Live Fest, Die Young

The Basilica Block Party: Is being 22 any different from being 30?
Tony Nelson

Centuries from now, when cultural anthropologists examine the remnants of our outdoor summer festivals, what will they find? Expressions of patriotism and civic pride? Praise and devotion to various idols (musicians, food vendors, insurance moguls, artisans skilled in the ways of painting one's name on a grain of rice)? Exhibitions of couture and permanent body adornment? Shameless mating rituals facilitated by concoctions of ten parts water, one part fermented hops? Should these future social scientists happen across evidence of last week's Twin Cities revelry, the answer, incontrovertibly, will be all of the above.

The Eagan Family Fun Fest in Sky Hill Park is tumbleweed central on the Day Before the Fourth. Weathered carnies barely manage a halfhearted "Hey!" as I pass, unmoved by the stuffed Pikachus and Budweiser frogs for which I might shell out $60 attempting to shatter Melmac plates with a softball. The few family-fun seekers in attendance on this Monday afternoon are passing up the gravity-defying, neon-pulsing, hip-hop-blaring carnival rides in favor of a wooden jungle gym securely bolted to the floor of a sandbox. Several fathers, outfitted in T-shirts from last year's company picnic, are waving juice boxes in front of their preschoolers in a futile attempt to distract them from the cotton-candy/snow-cone tent.

Further exploration reveals that I have missed the turtle races, and that all the action appears to be taking place inside the bingo tent. I strike up a conversation with a vendor who can paint any word or words on a grain of rice and then fashion said grain into an attractive pendant. "I have to ask you hip girls," he says. "Is hemp jewelry still popular?" Well, flattery will usually get you everywhere, but not only do I not want something hanging above my chest that will motivate people to look closer, but I was unaware that hemp jewelry was ever popular.

To those for whom Minnesota cuisine consists of a paper carton of fried cheese that costs $5, the Taste of Minnesota is aptly named. Yet despite the Taste's raison d'être as a celebration of gastronomic delight, few people here seem to be actually eating. There's plenty of marginally criminal mischief to be witnessed, however, including one young hoodlum tossing a lit firecracker next to a baby stroller, and a five-year-old girl whacking passersby with an oversized plastic bat while her adult companions laugh uproariously. Attempts to position myself near interesting booths such as Ostrich Time and Perfect Pickle--wouldn't you want to know who enjoys deep-fried pickles?--are repeatedly thwarted, as I am carried along by the human current and deposited near the Michelob Golden Light stage, where roadies for Badfinger are scrambling around while couples in coordinated tank tops swap spit and teenagers determine the most appealing position in which to sulk.

The American Family Fourth Celebration on Nicollet Island is sponsored by American Family Insurance, as evidenced by the temporary tattoos of the company logo that decorate the biceps of the patriotic rugrats scampering up and down the sidewalks. Quick mental calculus tells me that every fifth person in attendance is wearing an Old Navy Fourth of July 2000 commemorative T-shirt. And that food vendors are outnumbered two to one by booths offering objets d'art, such as paintings of wolves and your-name-on-a-grain-of-rice pendants. Then a banner catches my eye: Public Karaoke. Indeed, the folks at American Family have provided Independence Day celebrants with DIY entertainment of the lowest order. Highlights are a hesitant couple who perform "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" (gutsy), and two pageant-ready nine-year-olds who belt out "Let's Go to Vegas" (strangely alluring).

AS THE SIXTH annual Basilica Block Party commences, I can't help but wonder: Isn't the damn thing done yet? The answer, I discover, is yes and no. The structural restoration has been completed, but "community outreach" is an ongoing process. As I walk up Hennepin Avenue in search of my fellow altruistic citizens (or perhaps simply those who enjoy beer and the Jayhawks), I am assaulted by a well-dressed young woman with a crazed gleam in her eye and a green can in her fist. "Make 7Up yours!" she screams and thrusts the can in my face, then runs giggling back to a 7Up pushcart, where she's rewarded for her evangelism with a free T-shirt. Before I reach the block-party gates, I am similarly accosted by advocates for Eclipse sports beverage, the legalization of marijuana, and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Once inside I'm struck by the realization that in my T-shirt and denim shorts, I'm grossly underdressed: It's a veritable sea of J. Crew and Abercrombie & Fitch. And though the weather is strongly reminiscent of the interior of someone's mouth, nary a sweat ring is to be found among the rayon sundresses and white polos. I linger among the St. John's-St. Ben's crowd near the Sprint PCS stage, where the members of Train--the demonic force behind that insipid "Meet Virginia" song--artfully insert the word Minneapolis into each of their songs, prompting onlookers to toss foam Frisbees (provided by Target) into the air.

Then it's on to the stage, and the company of a cool breeze, moms and dads dancing with their children, and Jayhawks opening act Shannon Curfman's extraordinary blend of ass-kicking guitar rock, heart-piercing vocals, and angelic charisma. Moving up front for the Jayhawks, I find myself wedged in among the young and the die-hard. I eavesdrop on a scintillating debate over who has partied with Wilco more frequently, whether the red beverage sold at a nearby tent is sangría or spritzer, whether to go to Bev's or Eli's after the show, and whether being 22 is any different from being 30.

"Nothing changes," muses one wise, old, model-handsome fan. "I'm still standing, waiting for a band to come on with a beer in my hand."

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