2021 Basilica Block Party Recap by Dylan Novacek
The Basilica Block Party, one of the Twin Cities largest and longest running music festivals, returned following its year away due to COVID-19. Typically held in July, the Cities 97.1 sponsored event was moved to September, which provided perfect weather for two nights of great live music.
Featuring twenty acts across three stages, this year’s event saw performances from alternative hitmakers AJR, local rockers Motion City Soundtrack, Grammy nominees Black Pumas, and more. Unfortunately, night two headliners The Avett Brothers pulled out due to a COVID exposure. A disappointing reminder that we’re still living through a global pandemic.
Thankfully, festival organizers required attendees to show proof of vaccination, or a negative COVID test, in order to get in. Attendance appeared to be strong across both nights, with concert goers feeling confident and safe to be at an outdoor show. Fans were extremely eager to return to live music.
I sincerely believe that the Basilica Block Party is the best festival in the Twin Cities. Having attended every installment since 2014, I’ve always admired the festivals intimacy and great blend of performers, both local and internationally known. This year’s lineup was no exception as each stage played host to countless highlights and memorable moments.
The main stage, with the Minneapolis skyline serving as the backdrop, was kicked off on Friday night with singer-songwriter Forest Blakk. Following his performance was JP Saxe, best know for his duet If The World Was Ending which has seen significant airplay on Cities 97.1. Both performers brought easy going vibes and enjoyable sets.
Rising popstar Tate McRae brought the energy to a whole new level with her breakout performance. Along with her incredibly confident backup dancers, McRae captivated her audience. With over 20,000,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, she felt like the true headliner.
With her tracks You Broke Me First and Troye Sivan collaboration You, her energy reminded me a lot of Lorde meets Ariana Grande. It will be no surprise to me if she was to headline arenas, or at the very least be a feature at the KDWB Jingle Ball.
AJR would close out Friday night with a bang. Their bombastic performance aimed to please their fanbase of mainly children and those in their early 20s. They overwhelmed the stage with flashing lights, smoke, horns, and a remix of The Office theme song.
Honestly speaking, I’ve never been an AJR fan and was open to being won over with their performance. I’d hate to be the stubborn music critic, because honestly I am just some dude who likes to talk about music. So I will say this: AJR knows their audience well and understands exactly how to play to them. However, I am not that audience.
Saturday night’s main stage saw Spoon as the new headliner to close out the festival. While many may have been disappointed in the Avett Brothers absence, Spoon took their new role as headliner personally as they presented an excellent performance.
However, my favorite from Saturday night was Ripe, a group I knew nothing about before seeing them live. Their front man had the energy of a rockstar version of Bob Ross. It was impossible not to smile through their entire set.
With infectious horns, a brilliant cover of Olivia Rodrigo’s Good 4 U, and a fantastic stage presence, it was clear that Ripe was one of the top standouts at the festival.
Meanwhile, the secondary stage on the basilica lawn played host to headlining sets from Motion City Soundtrack and Black Pumas, as well as a standout performance from Jade Bird.
Jade Bird brought the largest crowd to the lawn stage. With her rising star power, Jade Bird has already had several noteworthy Minnesota showings at both The Armory and First Avenue. Her set at the festival was perfect for a late summer evening, and I hope to see her perform again soon!
Performing their first gig since (I believe) their Filmore run in 2020, Motion City Soundtrack exceeded fans expectations. Lead singer Justin Pierre and company seemed absolutely ecstatic to be on stage again. Following the conclusion of their set, they treated fans to an unplanned encore.
As a huge fan of groups like Fall Out Boy and Blink-182, I firmly believe that Motion City Soundtrack should be held in the same regard as other pop punk legends. Never releasing a bad album, their sound is so important to the growth of the pop punk genre. My second time seeing the band was phenomenal.
Closing out the festival on the lawn stage was Saturday night headliners Black Pumas. Not being too familiar with the Grammy nominees, their performance blew me away. From the lead singer running through the crowd, to a deeply talented backing band, I had so much fun watching the group perform.
I am not editorializing when I say the booking of Koo Koo Kanga Roo on the local stage was absolutely brilliant. Performing on a night where AJR and Motion City Soundtrack were headlining, there was a lot of children and former pop-punk parents in attendance. Literally, everyone was on their feet during their high energy performance full of glitter monsters and songs about pizza. If I had to give an award for performance of the night, it would go to Koo Koo Kanga Roo.
In 2014 I attended my first Basilica Block Party where I saw Panic! At The Disco and caught their drumstick. I volunteered for the festival in 2015 and saw Nate Ruess of FUN. along with Weezer. In 2016, I did my very first festival music shoot here. Heck, in 2019, I got engaged to the love of my life AND met CHVRCHES at the festival. Now in 2021, I finally did my first proper concert photoshoot since February of 2020.
The Basilica Block Party will always hold a special place in my heart. Getting the opportunity to see, and discover, so many acts in one weekend was such a fantastic experience. If you have the opportunity, I would encourage everyone to attend if you get the chance.
The festival returns in July of 2022 and I can’t wait to see who is set to perform next!