Eugene Edwards at Dwight Yoakam show, 2013 MN State Fair
Eugene Edwards’ AC Jacket

Why didn’t anyone ever tell me how excellent a music show at the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand can be? This year there were two shows that I wanted to see: Dwight Yoakam, who opened for Sheryl Crow, and a few days later, Michael Franti with Spearhead. For several years, the fair had repelled me. Crowds, greasy food and endless hours walking on pavement had failed to appeal. Last year, armed with a free ticket to the fair, its 5k race, and a malt, I got over it. There’s plenty of places to sit, if you need to rest, but if you plan on going for just a few hours, the fair can be a really fun way to spend a morning or a few evening hours, and a refreshing way to see what else goes on in this very large state. It does help if you plan ahead to eat just one or two of the classic or experimental snacks available there.

So: the fair schedules these performances around sunset, so the light in the open-air venue was lovely (the clear skies helped). The air was warm, too – in fact, it was over 90 during the Yoakam/Crow show, and while most of us in the audience were comfortably (i.e. scantily) dressed, several of the performers in Yoakam’s set wore gorgeous but very heavy-looking jackets, some of which were covered in rhinestones (check out guitarist Eugene Edward’s sparkly number, above). I was convinced that there was fancy high-tech air-conditioning in the fabric, because they all kept rocking, and never seemed to slow down.

Seeing Dwight perform was something I’d wanted to do for a long, long time. In fact, just one song into it, I texted a message to my husband, with a photo: “I am in heaven!” While I recently heard that shows at casinos, which he does in Minnesota frequently, can be very good and intimate, I’m really glad I caught a show outdoors on such a beautiful evening. I’d hoped the band would do his new song, “Waterfall“, but they skipped it. Perhaps it was too mellow for a concert. My favorite piece was “Streets of Bakersfield,” but they rocked every single song, including  “A Thousand Miles from Nowhere,” and “Ring of Fire.”

Sheryl Crow
All I Need’s a Fast Machine

Sheryl Crow’s gig, which followed after Dwight’s crew did an encore, was very strong, as well. She jokingly expressed interest in doing Dwight’s signature sexy hip swivel, but the high platform shoes she had on prevented it. She did all of her radio hits, and added a little bit of a country twang to them. I’ve always liked her songwriting, though her tunes got so much radio airplay that I tired of it. Seeing her perform so enthusiastically was a nice re-introduction to her talent. It was a delightful evening! The State Fair’s nightly fireworks went off after her encore, and nicely lit our paths to the bus stop.

The Franti show was about five days later. He and Spearhead opened up for Train, though I didn’t stick around for the featured act. I’ve been listening to Spearhead for several years; a friend had given me an MP3 of “Hole in the Bucket” and I was hooked by Franti’s deep voice and the funky percussion parts. While the vigorous, sometimes angry energy of the earlier “Home” album was what drew me, their music has evolved into something a lot more positive and inclusive. It’s almost too consistently sunshiny these days, but Franti’s energy and love is simply infectious. Any time the radio or my iPod dishes up one of Franti & Spearhead’s tunes, I sing along and end up feeling happier. That feeling has gotten even stronger since I watched his 2005 documentary film about his travels and conversations in the Middle East, “I Know I’m Not Alone.” It was powerful.

This … infectious love thing brings me to the really surprising and “squee!” part of my experience: I touched him. Squeezed his shoulder! So did my friend Mary. Throughout the show, the guy roamed though the crowd, venturing way up into the stands where Mary and I stood.  He did all this in his customary bare feet, in the summer heat (thought it had cooled down since the Yoakam show). I’d purchased and listened to the new album, so was familiar with most of the songs at the show. I’m not too great at remembering lyrics, but it didn’t matter so much; many of his new songs are fairly simple and repetitive, like mantras. Well, he is into yoga.

That same evening – in fact, it’s one reason I didn’t stick around for the Train show – I checked out some great Caribbean music and dance, provided by Salsa del Soul and Rueda de la Calle. Our friend Heidi dances with Rueda & it was fun to see them twirl, shuffle and swing for an hour or so, before I headed home.

The melodious hits just kept coming: I’ve found some terrific new music for my yoga classes lately. Pretty Lights’ “A Color Map of the Sun“, Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories“, Cerys Matthews “TIR“, Final Fantasy’s “Has a Good Home” and Sigur Rós’ “Kveikur” are all getting some pretty heavy play in my classes, as well as on my iPod during runs.

Zestar apples at MN State Fair 2013
Zestar apples in the Ag building

Other good things from the last month or so:

  • Best food at the fair, after testing on two trips: Porketta pig “wings” at the Mancini’s booth. Meat wins, again (last year my fave was pork chop on a stick). I tried the “dough-sant” (a local take on the Cronut), the Twisted Sister on-a-stick (a spicy sausage with pastry dough twirled around it), and indulged in most of a serving of cheese curds, but the pork wings’ flavor, texture and satisfaction factors won out.
  • There was twice as much seed art at the fair! The exhibition offered plenty of variety in subject, with just a little bit of political commentary. I almost wish the federal shutdown had happened prior to the fair- I can only imagine what fun some corn/rice/millet artists would have had with that one.
  • I made my first visit to the Miracle of Birth building, and saw some really adorable wee creatures, including lambs and chicks.
  • I volunteered again this year as a course marshal at the Twin Cities Marathon, just last weekend. While it was tiring to stand for 6+ hours, it was inspiring to see (and cheer for) roughly 20,000 runners, over half of whom were 19 miles into a 26.2 mile run, that morning.
  • I recommend the film “Where Do We Go Now?” Oddly classified by Netflix as a comedy, it’s got a powerful story, with amazing cinematography. I discovered it in the previews on another DVD, and am glad I watched it.
  • Our upcoming visit to the Philippines, as well as a tip from a friend, turned me on to a movie that recently aired on PBS’s Independent Lens series, “Don’t Stop Believin’“. The film is about the arrival of Arnel Pineda as the vocalist for the rock band Journey since 2009. While critics say that the movie is somewhat one-sided, I really enjoyed the story: the band, fairly desperate for a lead singer, found Pineda via performance videos on YouTube. They were very impressed by his voice and performing talent, so reached out to him via email. They auditioned him, accepted him, then helped him acclimate to touring at their level, and it’s gone mostly very well, despite some big odds. I was surprised to later find out that Mr. Pineda isn’t quite as young as he looks- he’s my age! And he’s jumping off risers, touring with a rock band. I went to a Zumba class the next night and found new energy, which perhaps I’d tapped from Pineda. While age is perhaps the only thing I have in common with this music man from Manila, if he can bounce and pivot, so can I.
  • Braised kid shanks and lentils from Masala Farm: Stories and Recipes from an Uncommon Life in the Country by Suvir Saran, Raquel Pelzel and Charlie Burd. This was the second time we’ve cooked goat; I highly recommend the recipe and the excellent goat shanks that Steve acquired at Clancey’s Meats. It was a darn good use of a full bottle of red wine! The meat fell right of the bone; we’re still enjoying the superbly flavored lentils in sack lunches, after polishing off most of the meat, several days ago.

Cheers. Go find some good music, food, movies, and inspiration! If you have any recommendations from your own recent musical, culinary or cinematic adventures, please do share them with us in the comments of this post.

Explainer on the title of this post: It’s a slight alteration of some lyrics on Yoakam’s recent album: “Dim lights, thick smoke, and loud, loud music…”

One thought on “Bright Lights and Great, Great Music

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