McNally Smith River Rocks Music Festival 2008

This year’s McNally Smith River Rocks Festival was a success on all levels. It had it all; great music, awesome weather, beautiful atmosphere, two stages of entertainment, and an outdoor festival sound quality that I’ve only heard in a few outdoor venues around the country. The Gorge Amphitheatre comes to mind.

Although, on the surface this was a musical festival just like any other, upon closer examination it was an exploration of diversity and culture wrapped up in Minnesotan influences: from the “Nordic stock” that Mike Doughty claimed as his heritage as he flirted with the crowd, to the Puerto Rican infuesed grooves on history and life by Maria Isza, and the intelligent composition of the Heiruspecs.

Sure, this festival also had historical dream concerts put on by The Roots and Semisonic.

When I spoke with college co-founder Jack McNally, who was more  Richard Branson meets Ty Webb than stuffy college founder, I began to realize this show really was a tribute to the students. He spoke of their hard work, dedication, and help putting it all together. He spoke of their diversity, from the metal bands,to the classical ensembles, to the classical ensembles that may play Led Zepplin sets, and he spoke of their promising Hip Hop community and being one of the few colleges in the world that offers a music degree in Hip Hop. And while I did give Jack plenty of opportunity to expound on the college and it’s unique and ever growing influence with music, he continued to speak about the students.

Jack, I like you, hook up some Twitter.

So after several great shows, interviews with fans and musicians, and that little extra something something that comes with all outdoors festivals; I came to the conclusion that River Rocks is probably the best Minnesota outdoors music festival and I got an idea of just how much the students contributed to the whole show; from help with the infrastructure,to band selection, and giving performances. Lock, stock, and two smoking barrels of action packed stage performance.

I get the feeling River Rocks is getting better every year and with the reasonable prices I have a hard time imagining why anyone would miss out. I only hope that next year I can make it to all the shows.

Read the reviews, interviews, and see some pics: The Roots, Mike Dougty, Maria Isa, Semisonic,and Heiruspecs.


When I arrived on Harriet Island I could hear the Heiruspecs rocking out in the distance. I managed to catch the end of their energy infused show, but I had to find uber PR rep Molly to figure out my picture and interview situation.

My first scheduled interview was with Jack McNally. I already covered most of my interview with Jack above, but I’ll add this, he summed up the festival as “Great American Music” and added “The world tries to emulate us, but American music is the best” I added “Suck it, Britian.” and the whole table nodded in agreement. I asked Mr.McNally what his personal contribution was to the festival and he said “Me? I’m just the lousy founder.” I wrapped it all up with the million dollar question “Are you on Twitter?” to which you know the answer, but he added “I have an iPhone.” with the pride of a new parent.  He then introduced me to Steve, head of event promotions, and said “The bloggers are here” to which Steve made the sign of a cross and crossed his arms anti-vampire style. We had a little chit chat and then I cut out to get to the music.

First up, The Roots. As The Roots started out with some nice harmonies I turned to my buddy in the photo pit and said “This sounds like War’s The World is a Ghetto” and suddenly it all came together into a full fledged rocking version of that very song. I almost wet myself, but instead sang along at the top of my lungs. “Don’t you know, that it’s true, that for me, and for you, the world is a ghetto” and that set the tone for an action packed hour of almost nonstop funk and jazz. About a half an hour in the band took a little interlude to remind everyone to vote and Black Thought spoke about getting out and not repeating the same mistakes as the last 8 years. During his whole voting speech they played the marching music from the Wizard of Oz “Oh-A-Oh – Whoooa – Oh-A-Oh- Whoooa” and then they wrapped up with another half an hour of live musical genius. One thing that makes The Roots stand out from other live acts is it’s obvious from the smiles on their faces to how they interact they’re having a great time and there’s no place they’d rather be, and the crowd was happy to be along for the ride. The Roots

Next Up, Mike Doughty – Mike’s band consisted of himself and an amazing cellist. And they took that intimacy to the crowd with such flirtatious lines as “Saint Paul, What a beautiful bunch of people” and “I am really attracted to this crowd” and asked the cellist if he agreed to which he said “and they smell nice” “I am aromatically attracted to them too”. I caught a handful of songs, but had to cut to the side stage to catch Maria Isa. Mike Doughty

I originally saw Maria at an MPR taping of In The Loop,but didn’t put two and two together until after her show when we were speaking. Maria is a rising star of local Raggaeton combining Hip Hop with Latin grooves and rock and roll. I moved up to the front of the stage to snap a few pictures and found myself caught up in the music dancing along with the crowd. For the encore song Maria invited Muad’dib of the Heiruspecs up on the stage for a jam that seemed as natural as Sean Paul/Shasha tune. Afterwards, I caught up with Maria for an interview.  She spoke of River Rocks being an amazing experience and we talked about her musical mission to “Bring T.C. on a global map and bring unity” and she spoke of growing up in a musical family and following those roots and their immigration path both culturally and mucially on quest from Puerto Rico to Phillidelphia to New York to Chicago and finally back home to Minnesota.Maria spoke of music as a stew with the main ingredient being life and I was eating it up. She smiled and said “Positive energy reflects positivity” and I believe this girl is going good places.Maria Isa

I wrapped it up and headed back to catch the final part of Mike Doughty’s show and wait like a fan boy outside of Semisonic’s trailer. The banners on the side of the stage came down, the smoke machine came on, and Semisonic took the stage to “F.N.T.” as they blasted through their set with intensity and the skill of a band that has mastered their craft and fallen in love again with music, I could only smile. The crowd was going wild. The night air was perfect. Semisonic was a band again and all seemed right with the world.

With Live getting ready to take the stage I used the break to hook up with Sean (Twinkie Jiggles) and Peter Leggett from Heiruspecs and get a feel for what’s new in their world. When asked about the festival Sean laughed and said “A week and a half into my new job at McNally Smith they asked me if we wanted to play”. They spoke about the stress of touring and an upcoming album that they’re making and a 3 song prerelease called “Get Up” to be released on October 5th with the album release scheduled for December 13th. When I asked what their musical message was Peter summed it up as “Good music. Positive message” and I asked if they went home and night and listened to their work to which Sean said “Oh yeah.” and Peter replied “Sean is bad” and Sean agreed “I’m bad!” I like a band that listens to their music and these guys were funny and nice to top it all off. Live was taking the stage so we wrapped up just as dVRG was entering the room. I heard “Lightening Crashes” begin and turned to dVRG and asked if he felt like chatting and he did. We talked about the various band member’s musical influences, we spoke of how tough it is to tour and be in a band, and we waxed on musical influences. dVRG compared Mozart to Charlie Parker and talked about Peter’s insatiable appetite for 20th century classical music and it’s influences on Heiruspecs music. I could have talked with dVRG all night, but it was time to go. I’m looking forward to the new release, Heiruspecs.

Afterwards, as I walked out into the crowd I couldn’t help thinking once more just how great the sound quality was and what a great festival this has become. As I was leaving, Live lit the fire one more time and rocked me out.

Big ups to everyone that took time out of their busy day to speak with me and I suggest you all catch this festival next year.

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