The Walker hasn’t yet announced its performing arts season for 2021-22, but meanwhile, it’s making good use of its green hillside. In a time when the idea of returning to the McGuire Theater is still kind of iffy (we love that space, but do we really want to crowd together indoors yet, in a room where the whole idea is to create a sense of intimacy and shared experience? Uh, maybe not quite), the hill facing the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden feels safe and inviting. At last Friday’s performance by trumpeter/vocalist/composer Jamie Branch and her quartet, the Walker handed out free convertible stadium seats.
Branch was the second of two artists performing arts curator Philip Bither originally planned to feature indoors as part of his ticketed season, then moved outdoors as a gift to the community. The first Hillside Jazz (Present Tense) concert took place on June 3 when the Philadelphia/New York/DC-based free jazz collective Irreversible Entanglements, whose members include poet/MC Moor Mother (Camae Ayewa), rocked the garden. We’re pretty sure they said this was their first concert before a live audience since 2020. It definitely was for Branch on Friday (July 2), who brought incendiary energy to the stage, making no attempt to contain her glee at being in front of a crowd. From Minneapolis, she was going to Chicago, then heading for a tour of Europe. On the road again.
Our ears are re-tuning themselves for live music, the whirling immersiveness of it, and the physicality, and the heart-to-heart connection with the band, and the immediacy. You can’t press pause, leave, return and resume. You can’t go back and catch what you missed because you were checking your phone. Live music is now or never. At the Walker, this encompassing experience is interrupted by occasional voices, dog barks and Hennepin Avenue traffic sounds, and that’s OK.
Watching Branch last Friday, we thought about what a perfect transition this series is between pre-COVID to now, and how the Walker is easing us back into going out, being with other people and enjoying ourselves after such a long time of not being able to do that. No pressure, no expectations, just some music that might make you think and feel, and as you look around, you’ll probably see some familiar faces, some people to smile at and wave to and maybe walk over to visit, and oh, by the way, it’s free.
Write “Joel Ross, Walker Hillside, Friday, Aug. 6, 7 p.m.” on your calendar now, so you don’t forget. The 25-year-old vibraphonist and his band, Good Vibes, will round out the Present Tense series. This will be their Twin Cities debut, as it was for Irreversible Entanglements and Branch, though Ross has played here before, with trumpeter Marquis Hill’s Blacktet at Vieux Carre in St. Paul in June 2019, shortly before it closed permanently.
Of all the bands booked for the hill, Ross’ likely will be most straight-ahead tuneful, less politically charged. Both Irreversible Entanglements and Branch had strong things to say about Minneapolis and the events of the past year. Then again, Ross’ saxophonist is Immanuel Wilkins, who made his acclaimed Blue Note Records debut in 2020 with the widely praised “Omega,” with songs about Ferguson and Mary Turner, who was killed in the lynching rampage of 1918. And Ross has said, “Jazz has always been a political music, it’s always been a protest music … [At] some point, you can’t just stay silent.” So we’ll see (and hear).
Don’t worry about buying a ticket. Like the other concerts in the series, Joel Ross Good Vibes will be free.
More outdoor summer music
In mid-June, we published a list of outdoor summer music series in and around the Twin Cities. We’ve updated it a few times since and will keep updating it as new series are announced. You might want to bookmark it for future reference.
Another series starts today (Wednesday, July 7).
On the lawn in front of Como Park’s Marjorie McNeely Conservatory, Wednesdays in July, 6-8 p.m.: “Groovin’ in the Garden.” Tonight: Leslie Rich & The Rocket Soul Choir. July 14: Innocent Reggae Band. July 21: The Flamin’ Oh’s. July 28: Kiss the Tiger (Meghan Kriedler’s band is one of the summer’s hottest acts). If it rains, concerts will move inside the Visitor Center Porch next to the Water Gardens. 6-8 p.m. Free. Food, ice cream, beer and wine will be available to purchase. P.S. Como Zoo is open 10-6 every day.
And another on Thursday, July 15:
In the courtyard of the American Swedish Institute, Thursdays from July 15-Aug. 19: “Music in the Courtyard,” 6-7 p.m. A series with a distinctly Nordic feel. July 15: Art Bjorngjeld and Ross Sutter. Accordion, jazz and vocals. July 22: The McNordiques. Scandinavian meets Celtic meets French music in a band that includes Dan Newton on accordion. July 29: Slovczech. A blend of folk with contemporary rock. Aug. 5: Tjärnbloom. A Scandinavian-style string band. Aug. 12: Allsång Pång Asi. Popular Swedish songs. Aug. 19: TBD. Cost included in museum admission. ASI is now open on Thursdays until 8 p.m.
V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.
V Now streaming on demand at PBS.org: “Mr. Tornado.” Has Minnesota ever had an F5 tornado? And what is an F5 tornado, anyway? Why is it called that? This fascinating documentary from “American Experience” is an introduction to Tetsuya Theodore “Ted” Fujita, the Japanese scientist who came up with the Fujita Scale, the way we measure and report on tornadoes today, basing it in part on what he learned from studying Nagasaki and Hiroshima after the bombs fell. (P.S. Only two official F5 tornadoes have occurred in Minnesota, the 1968 Tracy tornado and the 1992 Chandler-Lake Wilson tornado.)
L Saturday and Sunday, July 10 and 11, at Minnesota Landscape Arboretum: American Ballet Theatre Across America. The Arboretum is part of the University of Minnesota, which explains its choice as a venue for this week’s events in Northrop’s 2020-21 dance season. The ABT is on an eight-city U.S. tour in six sleeper buses and three trucks. At each stop, they’re performing to a socially distanced audience outdoors from a custom-built 40′ x 76′ stage that folds out of an 18-wheeler.
The tour opened at Pioneers Park in Lincoln, Nebraska, last Thursday (July 1). A reviewer for the Lincoln Journal Star wrote: “More than 6,000 people gathered in [a] field north of Pinewood Bowl for the free performance, making it the largest performing arts event ever in Lincoln and perhaps Nebraska … I turned around as the company was taking their bows and looked at thousands of people on their feet applauding as far back as I could see.”
The tour is free in some places but not here, where tickets range from $15 to $100 VIP. Against all odds, Northrop brought us an engaging and heroic dance season during the pandemic, much of it on newly commissioned films. And now ABT live and in person. When else in your lifetime will you have the chance to see this? Four performances: Saturday at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Best availability Saturday at 8 p.m. FMI and tickets.
L Thursday, July 8, at the Excelsior Commons: “Fanfare for the Commons.” A concert celebrating the grand opening of the new Pavilion and honoring the 168-year legacy of the Commons. Several musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra will be among those performing three sets of music: brass, strings, and lively jazz. Food will be available for purchase. Everyone’s invited and this is a family event. 5:30 p.m. ribbon cutting, 6 p.m concert. Free.
V and L Thursday through Saturday, July 8 through July 10: 113 Composers Collective: Twin Cities New Music Festival. Live lectures, live music, film screenings, “portrait concerts” featuring individual composers including Bethany Younge, Joe Horton, Anthony R. Green and Steven Takasugi, a live composer-to-composer lecture, a sound art installation, and many world premieres. New music might not make you cozy and comfortable – this won’t be a “relax with the classics” situation – but it will free your mind, sharpen your ears and expand your world. The goal of the festival: “Simply to get you sonically uncomfortable, and be grateful for it.” Most events take place at Park Square Theatre on the Andy Boss stage, some at Studio Z. Festival pass $50; individual tickets available. FMI and tickets.