Last Saturday Surly Brewing Co held yet another SurlyFest at their outdoor festival area. We got to roll through on a media pass (which might be the coolest I’ve ever actually been) and drink some free beer, eat some free food, and much on free tunes.
The fest started at eleven in the morning, but I don’t arrive until five in the evening. This isn’t a fashion statement, I was really truly aiming to get there at least by four to catch Heiruspecs, the Twin Cities’ premier live-band hip-hop act, but if you want my earnest confession, I succumbed to a mid-afternoon snooze.
I’ll write you a doctor’s note that they ripped and tore the place up, though, you can take that to the bank, although the teller would most likely accuse you of mixing metaphors and send you packing.
Anywho, I’m flying solo on this one so I beeline to the beer tent immediately after I get in (Surly hooked it up with a commemorative beer boot and four free refills, so I was motivated.) It looks like ‘specs just wrapped and The Current’s DJ Shannon Blowtorch is on stage spinning this funky remix of Fresh Prince’s Summertime while the stagehands change the set. She’s smoking a cig up there and looks way cool.
I’ve found our photographer, Alex, by the time The Four On The Floor are up. We’re just getting our Surly food truck dinner (I got the lamb sausage, it was tangy and spicy and delicious) as they hit the stage. Now, it’s been at least five years since I’ve seen this band (I’m convinced I don’t like them because of their gimmicky “the whole band has a kick drum” deal) but I’m keeping an open mind. The first thing I notice once I get to the stage is that, hey, looks like they’ve ditched the gimmick by now and just have the standard number of kick drums on stage. This is a good thing.
“This song is for Miss Minneapolis, 2002.”
We get some straight-ahead dirty blues with a country twang to it. Pentatonic, crunchy guitar riffs lead the way and the singer drops his melody down a step at the end of every phrase (it’s very country.) The bass player is shirtless. Frontman’s man’s got a big ‘ol beard and a dirty trucker’s hat and lederhosen. In fact, the lead guitar player’s got lederhosen, too. Drums are hanging loose with a baggy black t-shirt and sunglasses. These guys look fun.
I’m dancing and dancing when a little boy, no older than five, bolts through the crowd with big construction-worker-type earmuffs on, a woman I can only assume is his mother following close behind, yelling. This strikes me as so immediately funny I’ve got to take a beat to look at the rest of the crowd.
Everyone imaginable is here: middle-aged men in work clothes and earplugs, 35-year-old hipsters with mustache wax, babies (I saw a woman changing her son in the grass, earlier,) families, twenty-something bloggers. This isn’t an accident. Did I mention, yet, that there are not one, but two, bouncy houses at this event? Just about everyone and their brother drinks Surly in this town, and who’d miss a free event to drink beer and listen to music on a late-summer Saturday?
I snap back to reality: “This song is a drinking song but don’t worry, the last seven songs were also drinking songs, so you’re not in the wrong.” This song turns out to be called Drunk on a Tuesday. It’s Saturday, but shit, might as well be Tuesday, you know nothing much’d be different for a lot of us. We’re laughing and singing along.
Two old friends find each other and share a big bear hug in front of me. The little boy with ear-protection is safe on his mama’s arms now, just to my left. Cheers, big ears, and now the lead singer drop-kicks his empty beer can off the stage. What a good move! I try to catch it but it sails just over my reach.
The Four close their set with a wild guitar solo and a big speech about Minneapolis community and beer. It rings authentic to us and we all down our beers and give a big whoop. Time to get another one and wait for the closer, Caroline Smith and the Goodnight Sleeps.
Caroline, oh Caroline, it’s been too long since I’ve eaten your soulful servings. Her first words to the audience are: “I hope you’re staying hydrated!” I’m four beers in and the sun’s barely set so I hear you, girl. She’s got a sky-blue Fender Strat for this first tune, which is a down-tempo compound-meter R&B jam that wouldn’t melt the butter on your bagel.
Every member of her band (which is a quintet) is a singer, I think, and the backing vocals are painting a perfect palette in the air. If you can really hear the ‘verb like we do right now at an outdoor show like this you know they are running those mics hot as hell. It is electric, Tesla-esque, crackling energy: I notice I’m standing on my tip-toes, craning my neck, my whole body at an acute angle, yearning.
We are six songs deep now and Caroline takes a brief moment to speak to her audience.
“This next song is for somebody I once loved very deeply so that if he ever heard it he could know how I’m feeling.”
There’s a short intro where the rhythm sections build her up, and then:
“THIS IS SOME BULLSHIT!”
We all thought this was a love song, and it is, but not the sort you’d play on a first date. No, no. This is a broken-hearted fuck-you. This is honest. We get to enjoy Caroline’s pain, perversely and cathartically and connect it to our own personal history of dumb, broken love.
We all say thank you, at once, because sharing that kind of hurt isn’t easy – most of us only do it at the bar, after midnight, in the presence of someone we have reciprocal emotional knowledge of. Caroline Smith gives it to us like we are her closest friends.
You shoulda known better than to break an artist’s heart, you little man, because an artist will immortalize your assholery and wrap it up in beauty and present it to fields of people, every week, for years.
It’s the middle of the song now and the Goodnight Sleeps are jamming the form while Caroline throws two middle fingers to the sky – she looks so deliriously happy and you can tell this song helped her when she really needed it.
“Baby, goodbye (THIS IS THE TITLE, HERES A LINK) – you can’t say I didn’t try to make you a good man.”
I’ve noticed that, during this song, every time she refers to herself she pats her tummy like that’s where her self is – her womanhood, her capacity for life, it’s right there, and I think this song is about an abortion, but I am reaching and stupid-subtle straws. It’s real to me though, right now, and by the end of this song, I’ve cried more than I expected to.
Caroline, you lover, you feeler, you painter you singer you expert you wondrous big-haired elf how can I thank you.
There are a few more songs. She plays Bloodstyle, her hit. I’m still reeling from Baby Goodbye and am emotionally wrung out. She plays Buy Me Something, a song about the best gift a man can give a woman: a meal. It’s stupidly funny but I can’t give a full laugh, not because it’s disingenuous (it’s not, it’s real) but because I am EMOTIONALLY WRUNG OUT from Baby Goodbye. It may be the best song I’ve ever heard.
She wraps. We scream. The show is over. I am exhausted. I Irish-Goodbye it and am on the train in ten minutes, with Baby Goodbye on the headphones, repeating. Caroline, oh Caroline, let me never go this long again. And Surly, thank you for the space and the free liquid emotion. I expect to be twice hungover in the morning. Peace to all and remember, if you break a singer’s heart, you better move far, far away. Baby, GOODNIGHT.