Wallflowers, McBride expand music taste by reinventing Minnesota flavor

The location, layout and general atmosphere may be very different this year. However, like the Taste of Minnesota festivals of old, Saturday's free music lineup at the new downtown Minneapolis site offered an oddly mixed, nostalgic but crowd-pleasing mix.

Country music legend Martina McBride, '90s adult rock hitmakers the Wallflowers and alt-country legends the Gear Daddies were the top attractions during the first two days of the Taste's second year, which also saw a chaotic lineup.

The fenced-off test grounds stretch between empty parking lots and closed streets surrounding the Minneapolis Central Library and the north end of Nicollet Mall. It's not the prettiest place, and finding a place to sit is even harder than finding low-calorie food options.

However, the large influx of people into the new building amid golden weather on Saturday was managed smoothly, with organisers reporting that more than 35,000 people had entered by 3:30pm.

The Library, the largest of the four new test stages, sits on a ramshackle lot between the Four Seasons Hotel and other tall buildings. Thanks to its site, U.S. Bank Stadium can no longer hold the distinction of being Minneapolis's most reverberant music venue. A midday set by rapper and DJ Sophia Eris and beatmaker Pal Capricorn was marred by particularly boomy acoustics and other technical issues.

The atmosphere was much more inviting at the Jazz 88 stage on the north end of the Taste, as it's one of the few places you'll find trees or grass. Fans of jazz stylist Jennifer Grimm were there cooling off in the shade and singing along to Billie Holiday's “I'll Be Singing You.”

Since none of the other mainstage presentations gained a large following on Instagram or TikTok, it was no surprise that many of the attendees on the big stage looked old enough to have been regulars at past Taste of Minnesota events, which were held on Harriet Island and the state Capitol grounds in St. Paul from the mid-1980s to the late 2000s.

Performing between the over-hyped introductions of Aris and comedian Fancy Ray McCloney, Gear Daddies frontman Martin Zeller joked that his band was “going to cut their energy in half.” Of course, their old favorites like “Zamboni” and “Stupid Boy” did the opposite and got the audience laughing and clapping. The Daddies' set also featured well-received songs like “Color of Her Eyes” and “Cut Me Off.”

The Wallflowers started out strong and energetic with songs from their previous album, most notably “The Dive Bar in My Heart” – reminiscent of Minnesota veterans The Replacements, whose bassist Tommy Stinson was watching from side-stage. Wallflowers frontman Jakob Dylan greeted the crowd, saying that unlike his father Bob, he doesn't deserve a taste of Minnesota.

“You guys know I don’t belong here, right?” he said. “But I thank you for this, it’s a homecoming of sorts.”

Despite personnel changes over the years and a long lull in the 2010s, the rock scion's band sounded as rock-solid and full of energy as ever as it reprised some of its most famous tunes, including the routier-styled “6th Avenue Heartache” and “One Headlight.” Instead of offering a taste of (Bob) Dylan to the Minnesota fest, Jacobs paid tribute to Tom Petty with covers of “Refugee” and “The Waiting” at the end of his set.

In the headlining slot, McBride performed to a small crowd but showed why she has survived in the male-dominated Nashville music business for three decades. Her breakout hit “My Baby Loves” in 1993 kicked off a series of feel-good love songs, including “Safe in the Arms of Love” and “Love's the Only House.” Her covers of country classics “Rose Garden” and “You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” were also sweet, as they were launched by two female country music veterans. It's unfortunate that Taste's spotty sound system went out during the last song.

The flavor of Minnesota will continue Sunday with a concert that is truly Minnesotan — and will appeal to plenty of Prince fans — as Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis and other members of Morris Day and the Time are set to stage a rare reunion tied to the 40th anniversary of “Purple Rain,” preceded by the Sounds of Blackness and other events.

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