You haven't had a real summer

When my crew biked up to the

Square Lake Festival

last Saturday, we were hot and we were hungry--and totally amazed that Paul Creager had been generous enough to set up a screen, a stage, and a half-dozen biffys on his lovely Stillwater-area farm, and then invite hundreds of strangers to come camp over. We set up our tent as a couple guys on stage sputtered out something none-too-melodic, and I confided in my friend, "I know this is supposed to be a music and film festival, but I'm really here for the bike ride, the camping, and the swimming."

So we skipped the first few bands, refreshing and refueling with a dip in Square Lake and a burger at the Brookside Tavern in Marine on St. Croix. By the time we returned, The Owls were playing, and we settled in on the grass. The little hill in front of the stage was covered with blankets and bodies, like sprawling scene at Loring Park, only small enough to scan the crowd for familiar faces--does she work at the Wedge? While The Owls strummed their guitars and sang dreamy little melodies, the people next to me whipped up a batch of guacamole and a little girl performed an interpretive dance near the stage. Within five minutes, I retracted my previous statement. I was now here for the music.

The Owls "The Way On" video.

The tiny, outdoor stage amplified the listening experience, as a full moon rose behind the old weathered barn, and the stars twinkled behind the still blades of a windmill. While Happy Apple's talents are undeniable, their music has always seemed to me more an intellectual exercise to stretch your mind and pummel your psyche than to sit back and enjoy. But here, out under the open sky, for the first time in a decade, their performance was less esoteric and almost, dare-I-say catchy.

Happy Apple plays the AQ

Fort Wilson Riot played its first show since finishing their encore run of their rock opera, Idigaragua, bringing along plenty of its visual spectical. Fronted by the hyperkinetic duo of Amy Hager and Jacob Mullis, FWR was more fun to watch than Olympic sprinters, as they raced through raucous guitar licks and perky keyboard chords, with Hager's powerful vocals lacing the chaos together. I had a brief flashback to seeing the Violent Femmes and B52's playing at the State Fair when I was a teenager--a show hadn't seemed this fun in decades.

FWR's promo video for Idigaragua

Things mellowed considerably by the time Spaghetti Western took the stage, though not enough to keep a cheap-ass audience member from shouting, "I checked out your CD from the library." The versatile string quartet showed itself capable of mixing elements of bluegrass, jazz, klezmer, and lullabyes. A mandolin-backed tenor serenade was too much for a woman we dubbed "superfan" who hovered around the stage, mouth agape or shouting accolades, like a hungry cat weaving around ankles, trying to get attention. Even though the rest of the audience may not have been as uninhibited with their affections, I'm sure they enjoyed it just as much.

Spaghetti Western plays "The Percussionist."

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