11 June 2022
The West African bassist for Bombino struggled to remember the English word for “grass” as he greeted the crowd at Rock the Garden on Saturday afternoon.
It’s possible the concertgoers forgot what to call that green stuff under their feet, too, as the annual music festival outside Walker Art Center returned from a two-year hiatus in which most big outdoor music fests like this were sidelined by COVID.
“You have the sun and you have the … grass,” Youba Dia said in his thick French accent, rightly noticing listeners’ satisfaction with both those attractions.
All the loud, mostly hard-grooving music sure was appreciated, too.
A Nigerian desert-blues guitar hero who may have had trouble even getting into the country this time last year, Bombino made a wild start for the steady eight-hour, seven-band marathon, which drew more than 10,000 people spread between two stages.
Denver soul-rockers Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats and feminist rock heroes Sleater-Kinney topped off the lineup on the main stage, both staples on Rock the Garden co-organizer 89.3 the Current’s playlist. Duluth indie-rock innovators Low headlined the second stage in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, offering a decidedly straight-ahead performance there after opening sets by two genre-bending acts, Divide & Dissolve and Dam Funk.
As the sun broke through and rain held off, viral young bedroom-pop star Beabadoobee had the mostly Gen-X crowd and quite a few of their kids singing along to the bright, sunny tones of her hits “Coffee” and “She Plays Bass.”
With Planned Parenthood as its chief sponsor and one band (Divide & Dissolve) repeatedly calling out Minneapolis Police for “tremendous harm,” the progressive tone of RTG 2022 made for a sharp contrast to the Basilica Block Party (on pause in 2022) and all the country fests that otherwise dominate Minnesota’s offerings for music festivals nowadays.
“It’s nice having a big festival like this right in the heart of the city,” said Tony Loosbrock of south Minneapolis, enjoying his first outdoor concert since COVID with his wife, Alexandra. Asked which act they were excited to see, Tony said, “all of them.”
“It’s just great to be able to enjoy music outside in a setting like this again.”