McNally Smith River Rocks Festival on Harriet Island

We left the house not once, but twice this week. This event was on a Saturday evening, and we waited until the day of the event to make our decision to go based on the weather. But the weather was absolutely perfect for a night of music outdoors.

I’d never been to Harriet Island, even though I’ve lived in the Twin Cities for 15 years. (I didn’t feel badly, though– the last time my husband was there, he saw New Kids on the Block at the height of their popularity in 1990.) It’s a great setting for an outdoor show and there’s a nice view of St. Paul and the Mississippi River.

The weather, as I mentioned before, was perfect. No rain, no humidity, few bugs, not too warm, not too cool even when the sun went down. The slightest hint of a breeze, temperatures in the upper 70s. September is my favorite weather month in Minnesota, and this night demonstrated exactly why.

We arrived at the festival in the middle of The Roots’ set. They were energetic and fun, although their music was more of a backdrop for us as we explored the area.

We found a place to sit for Mike Doughty’s set. There were several people standing near the front of the stage, then there were several people sitting on the ground farther back, which is where we planted ourselves. Some guy brought hacky sticks (better demonstrated on video here, although what we saw was just one guy and it wasn’t nearly as entertaining, except for the part when one woman walked by and tried to knock the sticks out of his hands).

Doughty began his set with “The Grey Ghost” and played other familiar songs like “Janine” and “Circles”. He finished with “27 Jennifers”. In between, he debated whether or not to remove his sunglasses (he didn’t want to seem distant, but didn’t want to look squinty), made light of Al Franken’s swearing, did plenty of swearing himself, encouraged people to request Semisonic to play “It’s Raining Men”, and had other fun banter with the cello player, whom he referred to as “Scraps”. It was enjoyable, but we felt disconnected because we were sitting so far back, and people around us weren’t as into the music.

We moved closer to the stage for Semisonic, and were about 20 bodies back from the stage. There were no surprises in the set, but it was comforting and familiar. They started with “F.N.T.” and ended, appropriately, with “Closing Time”. They had an interesting take on “Sculpture Garden”, slowed down and a little more funky with the bass line more prominent, but I loved it. They had the crowd singing along to “Delicious” and “Singing in my Sleep”.

The always available Ken Chastain (he pops up at a lot of local shows) joined them on percussion and keyboards and made a solid contribution. It was enjoyable to see Dan and John rock out (a departure from Dan’s singer-songwriter solo performances and John’s jazzy covers with The New Standards), and it was great to see Jake. The set seemed slightly more mellow than some of their previous shows (perhaps the influence of their more recent projects), but it was still fun to see them shaking their collective thing.


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