Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Surly’s festival field was one of my favorite spots to see live music here in the Twin Cities. With the guidance of First Avenue & JAM Productions, a few times a year Surly would take an otherwise unappealing patch of grass running adjacent to a rail yard behind their production facility on Malcolm Ave in Minneapolis and turn it into a full-fledged outdoor concert experience.
It appeared as though 2020 was going to be another impressive year for the local brewing company as well, with performances from The National, The Decemberists, and Ween all lined up to provide another year of fantastic live music.
And then… well, you know what happened.
Like pretty much every business not named Amazon or Zoom, Surly and First Avenue both struggled mightily throughout the pandemic (one a bit more than the other in the court of public opinion…) and were both forced to cancel all events and shutter their doors without any idea of when they’d be able to return.
Well, that day finally came this weekend, with Patti Smith welcoming us back while offering a much-needed reminder of what returning to normal life could feel like, however fleeting that sensation might ultimately be.
You could tell there was still a conscious decision being made by the promoters to take more of an “easing into things” approach with their first show back in nearly two years, though.
While Patti Smith is an absolute legend in her own right, and despite turning 75-years-old later this year still has a shocking amount of spunk & attitude exuding from her, this show was essentially just a re-booking of a performance that was originally set to take place in May of 2020 at the State Theater, a venue that clearly offers much different, and in my opinion, fitting, atmosphere than an outdoor gig at a brewery would.
Of course, if you have the capability to do so, booking a show outdoors while still very much in the midst of a global pandemic is inherently the safer decision, and I will say they ran everything with the top-notch execution you expect from a First Avenue /Surly show.
The field was definitely not as packed in as I’ve seen it for prior shows, which offered all the room needed for attendees to sprawl out on blankets and create personal space for themselves to enjoy the show.
Patti was still quick to remind everyone that we’re not quite out of the woods regarding the pandemic yet, and is, admittedly, still getting used to performing live again herself, joking early on in her set that: “…the last time I saw this many faces without masks on in one place I was watching the Republican National Convention!”
Performing for over 90-minutes, Patti’s set was a perfect blending of songs old and new, as well as some outstanding covers of Bob Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings” and “A Hard Rains A-Gonna Fall” as well as a medley of The Rolling Stones’ “I’m Free” with “Walk On The Wild Side” by Lou Reed, performed mostly by the band led by her son Jackson, who dedicated the mashup to his “favorite Minneapolis band” Soul Asylum.
I’m sure for most attendees the highlight of the night had to be the spirited performance of Patti’s “People Have The Power,” a song that hits just a little bit different after the social and political issues this country, and this city, in particular, has been plagued with over the last few years. Of course, she still has more than enough left in the tank to belt out a mesmerizing rendition of “Because The Night” which was sure to leave everyone in attendance, myself included, with goosebumps.
Although it may have felt a bit different from the more lively, energetic shows we might be used to seeing at Surly, Patti’s dashing performance ended up being one of the best ways I could think of for Twin Cities music fans to start dipping their toe back into the live-music waters.
The only other show currently on the books for this summer at Surly is the re-scheduled Ween show that was initially scheduled for May 23rd, 2020.