Stone Arch Festival of the Arts: A music geek's guide

Jacob Mullis and Amy Hager of Fort Wilson Riot perform Sunday afternoon
Emma Freeman

Twin Citians disconsolate at missing out on the sold-out Rock the Garden fete at the Walker Art Center this weekend can seek solace another way—they can rock the bridge. For the 16th consecutive year, Minneapolis's downtown Riverfront District will have the Stone Arch Bridge swaying to the music, as more than 250 visual artists and 40 musical performers swarm the area for the two-day Stone Arch Festival of the Arts on June 19 and 20. While the lineup leans a bit heavily on acoustic-guitar-strumming dudes, overall the fest is presenting an admirably broad and deep cross-section of top-notch local talent. Until the kinks in human cloning are ironed out, catching all 40 bands across the festival's four stages remains impossible, so you'll just have to settle for these eight can't-miss picks.


James Buckley Trio

12:15 p.m. at Star Tribune Stage

Why they're worth your time: There's no better way to get your Rock the Garden nose-thumbing festival crawl started than some intelligent instrumental jazz. Spearheaded by upright bassist/composer/band namesake James Buckley, the trio also features the talents of drummer JT Bates and pianist Bryan Nichols. All three are accomplished jazz players who also dabble extensively in the local rock scene (Buckley has recorded with everyone from Chris Koza to Mel Gibson & the Pants). That may partly explain the melodic immediacy in even their most meandering numbers.

Brad Senne

2:15 p.m. at City Pages stage

Why he's worth your time: There's never going to be a shortage of sad-sack singer-songwriters who like strumming acoustic guitars—there's at least one dude who picks up his six-string at every campfire gathering to impress the ladies. Luckily, true talents like Brad Senne are around to put would-be troubadours in their place. Senne's a workhorse performer who gigs steadily across the region, and his latest, Aerial Views, is sure to appeal to fans of Iron & Wine in particular and deftly finger-picked, understated musical melancholia in general.

Black Blondie

3:45 p.m. at Cities 97 Stage

Why they're worth your time: Right about now the day's heat will be peaking, so it makes sense to seek out suitably steamy auditory accompaniment. Black Blondie's shadowy yet sizzling live-band R&B should be just the ticket. While lead vocalist Samahra's soulful croon has drawn legions of comparisons to Amy Winehouse, the sound sculpted by her bandmates is the near opposite of Winehouse's Motown mimicry. Black Blondie favor a decidedly modern and minor-key approach.

Me and My Arrow

5:15 p.m. at St. Anthony Main Stage

Why they're worth your time: Bring your day to a close with an archly dramatic musical experience expansive enough to mirror the massiveness of the fest. The ambitious local septet Me & My Arrow serve up an orchestral take on bombastic Brit-rock, and bandleader Jacob Grun (ex-Seldom Seen) possesses the ideal penchant for stage dramatics—and set of soaring windpipes—to center his band's audacious glam-rock glomming sound.


National Bird

12 p.m. at Cities 97 Stage

Why they're worth your time: Arising from the ashes of great one-perfect-album-and-sadly-done local combo Tin Horns, National Bird features a similarly sinewy brand of post-punk rock (and two of Tin Horns' principal singer-guitarists). Whether Dan Wenz or Casey Nelson is at the mic, the group revels in pairing obtuse lyrics with acute hooks. If you skipped your morning cup of coffee, National Bird's adrenaline-stoking rock attack should provide more than enough kick to get you feeling wide awake.

Farewell Milwaukee

1:15 p.m. at St. Anthony Main Stage

Why they're worth your time: Slow-burning country-rock quartet Farewell Milwaukee recall estimable local forebears like the Ashtray Hearts in their ability to generate spot-on weepy ballads with rich harmonies and a poorly treated protagonist. The band's debut album, Autumn Rest Easy, is a bit of a grower due to the intentionally understated nature of the recording, but the quintet's abundant charms are immediately apparent in live performance.

Fort Wilson Riot

2:15 p.m. at City Pages stage

Why they're worth your time: Currently composed of core duo Jacob Mullis (vocals/guitars/keys) and Amy Hager (vocals/keys/trumpet), Fort Wilson Riot play with a feverish intensity, producing a sound full of grinding electric guitar and tempestuous blasts of trumpet. The end result is the type of riveting racket more likely to be associated with a full-on rock band than a tiny tandem. The group has never been one to play it safe—they turned the release of their first album, Idigaragua, into a full-on musical theater production in 2007—so who knows what high-wire elements they'll bring to this performance?

Painted Saints

5 p.m. at Star Tribune stage

Why they're worth your time: A stormy Ennio Morricone-loving quintet, Painted Saints perform clarinet-cloaked and string-swaddled folk dirges that will either completely creep you out or win you over, depending on your willingness to embrace the dark side. Let your ears conjure a haggard Andrew Bird soundtracking a gothic horror film, and you've got a decent starting point for imagining the group's spooky sophistication. To truly understand, you'll have to watch them wrap up the Stone Arch Fest.

THE STONE ARCH FESTIVAL OF THE ARTS runs this SATURDAY and SUNDAY, JUNE 19 and 20, at the riverfront by ST. ANTHONY MAIN; full lineup of artists and musicians is available at

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