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Festival Palomino 2016: The best of the successfully relocated fest

The horse-less relocated grounds of Festival Palomino 2016

The horse-less relocated grounds of Festival Palomino 2016 Lucy Hawthorne

Festival Palomino has a short, but successful history of putting on good shows for Americana/roots fans at Canterbury Park.

This year, flooding at the Shakopee, Minnesota, horse track forced a last-minute move to Hall’s Island in northeast Minneapolis. Logistically, the relocated and expanded third annual fest could have thrown major challenges at the 17 acts performing across three neighboring stages. But as the sun started to poke out midway through the string of sets, it became clear that Duluth bluegrass favorites/festival curators Trampled by Turtles had put on another successful campaign.

In the spirit of last night's Emmy Awards (congrats Louie Anderson!) and, uh, horse racing, City Pages made a point to find the best of the best during Saturday's nine-hour event. 

Best Stage Banter

There were a couple early favorites, but it became abundantly clear as Scotland’s Frightened Rabbit took the stage that they had this title in the bag. Frontman Scott Hutchison thanked the devoted throng of listeners in the early afternoon sun. And he also mocked those with different intentions. 

“Yeah, I see you over there!” Hutchison bellowed at groups of festivalgoers he presumed were mainly there to dabble in the Summit beer selection. 

This went on for a series of minutes. What followed was a stellar set featuring tight, spirited indie rock and a handful of songs from FR's forthcoming album, Painting of a Panic Attack.

Runner-up: Mandolin Orange

Best “Blue Sky Stage” Performance

Like many festivals, Palomino had two “main” stages, alternating big acts one after another. These were the “Star” and the "Satellite” stages, and they housed headlining acts like Trampled, Jake Bugg, the Arcs, Andrew Bird, and so on.

Then there was the Blue Sky stage, which featured some national fan favorites like Elephant Revival, but mostly smaller and local acts (the Murder of Crows, Charlie Parr's Devil's Flying Machine, Frankie Lee). 

But that doesn’t mean the stage didn't host some great music. In fact, it was consistently good. The best may have been early on when Twin Cities rocker John Mark Nelson and his ensemble got the barefoot dancing circles going earlier than expected.

Runner-up: Frankie Lee

Coolest Vendor Tent

New company Hippy Feet was on the scene, marketing their plan to help the homeless. For every pair of socks they sold at Palomino (and at any other point before and after), they will donate a pair of socks to a homeless shelter.

Runner-up: Vibes high-fidelity earplugs

Biggest Bummer

As previously stated, the day went on virtually without a hitch. But, as with any last-second relocation, there were some hiccups. In the case of Hall’s Island, as perfect an outdoor venue as you’ll find in Minneapolis, it simply isn’t as big as Canterbury.

This made noise bleed between the stages an issue throughout the day. If you were over at the Blue Sky Stage listening to Aubrie Sellers, for example, it was nearly impossible to not also hear Jake Bugg doing his thing on the main stage.

It was possible to position yourself in a manner to slightly mute out the distant music, but competing noise was never out of your ears, for better or for worse. While Trampled by Turtles were rightfully thankful for everything related to the move, this is a festival that definitely requires the space and size that Canterbury offers.

Runner-up: Andrew Bird coming on a half-hour late

Best Non-Animal-Themed Performance

Of the 17 artists that performed, seven of them had some animal reference in their name -- some voluntary (Houndmouth, Murder of Crows), some not (Andrew Bird, Jake Bugg).

The Arcs had the most on-stage animations and set-ups, but they matched the illustrious decor of their stage with high energy from Dan Auerbach and the rest of the band. Few people get as intense during a guitar solo as Auerbach, and his energy woke up a drained audience that had already been on the festival grounds for eight hours. 

Runner-up: Margaret Glaspy

Best Special Guest Performance

Trampled by Turtles are distinguishable in a number of ways. Their lightning-quick fiddle and banjo playing, their lack of a drummer, and their stellar taste in picking supporting acts for Palomino.

Then there's the voice of TbT leader Dave Simonett. So when Frankie Lee and the Cactus Blossoms came on stage in support of Trampled, it added a layer we aren’t used to seeing from the Minnesota fixtures.

It wasn’t the only time Simonett handed the reigns over vocally. Bass player Tim Saxhaug took the mic as well. Serving annually as headliners, Trampled regularly share the Palomino spotlight with other Minnesota talents. That was highlighted yet again under the warm night sky Saturday.

Runner-up: Guest fiddler with Elephant Revival