Summer in the Twin Cities pretty much revolves around chance to hang out outdoors, via block parties, parades, movies-and-music-in-the-park events, street fairs, BBQs, and ballgames. And of all the block parties, St. Paul’s annual Grand Old Day is the biggest they come.
But it’s the seven music stages lining the 30-block-long avenue that are the real draw. This year, the music bookers seemed to have set their sights on a more national bent than in previous years, with hipster Philly act Free Energy and Detroit rockers The Von Bondies headlining. It’s pretty cool that both national acts have local connections – Free Energy is composed of former members of now-disbanded local act Hockey Night, and The Von Bondies features local musician Christy Hunt. Crowd-drawing local acts include Mark Mallman, Jeremy Messersmith, Doomtree (and a separate set by member Dessa), The Melismatics, First Communion Afterparty, Heiruspecs, Zoo Animal, Hookers $ Blow, and Red Pens round out the lineup. But so many stages, and so many great bands, what’s a local music lover to do? We’ll list out our top picks in a handy guide, from the start to end of the festival.
Noon: Zoo Animal vs. First Communion Afterparty vs. Chooglin’
The day kicks off with three local bands worth checking out. Jangly pop trio Zoo Animal – a runner-up in City Pages‘s 2009 Picked to Click best new bands competition – starts things off at the Green Mill stage (Grand & Grotto). The band’s strong songwriting, knack for melody, and engaging vocals by frontwoman Holly Newsom have made this band a local favorite. Over at the City Pages stage (Grand & Grotto), check out Brian Jonestown Massacre- and Mamas and the Papas-copping group First Communion Afterparty, which has worn off its initial novelty status thanks to strong musicianship and songwriting. If stripped-down pop and droning psych rock aren’t your deal, get thee to the Dixie’s stage (Grand & St. Albans) for hard-rockin’ Chooglin’. The band has had a fervant local fanbase since it hit the scene in ’05, but recent recordings on Fat Possum Records (The Replacements, Husker Du) and Heart of a Champion (Har Mar Superstar) show the band’s potential breaking nationwide. Trouble deciding? You’re in luck – the three stages are within three blocks of each other.
1-2 p.m.: The Von Bondies vs. Red Pens vs. Dessa
Hitting the stage around the same time will be Detroit rockers The Von Bondies (between 1 and 1:30 p.m., Dixie’s stage) and the equally-rocking Minneapolis duo, Red Pens (1:15 p.m., City Pages stage). Known referred to as a “buzz band,” the Von Bondies are more of a touring band that occasionally rides the buzz wave. Hailing from Detroit, the “rock city” itself, the band is perhaps best known for its long-ago feud with fellow Detroit rockers The White Stripes. But for fans of guitarist Christy Hunt, who plays locally with Ouija Radio, it’s a chance to see our hometown girl shine. Selected as last year’s winner for City Pages‘ Picked to Click contest, Red Pens employ a decidedly slower, fuzzy brand of rock – but one that’s not any less loud. But despite the rockin’ happening between the two aforementioned bands, it’s an emcee and R&B singer that may be the one to really ignite the stage. Before joining her Doomtree cohorts later on at the Salut Bar Americain stage, Dessa will hold her own at the Green Mill stage (1:30 p.m.). Hot off stints opening for P.O.S. on a nationwide tour earlier this spring, making an appearance during the heavily-buzzed GAYNGS prom-themed show at First Avenue in May, and a talked-about set at Soundset last weekend, Dessa is on a roll to say the least.
Edge: The Von Bondies
2-3 p.m.: The Melismatics vs. Heiruspecs
You’d be hard-pressed to come up with two local bands that could be any more different. Power-popsters The Melismatics have long been known for their upbeat, infectious tunes, and its lineup is filled with seasoned musicians that often do double-time on other notable bands (including that of Mark Mallman). On the flip side, St. Paul’s own Heiruspecs are known for their Roots-esque, jam-my R&B and hip hop stylings. But it does share the Melismatics’ longevity (ten years running) and penchant for side projects (Big Trouble). But for what the Melismatics have in energy, Heiruspecs have in being THE live hip-hop band in town.
3:30-5 Hookers $ Blow vs. Doomtree vs. Jeremy Messersmith
The final act of the night on their respective stages, expect extra-long sets from this trio. In the “if you’re going with your parents” category is the hilariously-named Hookers $ Blow (Billy’s stage, Grand & Victoria), which is Adam Levy of the Honeydogs’ classic rock cover band. It gained infamy during the RNC when it played an RNC-sponsored party and the national news circuit caught on. For the indie hip hop camp, there’s Doomtree (Salut Bar Americain stage) – joined by Dessa, of course, not to mention cohorts P.O.S., Cecil Otter, Lazerbeak, Paper Tiger, Mike Mictlan, Sims, MK Larada, and Turbo Nemesis. Fresh from Soundset, it’s a sure bet they’re throwing it down. Finally, for the indie-pop lovers there’s Jeremy Messersmith (Green Mill Stage), hot off his nationwide tour to promote his third album, The Reluctant Graveyard. His alternately breezy, booming pop tunes with a dark edge should make for a perfect end to the festivities.
Edge: Jeremy Messersmith
3:45-5 p.m.: Mark Mallman vs. Free Energy
The manic piano balladeer Mark Mallman (4:10 p.m., City Pages stage) is known to own the stage when he wants to – take his 52-hour marathon concert, his ten-hour live performance inside a refrigerator box, and his epic New Year’s Eve concerts at the Varsity Theater, which have had him dancing with Rollergirls and hopping a ramp on a motorbike. Likened to being “the most famous non-celebrity in town” by local music journalists, Mallman presents a conundrum – but one that never gets tired, somehow, thanks to excellent songwriting that outshines his wacky demeanor. But it’s a tough spot to be cage-matched against a hot national act such as Free Energy (4:10 p.m., Dixie’s Stage), beloved locally for its hometown members formerly in the local band Hockey Night. That’s right – members Paul Sprangers and Nick Shuminsky hail from our very own St. Paul – and Shuminsky even once worked for the mayor’s office! The Pitchfork faves, DFA-signed Philly act is the perfect festival fodder – its good-time, ’70s-flavored rock should go over well with a sun-baked, beer-drinking crowd.
Edge: Free Energy
The full list of bands by stage (bands listed in order from opening to headlining):
ROCK THE CAUSE STAGE, US Bank lot – Grand & Oxford
SALUT BAR AMERICAIN STAGE, Grand & Milton
DJ Verb X
BILLY’S STAGE, Grand & Victoria
Arc Flash Hazard
Hookers $ Blow
WILD ONION STAGE, Grand & Avon
White Iron Band
GREEN MILL STAGE, Walgreens Lot, Grand & Grotto
Dessa of Doomtree
CITY PAGES STAGE, Pier 1 Imports Lot, Grand & Grotto
First Communion Afterparty
DIXIE’S STAGE, Grand & St. Albans
Grand Idol Winner
Date: Sunday, June 6.
Time: Event 7:45 a.m.-5 p.m., with music from noon-5 p.m.
Location: Grand Avenue between the Mississippi River to downtown, St. Paul.
Cost: Free, $10 for wristband (required to purchase alcohol, gets you into the concerts)
More info: grandave.com, 651-699-0029.
Get your free Grand Old Day iPhone app here!
St. Paul’s got your nightlife and music needs covered this weekend. Check out the highlights of Thursday, July 16 through Wednesday, July 22:
Fancy Ray and John Conroy at Station 4
If the name Fancy Ray doesn’t seem familiar, his face will. Chances are you’ve seen him hawking products in local commercials looking like a dead ringer for Little Richard, for which he’s become relatively well-known since the mid 1980s. When he’s not being a TV pitchman, running for governor of Minnesota (which he did in 1998), or auditioning for realty TV shows like America’s Got Talent, the self-proclaimed “Best Looking Man in Comedy” also happens to have a comedy act. Though his slapstick act may elicit more groans than belly laughs, it’s worth seeing for the sake of witnessing a longtime local fixture. (8 p.m. Free. 21-plus. 201 E. 4th St., St. Paul. 651-298-0173.)
Also Thursday: Renowned folk singer Arlo Guthrie at the Fitzgerald Theater…Music in Mears featuring The Melismatics in Mears Park…The University Of Minnesota’s Noontime Concert Series featuring Chris Koza at the St. Paul Student Center…Golden Animals, The Suits and Hildur Victoria at the Turf Club.