We’re over a week removed from the 187th annual Mankato RibFest, and I’ve spent that entire interval in recovery. (Well, truthfully, I’ve just been binge-watching The Newsroom. Which, despite being little more than a self-righteous reboot of Sports Night with less-likable characters, is still pretty damned fantastic.)
Going into RibFest weekend, there was only one night that held much intrigue: Friday’s lineup of Nato Coles & The Blue Diamond Band, The Suburbs, and Cheap Trick. Thursday’s starched-shirt country lineup was mercifully rained out, Live‘s Saturday set was probably more forgettable than the singles from Secret Samadhi, and attending any outdoor event on a Sunday is purely for masochists and people without bicycles.
The intrigue was mostly predicated on the opening act, a band I’d seen a few times already. The plan was to watch the openers, crush a couple of six-dollar beers, and then make a graceful exist. But a few beers turned into several (as they do), and pretty soon, I was neck deep in aging rocker carnage.
The first clue that things were going to get sad popped up during Nato’s set. When the band busted out their trusty cover of “Can’t Hardly Wait,” a salt-and-pepper paunch wrapped in a Cheap Trick shirt peeled himself away from the merch tent and rushed the stage, crackling with “hey, I recognize that song!” hysterics. After engaging in some brief front-row banter with the band, duder stuck around for exactly half of the next song (an original) before bolting to do, presumably, absolutely nothing in a different location.
This kind of behavior–the blatant shunning of new experiences even when they’re unfolding right in front of your face–couldn’t be embodied any more wholeheartedly/halfassedly. Or so I thought. Yet with just a slight shift of my gaze, his histrionics were thoroughly out-boomered:
Here’s some fuel for those “worst generation ever” flames: Straight IGNORING a band while positioned front-and-center-stage is the Baby Boomer Dick Move equivalent of filming an entire song with your iPhone…except way more distracting, way more obnoxious, and way more self-centered. The combination of arrogance and oblivion displayed here is staggering.
But if you look a little closer at this photo, there’s a duality here, displaying the best and worst of RibFest. The jaded fan in the center is obviously the worst, but look to the left: Two teenage girls are leaning against the barrier, clad in Ramones and GNR shirts, giving the band their undivided attention…because this is the best thing they can get. They’ll absorb live music at any opportunity, eager to soak up new experiences and feel the electricity of live performance–any live performance. And that’s why this type of event is worthwhile, not because it’s fan service for a bunch of curmudgeons that want to relive their glory years of being oblivious to punk rock.
Thus, we have two types of fans that attend these shows: Grandparents hellbent on replicating snapshots from their heyday, and kids that haven’t had the chance to take theirs yet.
And then there are the people that show up just to get shitfaced in public.
THOUSANDS OF THEM.
Sure, it’s a bit presumptive to assume that the majority of attendees weren’t there to see The Suburbs, who survived the saddest radio-guy emcee intro ever–complete with “back in my day” and “that social media stuff” jokes–before running out of vocal hooks and adrenaline 30 seconds into their set. Or to see Cheap Trick, who still indulged in full rockstar posturing–Rick Nielsen had a roadie serve him different guitar for nearly every song–yet totally didn’t come off as shopworn, haggard, and obsolete.
But there was ample evidence to back up the speculation that the majority of RibFesters were just there to flaunt their Confederate flag regalia, facilitate awkward run-ins with former co-workers, and chug canned domestics in portable toilets:
Until last weekend, I’d made it a full seven years in Kato without attending a RibFest.
See you in seven more. Stay classy.
Ah, summertime in Minnesota. That wondrous time where we attempt to cram an entire year’s worth of weekend activities into a three-month window because the rest of the year, the air hurts and makes you want to die. (I feel like I’ve expressed this exact sentiment before–on these pages or others–but whatever. I’m only ripping myself off because it’s true.)
Now, if you’re the type that enjoys live music and would like to experience some electrifying concerts this summer…well, you should move to Minneapolis. Or at least think about driving up there a lot.
Stubbornly, Mankato doesn’t want to be left in 169’s dust. There are plenty of outdoor concert events scheduled this summer that cater to Mankatoan tastes. In fact, yesterday, The Last Revel blue your grass for the 2015th time in 2015. And this weekend, the three-day Solstice Outdoor Music Festival will satiate our unquenchable thirst for cut-rate country acts and bar-caliber cover bands. (For those brave enough to battle through the weekend’s numbing okayness, riff-wielding post-rock mini-heroes Crash Cuddle will be playing a crucial set on Saturday afternoon…sandwiched by a children’s talent show.)
After that? Well, the Vetter Stone Amphitheater is where the big outdoor events are happening. When it comes to small city attractions, “big” is a relative term, and throughout this SUMMER CONCERT PREVIEW, feel free to apply it appropriately.
Here’s what’s shaking at the bandshell this season.
Red, Hot, and Boom [July 4th, 6pm, Free]
[Editor’s Note: That lack of an Oxford comma is their bullshit, not mine.] This family-oriented Fourth of July event features local legends City Mouse alongside the Mankato Symphony Orchestra, playing separate sets but also collaborating.
If you don’t have actual friends to spend time with on our nation’s birthday and you find yourself buying $5 cans of Goosetown along the river, here’s hoping the end result is better than the Reload cuts from S&M. (Woof, dude. WOOF)
Ben Folds [July 17th, 7pm, Tickets from $25]
Full disclosure: I hold a bit of a grudge against Ben Folds, but it’s not his fault.
Here’s the story. Roughly ten years ago, I lived in the Mankato-esque hamlet of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, a college town rife with college-type things. Now, keep in mind, ten years ago, being a music fan still meant carrying around toddler-sized flipbook of compact discs and listening to late-night radio. Much like “music television,” however, radio was one of those things that sucked total ass, yet you still habitually consumed because that was the thing that you were bred to do.
Eventually, someone in EC commandeered an FM radio frequency and dubbed it WOLF 105: REBEL ROCK RADIO. The gimmick of REBEL ROCK RADIO was that they were totally independent and free of ClearChannel playlist meddling, bestowing DJs with the liberty to spin anything they pleased.
Given this platform for expression, a couple of daring disc jockeys unleashed some tame metal and punk during peak hours, like Soilwork and the Ramones. Not the most abrasive or challenging stuff, assuredly, but at least it was in line with the spirit of what makes real rock great: rebellion. It was in the station’s name, you know? They were at least trying to keep up appearances.
However, most of the DJs had the constitution of lukewarm ramen, and ended up spinning a shitload of Ben Folds Five. Don’t get me wrong; Ben Folds makes pleasant music. But REBEL ROCK it was not, at least to the naive 22-year-old kid that kept calling the station to request 9-minute Vital Remains songs to no avail.
So that’s the story of how Ben Folds became this former hesher’s enemy, but even that deep-seated resentment can’t suppress enthusiasm for his anticipated classipop collaboration with yMusic. (Listen here at NPR.)
What can suppress enthusiasm is an artist that’s willing to charge seventy-five bucks for premium seating in a non-premium city, but hey, we’ve already established that this ain’t anti-establishment stuff. This is, however, quite easily the most culturally-relevant show to land on the Minnesota River in 2015.
RibFest [August 6-9, set times TBA, prices TBA]
One surefire way to draw Midwesterners from their homes is to tantalize them with animal meat slathered in sugar. Rib Fests are definitely a thing in the heartland’s mid-sized towns; a quickish Bing search yields an array of poorly-designed websites boasting LOTS OF MEAT and entertainment provided by musical acts that range from local strugglers to casino-circuit veterans.
In comparison, Mankato’s edition is positively steroidal. Four days of festivities, kicking off with…
Clay Walker (Thursday)
No, this isn’t the lamest sideshow attraction ever conceived. (Come one, come all, and witness the danger and daredevilry of…THE MAN WHO WALKS ON CLAY!) This person is actually named Clay Walker.
In the early to mid-90s, he rode a vanilla-crested wave of mainstream country success, manufacturing a handful of standard-issue #1 and #2 singles (some of which he even co-wrote), as well as a platinum record titled–unironically–If I Could Make A Living. He’s also noted for penning the Houston Texans’ fight song, looking good in a gigantic hat, and probably being a very nice person.
Headliner TBA w/ The Suburbs (Friday)
Don’t be too scared off by this; the “TBA” definitely means “to be announced,” not “we have no goddamn idea what we’re doing.” I have it on good authority that the headlining act is going to be hilariously awesome, and ever-so-slightly above RibFest caliber.
Meanwhile, The Suburbs, besides being more Googleable than you’d expect, were a pretty decent-sized deal back in the golden years of punk/new wave. A Minneapolis scene fixture, they were one of those bands that was too damn good to not be noticed by major-label suits, but also too damn good to be noticed by pop music consumers. It was one of those art-meets-commerce-and-everybody-loses-and-the-band-breaks-up kind of things.
For evidence of this peculiar but all-too-common-back-in-the-day phenomenon, scope their 17-track sophomore LP Credit in Heaven, which, despite being funky and swaggeriffic, managed to bury its hooks fifteen feet underground.
It’s pretty great, actually.
Smash Mouth w/ Fastball (Saturday)
While waiting for his upcoming cookbook collaboration with Guy Fieri and Sammy Hagar to drop directly into Barnes and Noble discount bins nationwide, the dude from Smash Mouth recently TOTALLY LOST HIS SHIT at another food-related concert event because a piece of bread landed in his vicinity, gravely disappointing the parents of pint-sized Shrek fans in the process.
Mankato, if you don’t punch this asshole directly in the mouth with a full rack of ribs, I’m disowning you and moving to Le Sueur.
Just kidding. I’d never move to Le Sueur.
And I have no idea what Fastball sounded like in the 90s, but they probably sucked.
Chris Hawkey Band (Sunday)
The dude from the KFAN morning show has been gigging for awhile, but this was only common knowledge because he used to constantly gush about the time his band got to open for Collective Soul.
Anyway, here’s his acclaimed duet with Paul Allen:
Garrison Keillor: A Prairie Home Companion [August 19th, 8 p.m., ticket prices TBA]
Friends know me to be a bit of a homer; I like things that are Minnesotan, often irrationally. For instance, in MMA circles, I’m a noted Brock Lesnar apologist. (Yes, I know he was born in South Dakota. It doesn’t matter.) I cheerlead for Zebulon Pike even though they seem determined to mire themselves in obscurity. And I maintain that Mr. Perfect is the greatest professional wrestler of ALL TIME.
But there’s one thing my inherent bias cannot overcome: A Prairie Home Companion. Ol’ GK’s voice is basically the sonic embodiment of a Lutheran church basement, and his attempts to bridge his ideal of Minnesotan quaintness with vapid pop culture references have all the nuance of getting hit in the scranus with a six-pack of Grain Belt and a bucket of lutefisk.
But, hey, if you’re 80 years old / hate live music with percussionists / are the average Mankatoan, you’ll love this.
The Charlie Daniels Band [August 21st, 7 p.m., ticket prices TBA]
Charlie Daniels is an ultra-paranoid, pro-war, right-wing nutjob that’s constantly defending himself against accusations of racism while simultaneously accusing Barack Obama of being a “secular socialist.” (If he was either of those things, dude, I’d have voted for him.)
He also had a single hit in 1979 called “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” which is basically just a fiddle solo broken up by some shitty spoken word bits.
The regulars at Benderz are gonna have a blast with this one. WOOOOOOOO JAGER SJOATS!1111
See you this summer, Mankato.
…at the Triple Rock.