Among music fans there’s been a lot of chatter about Live Nation’s announcement that its first-ever River’s Edge Music Festival, on St. Paul’s Harriet Island, will be headlined by the Dave Matthews Band, Tool, the Flaming Lips, and twenty-five or so other bands of varying degrees of obscurity.
Live Nation is the world’s largest and most influential producer of live music events in the world, so if anyone can pull together a worthwhile outdoor music festival on Harriet Island, Live Nation can. That said, the challenges are formidable. Convincing enough people to pay enough money to see a first-rate band or three has always been the challenge on Harriet Island. Free events—like last summer’s Red Bull Flugtag competition—pull insane numbers of people down to the river. But ask folks to pay $20 or $30 (as Taste of Minnesota tried before going bankrupt two years ago), and the crowds thin considerably.
For the River’s Edge festival, Live Nation is asking people to pay $99 for a two-day wristband the weekend after Rock the Garden, where 10,000 avid outdoor music lovers in the roughly same demographic will have just paid $40 (more like $100 if you buy beer and food; $200 if you bring a date and buy a t-shirt). River’s Edge tickets go on sale this Friday, April 13, at 10 a.m., but the $99 deal is only good until April 20, after which the tickets will go up an unspecified amount. Single-day tickets aren’t an option—at least not yet.
Luckily, whatever happens, the first year is not a make-or-break deal. Live Nation has signed a five-year contract to try to get this right, so the first year is bound to be hit-and-miss. And right out of the gate, there are distinct signs of life. DMB and Tool alone are arguably worth the price of a $99 two-day wristband, and these bands are a huge improvement over the days when when retro-lame acts like Whitesnake, Poison, REO Speedwagon, and Sammy Hagar echoed through the canyon (a perpetually annoying characteristic of Harriet Island’s sound that comes from being sandwiched between the city and a giant cliff.)
After DMB and Tool, the best-known bands are The Flaming Lips, Scissor Sisters, Puscifer (a side project of Tool’s Maynard James Keenan), and The Whigs. Local bands Polica, Motion City Soundtrack, Quietdrive, and The Rope are also in the lineup. The rest is from the hurl-it-on-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks school of musical programming, from dubstepper Datsik and über-DJs Diplo and Blaqstarr to bands such as Gardens & Villa, Mutemath, Yawn, and Kinky, whose collective audience in the Twin Cities could probably fit into a modest-sized mobile home.
Then there are the more bizarre offerings, such as the Mexican Institute of Sound, that feel like they were thrown in because, you know, a lot of Mexicans live over there (besides its name, MIS is actually best-known for having a couple of its songs featured on Ugly Betty and Californication). Then there are the bands—such as K.Flay, An Horse, and Yuna—that could be the start of a Lilith Fair for the daughters of women who attended the original Lilith Fair tour. This is going to make for some odd crowds. Notably absent are rap and hip-hop bands, which in the past have drawn what the St. Paul Police would call an “undesirable element” to Harriet Island events, but which also draw big crowds, as anyone who has gone to Soundset (May 27 this year, at Canterbury Park) can attest.
Programming is just one of the challenges of creating a successful event on Harriet Island, however. Getting into and out of Harriet Island has always been a nightmare, and until personal jetpacks are a viable transportation option, it probably always will be. Because of the echo factor, sound on multiple stages presents various logistical difficulties, and programming the right mix of the right bands for people who don’t want to make a whole weekend of it will be another delicate challenge. Oh, and pray it doesn’t rain.
No matter what happens this year, though, Live Nation is already upping the ante considerably next year. In 2013, the rock part of the festival will last three days, a separate portion of the festival will be dedicated to electronic music (dubstep, house, techno, trance, etc.), and the rock festival will be followed by a weekend of country music.
Live Nation’s smartest move was scheduling this thing in June, before folks are burnt out on music festivals and ready to mellow out and do some swimming and fishing up at the lake. If you’re a music fan, it’ll be great to have a major outdoor festival in town for the next five years; let’s just hope Live Nation likes the Twin Cities market enough (and vice-versa) to keep it going. Provided, of course, that the event doesn’t get overrun by undesirables.
Those Lilith Fair gals can be a tough bunch.