Sunday, July 18, 2010

Hoops, Whoops and Music: The First Dakota StreetFest

© Andrea Canter

Celebrating the Dakota’s 25th anniversary year, and armed with sponsors and an enthusiastic staff, Lowell Pickett brought a full day of music, food and family fun to Nicollet Mall yesterday, dubbed the Dakota StreetFest. There were four stages of music—a Main Stage outside the club at 10th and the Mall, a smaller Starkist Stage (yep, that’s Charlie the Tuna!) on the north side of 11th and the Mall, the indoor club stage, and the simultaneous Target-sponsored Sommerfest stage on Peavey Plaza. All along the Mall between 10th and 11th, Dakota staffers and other merchants manned booths offering iced teas and coffees, margarhitas, beer and wine, “Dakota Dogs” and more. Starkist's “Kidsville” offered youngsters (and not so youngsters) face painting, hula hooping, juggling and other arts and movement activities with entertainers from the Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater, Mystik Toyz and Funtime Funktions. In short, it was a block packed with as much activity, fun and music as one would expect to find in a much larger festival venue.

Mostly the weather cooperated—hot and sunny til late afternoon when a sudden downpour did little to dampen the music of the Dakota Combo on the StarKist Stage; an approaching and potentially dangerous storm cut short Charmaine Neville on the Main Stage and brought crowds streaming into the already-full club. It was already a long-enough day for me but I gather trombone master Glen David Andrews moved into the club for the late set. By then the Dakota StreetFest was already a big success. And it was more than an opportunity to introduce a wide audience to jazz, blues and beyond, and to enjoy a free night at the club, but another way to support both musicians and the broader community of New Orleans and the Gulf through NOLA musicians (Neville, Andrews and trombone ensemble Bonerama) and some fund raising music on either end of the StreetFest.

What I enjoyed most about Dakota StreetFest was the opportunity hear bands I knew nothing about, particularly ensembles with very unique instrumentation—Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles, for example, play an interesting blend of jazz, blues, soul and more with vocals, cello, various guitar/uke instruments and accordion, together dubbed an “acoustic explosion” and that fits. Liminal Phase with Adam Levy includes bassoon, harmonium and cello, which the Honeydogs’ guitarist describes as “chamber-electronica-folk.” I was primed for trombone, having recently heard Valves Meet Slide and Locally Damaging Winds, so Bonerama made perfect sense to me. With three trombones on the front line, they swing and cry and otherwise shake you with the vibe of the Delta.

And I enjoyed the opportunity to hear musicians I don’t see enough: Patty Peterson and Debbie Duncan reminded us why they are among the premiere vocalists in the region; Peter Schimke and Irv Williams repeated their Happy Hour of bop and class; and Charmaine Neville (returning after two years back-to-back headlining the TC Jazz Festival in 2007-08) worked herself and the crowd into a frenzy with high voltage singing and swaying and all-but praying. (Enough to make the skies open up!)

Down the block in “prime time,” the Atlantis Quartet and Fat Kid Wednesdays played the too-small Starkist Stage, not the center of attention that the music deserved but hopefully drawing enough of the curious to add to their fan base. Earlier on the Starkist Stage, we heard a wide range of youthful talents, from the jazzers of Doug Little’s Twin Cities Jazz Workshop and Adam Linz's Dakota Combo to the stunning vocals (Chantal) and “energizer bunny” hip hoppers of the High School for Recording Arts.

And throughout the afternoon and early evening, the Mall was filled with giant puppets and kids of all ages whirling colorful hula hoops and mugging their brightly painted faces. It was summer in the city, music on the mall, fun in sun or rain. It was the sort of event that makes you proud to live in our urban cultural center.

Watch Jazz Police for a somewhat expanded review (

Photos: Scenes from Dakota StreetFest on July 17th (top to bottom): Still sunny, a large crowd gathered to hear Lucy Michelle and the Violet Lappelles; face painting was not just for kids; Lowell Pickett was certainly the "top dog" on the Mall; hula hooping was as popular as face painting; Charmaine Neville (before the storm); Peter Schimke and Irv Williams inside the club; the Twin Cities Jazz Workshop's young front line. (All photos by Andrea Canter)