Minnesota music makes grand stand at the fair

CHRIS RIEMENSCHNEIDER , Star Tribune | Updated 9/3/2013

REVIEW: Friday’s all-local lineup drew an impressive 8,800 fans dancing to a wide range of sounds, from P.O.S.' electronic rap to Trampled by Turtles' acoustic twang.

Forget the Great Minnesota Get-Together. Just 50 minutes into the second annual Minnesota Music-on-a-Stick concert at the State Fair grandstand, Twin Cities indie-rap star P.O.S. came up with a better name for the hyper-festive, all-local lineup that took over the grandstand on Friday.

“Let’s make it the ‘Great Minnesota Dance-Together,’ ” the real-life Stefon Alexander said before launching into his rowdy party-starter “All of It.”

Nearly all of the six-hour, five-band marathon — booked by Minnesota Public Radio’s hip rock station 89.3 the Current — turned into a highly danceable affair. Which was remarkable, given the fact that each of the acts was about as different from one another as the food offerings in the fair’s International Bazaar area.

All-female R&B/hip-hop trio the Chalice got the bodies moving (and sweating) at the start of the show. After P.O.S.’ rowdy electro-rap rave-up, folk-rocker Mason Jennings came out with a full band for one of his bouncier, heavier sets of recent memory. Then came New Wavey ’80s party band the Suburbs, the only act on the lineup to have played the grandstand before (opening for the B-52’s in 1992; a real flashback).

To top off the night, bluegrass/alt-folk acoustic string band Trampled by Turtles sparked the liveliest dancing of the entire show, despite its lack of drums or electric instruments. That’s no surprise to the attendees who’ve seen TBT before, but perhaps the greatest achievement of MN Music-on-a-Stick in its second year was drawing a decidedly more mixed than last year’s crowd, which centered on reunited ’80s/’90s local stars Semisonic and the Jayhawks. This year’s audience was split more between the bands/eras. It was a bigger, too, with 8,834 in attendance.

When a good smattering of attendees raised their hands to answer P.O.S.’ question of who was seeing him for the first time, the rapper’s DJ, Fundo, let out a snarky, dismissive response. “No way,” P.O.S. shot back. “I’d like to think we’re welcoming and all-inclusive.”

That could’ve been said of the show in general. The only music the audience didn’t respond favorably to was the playlist between bands — as chosen by fair staff — featuring the likes of Def Leppard, Darius Rucker and Queensrÿche. They brought the crowd, but the Current staff couldn’t choose the filler tunes?!

Not all the sets were applaudable, however. The Suburbs have returned from a very tumultuous period to produce a strong new record, “Sí Sauvage,” their first in 27 years. Alas, their first live set in support of the album did not come together as well — and the new songs weren’t the only trouble spots, either.

Co-leaders Chan Poling and Beej Chaney never quite got in sync singing “Life Is Like” together, and Chaney’s “Goggles On” was a blurry mess. Newer songs actually fared a little better, including the anthemic “Born Under a Good Sign,” and the coy sexual title track “Sí Sauvage,” with some saucy vocal sparring between Poling and backup vocalist Janey Winterbauer.

Other bands enlisted some cool help, too. The Chalice brought out local MCs Sean Anonymous and Rapper Hooks for a lyrical throw-down. Trampled by Turtles, in turn, enlisted everyone from electric-twang guitar guru Erik Koskinen (“Widoser’s Heart”) to the Chalice’s Claire de Lune (“Alone”) and even a bagpipes troop (also “Alone”).

In the end, though, Trampled was pretty magical in its own right, matching the suddenly cooler, pristine night with “Midnight on the Interstate” and an elegant version of Loudon Wainwright III’s summery “Swimming Song,” sung by bassist Tim Saxhaug. It wasn’t “Little Red Corvette,” last year’s MN Music-on-a-Stick standout cover song, but it was once again a perfect song for the occasion.