunton. Braam is excited by how quickly he’s secured sponsors, including Mystic Lake Casino, Kwik Trip, Bell Bank, Red Bull, Polaris, Bud Light and iHeartMedia.
More challenging than lining up sponsors was booking acts for this inaugural year, for three reasons: competition from mega-promoter Live Nation, the State Fair, area country festivals and casinos; an unknown track record, and the right of the fest’s headliners to approve their opening acts.
“Getting the rock act was the hardest thing by a mile,” said Hawkey, pointing out that Aerosmith said no once before finally agreeing to its only non-Vegas gig in 2019. “We put some offers on some giant artists. That’s when we realized the budget was going to have to be bigger if we wanted people to say ‘Wow,’ which is what we want to do in our first year.”
A former police officer who runs a security company, Braam, of Mankato, considers logistics to be his forte. He’ll rattle off how many portable toilets — 320 — he’s renting and expound on the advantage of Canterbury’s clubhouse, with its air conditioning, restrooms and concession stands.
“One of our biggest goals is to have no long lines,” MacLeash pointed out.
There are two other advantages to staging the fest at Canterbury: Shakopee police are accustomed to handling large events, including concerts, at the racetrack, and Canterbury has its own insurance. That saves TC Summer Jam in that department, though the fest folks are spending $80,000 — the cost of hiring a middleweight band — for coverage as it is.
The festival counts about 1,000 campsites at Canterbury and more than 2,000 hotel rooms within five miles. There will be shuttle buses from Mystic Lake Casino Hotel. And Canterbury will have free parking for festivalgoers.
Music on the main stage will end by 11 p.m., with a secondary stage shutting down at 12:30 a.m.
TC Summer Jam will have Jumbotron screens, a deck area, skybox and flexibility with VIP tickets.
“You can share them just like season tickets to the Wild or the Vikings,” MacLeash explained.
The TC Summer Jam staff knows how important it is to get it right the first year. Hawkey is leaving all those business decisions to the other principals. He has a more philosophical vision.
“I love music festivals,” he proclaimed. “I don’t care if I ever see a dime from this. I just want to put on a festival that makes people happy. I want people to remember this festival. I want people to get married ’cause they met somebody at this festival. I want people to create babies in the campground at this festival. I want people to get tattoos about this festival. I just want to make a great event.”