The Basilica Block Party is an annual summer music festival across the surrounding three blocks of St. Mary’s Basilica. Started in 1995 as a fundraiser for structural restorations to what was then an eighty-one year-old building, the festival has become one of the Twin Cities best loved events.
In the twenty-four years since the Block Party’s inception things have gotten a lot bigger. There’s twenty bands playing across three stages over two days this year: Friday headlined by Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit and Saturday headlined by CAKE.
Night One Recap by Harley Patton
Night one began with Delta Rae on the Great Clips main stage. This North Carolinian country-folk band is a guilty pleasure of mine. We’ve got a six piece here: two vocalists, two guitarists, a drummer, and a bass player. They open with ‘A Long and Happy Life’ from last spring’s EP of the same name. This music is just darn cute.
The whole band, except the drummer, sings and I’m in love with the vocal harmonies straight away. This is country-pop, sure, but not pop-country. A difference exists in my mind but I fear it may be fallacious: is country-pop simply the iteration of the genre I like, whereas pop-country is the mindless drivel I can’t stand? This is likely, but I’ll tell you why: Delta Rae seems a very honest group. Their lyrical content is heartfelt and real in a way that the Kelly Clarksons and Florida Georgia Lines of the world just don’t seem to be. After a lovely forty minutes of new material and old, plus a cover of Florence and the Machine’s ‘Shake it Out,’ Delta Rae finally delivers the dish that first felled my heart: 2013’s ‘If I Loved You.’ Toward the end of the set, our keyboardist, Eric Holljes, tells us some good news: Delta Rae will be back to serenade us at the Varsity this December!
Next up it’s Prince’s old band, The Revolution, at the Preferred One Church Stage. It’s time to get funky. This marks the second time I’ve seen The Revolution as a standalone act, and tonight’s set reignites my ambivalence: on the first hand you’ve got the tightest funk band in Minneapolis, a group of immense talent, experience, and stage presence. Wendy Melvoin is probably my favorite guitar player in the cities to watch perform. This band is so well-rehearsed it’s really astonishing. On the next hand you’ve got the whole “someone else besides Prince singing Prince songs” thing, which I am not against on any moral ground, which I actually have quite enjoyed both times I’ve seen this band… But it just makes the whole set feel like a bit like a cover band in a VFW on a Tuesday night. He’s gone, I guess is what sucks about watching The Revolution. I never got to watch him perform live and I never will. I’ll have to deal with that on my own terms. They play ‘1999,’ ‘When Doves Cry,’ ‘Raspberry Beret,’ all of them. I love every goddamn second of it.
Back on the main stage was Australian blues-rock group John Butler Trio. I’ve missed the front half of this set to finish out The Revolution’s and I walk into the crowd midway through an extended acoustic tapping solo by John Butler. He’s the only guy on stage and the whole crowd is deadly silent, enthralled. I thought this was a trio? It is, the other two members are soon back on stage and the three start up ‘Living in the City’ from their most recent album, 2013’s Flesh and Blood. This is some straight up blues rock, no frills, bells or whistles. The wonderful simplicity of the trio. I watch the back ten minutes of Butler’s set with wide eyes.
Following this set was main stage headliner Jason Isbell, southern-rock star and former member of The Drive-By Truckers. The crowd has ballooned and it’s tough for me to make get very close to the stage. I’ve got a media pass tonight, though, don’t I? Maybe they’ll let me behind the barricade… Here I am, playing photographer with a smartphone. The sound up here is always a bit strange: standing below the monitors instead of in front of them makes things sound a bit washed out. I’m close enough to not mind though and am enthralled as the band opens with ‘24 Frames’ from 2015’s Something More Than Free. This may not be something I’d generally find myself listening to, but tonight it feels right. The music is immersive, the musicians emotive, the crowd impressive. There are too many happy people here to feel anything but.
Finishing out my night at the festival was Fitz and the Tantrums. I meander through the crowd halfway through the set to: “HOW MANY MOMMAS I HAVE OUT THERE TONIGHT? YOU ARE LOOKING AT A 100% BONA FIDE MOMMAS BOY RIGHT HERE AND MY MOMMA DIDN’T RAISE NO FOOL.”
Our lead, Michael Fitzpatrick, shouts from atop the right-most monitor and leads the band into ‘Fool,’ the single from the band’s 2016 self-titled album. These guys command. Fitzpatrick and co-lead singer Noelle Scaggs have immediate chemistry. The wild saxophonic stylings of James King burst forth in beautiful neo-soul immensity. The band covers ‘Sweet Dreams’ by Eurythmics, and it’s strange and fresh and old all at once. I dance, I sing, I sweat, I leave. Until next year, BBP, here’s Dylan with night two…
Night Two Recap by Dylan Novacek
Night two of the Block Party was met with higher temperatures, a larger turnout, and a stronger line up than Friday. Kicking things off on the main stage was Michigan based group Flint Eastwood. Never before have I seen an act so fitting to open a show. Lead singer Jax Anderson demanded crowd participation by singling out certain audience members, busting out rad dance moves, and giving high energy.
Following a highly energetic first act was rock band Third Eye Blind. Their set started off incredibly rough as there were technical difficulties that left the lead guitarist awkwardly going back and forth without a guitar for a majority of the song. This did not derail the group as they went on to give a solid performance and made light of the issues. “We have no reason to be here tonight,” stated lead singer Stephen Jenkins. “Our new album isn’t out yet so we are here to just have a good time.” It is safe to say a good time was had by all! ‘Semi-Charmed Life’ is an undeniable bop that rivals the likes of ‘All Star’ by Smash Mouth, and ‘Jumper’ gave me flashbacks of an iconic scene from Jim Carry’s Yes Man.
Meanwhile, the second stage brought its share of festival highlights. MIM Photographer Chris Schorn saw Judah & The Lion, a lively band out of Nashville, who had the entire crowd on their feet. The band was jumping so much on stage that our photographer Chris noted how hard it was to get some shots of them (she succeeded as she always does). Their hit song ‘Take It All Back’ ended up being the highlight of their set. Headlining the side stage was Andy Grammer who left the Music in Minnesota team more impressed than we initially thought he would. He brought an incredibly upbeat set, clear voice, and a great overall vibe.
The two standouts from night two were BORNS and headliners CAKE. BORNS, who can be described as an edgy Harry Styles, wowed the crowd with his breathy voice, confident stage presence, and summery vibes. Following his set, the crowd shuffled as the swooning girls went to Andy Grammer and the hipster Dads lined up for CAKE, which was the perfect headliner for this year’s festival. Although I didn’t know as much about the act before they came on stage I must say they made a huge fan out of me.
The 2018 Basilica Block Party rounded out to be yet another successful run for the festival. This was my 5th year attending and was a glowing reminder of why I look forward to this event every year.
Graphic designer and photographer from Saint Paul, Minnesota. Fan of mid 2000s emo, late 90s boy bands and everything in between. Recent graduate from Concordia, Saint Paul. Check out my work: https://dylannovacek.myportfolio.com/