Soundset 2011

The tagline for Soundset 2011 is “A Festival of Hip Hop,” which is a modest description for the full-on celebration Soundset has become in the last four years. Created by Minneapolis record label Rhymesayers Entertainment in 2008, Soundset has grown from a show in a downtown Minneapolis parking lot to the largest hip hop festival in the Midwest, bringing nearly 20,000 to the outskirts of a south Minneapolis suburb on May 29.

This was my first year for Soundset and I didn’t know what to expect besides a little rain that had been predicted. While there were a few people in the 50-60 year old range, the crowd was predominately young, teens to 20-somethings. But age didn’t matter. The crowd was open and friendly, sharing the love of music with fist bumps and dancing in the mud. At one point when two young women started talking with me about their experience of meeting phenom rapper Mac Miller, one of the girls asked how old I was. When I told her she squealed “You’re the same age as my mom!” And I could tell it was a compliment.

Today Soundset asked its Facebook fans what their favorite part was from the festival. I paused to think about the question, seeing if I could pin-point down one moment. Instead, the word “celebration” kept coming to mind. In addition to 10 hours of non-stop hip hop, Soundset featured a live painting wall where you could watch graphic artists show off their work. There was a skateboard ramp for demonstrations and a final showdown. There was a sponsored DJ academy where anyone could try their hand at scratching. Professional DJs kept the beats booming in the Elements tent, while “B-Boys and B-Girls” (known as breakdancers in my day) threw down their moves.

While big name headliners like Big Boi and De La Soul were part of the festival this year, Rhymesayers works hard to keep Soundset a Minnesota focused event, highlighting their signed artists. Meet and greets are also a part of the plan to bring the music to the masses. Rhymesayers had meet and greet tents set up in both VIP and general areas, and other artists were selling their CDs and shirts in standalone tents. I have never been to a festival where I could walk up to an artist and chat them up. But at Soundset its the norm.

If you’re thinking about Soundset 2012, there are a few things to consider.

  1. VIP tickets are not terribly expensive considering the festival is 10-hours long, and there’s a goodie bag of fun stuff included. The private VIP section has bleacher seating, lounge seating, its own food and beverage area, smaller lines for meet and greets, and above all, VIP Biffs.
  2. Wear comfortable shoes that you don’t care about or that can be hosed off easily. They will get trashed in the mud, but that’s part of the fun.
  3. Back to those Biffs. Even if you have VIP tickets, do yourself a favor and buy a travel roll of Charmin for your bag. By the end of the day, every Biff is out of toilet paper.
  4. If someone is handing out free CDs, take one. You never know what new music you could be exposed to.
  5. Always have a Sharpie on your person. Many of the artists are more than gracious enough to spontaneously give autographs out.

Fans pose with one of my new favorite hip hop artists, Grieves and Budo.

Thankfully husband had a Sharpie on hand when he had a chance encounter with Minneapolis favorite, Brother Ali. The Brother signed husband’s “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” he had packed along for the day. If anyone can translate the phrase in Arabic, let me know!

Minnesota music

Seattle = Grunge. Greenwich Village = Folk. Memphis = Blues. Minnesota = music’s best kept secret.

Home to The Trashmen, Judy Garland, Bob Dylan, Prince, The Replacements, Soul Asylum, Semisonic, The Jayhawks, Atmosphere and a host of hip-hop artists on the Rhymesayers label, Minnesota has produced stars from virtually every era of popular music.

Rich in diversity, visitors can typically find a variety of music playing around town any night of the week. With a quick search, I found 118 different bands, trios, solo acts and the like playing on Friday night in the Minneapolis – Saint Paul area. If you are in town and want to experience a booming music scene, consider my personal favorites:

First Avenue – The creme de la creme of all Twin Cities clubs, First Ave. is the CBGB of Minneapolis. With pitch black walls on the inside, the crowd ranges from tattoos and piercings to hoodies and hightops depending on the night. Large bathrooms are upstairs in addition to the First Ave. Twitter stream which runs continuously on large screens by the second level bars. Bonus: First Ave. admission means you can also check out 7th Street Entry.

7th Street Entry – The baby sibling attached to First Ave., 7th Street Entry is the starting place for bands. A few make it, most don’t, but you get to hear a range of incredible music in a space no larger than your living room. If late night clubbing isn’t your style, 7th Street offers many all-ages or 18+ early shows that put you in bed before 10:00 p.m. Tip: pack earplugs. The size of 7th Street means ringing ears the next day if you don’t care for your hearing.

Turf Club – This club is like your favorite pair of worn shoes. You should give them a good shine, but it would take away the character. A shotgun club with a lower level lounge decorated in Minnesota kitsch, The Turf is where the local musicians hang out if they don’t have a gig. Reasonable cover at the door keeps the place usually packed. It’s also the club that local bands use for trying new material out on smaller, more intimate crowds.

The Cabooze – Hosting tribute shows and bands traveling post-outdoor festival season, The Cabooze in Minneapolis is most notable for its interior space. A large dance floor, tables and chairs, plus a comfy sitting lounge overlooking the stage make The Cabooze a great place to see music or mingle with friends.

The Artists’ Quarter – Located in the basement of the Hamm Building in downtown Saint Paul, The Artists’ Quarter feels like a speakeasy. National acts, local legends and B3 Organ Night make this club a place you’ll want to hang out. Downtown professionals, music professors and students from McNally Smith College of Music are standards in the crowd. In town over the holidays? The Artists’ Quarter is one of the best New Years Eve parties in Saint Paul.

Dubliner Pub – Closest thing to a pub in Dingle, Ireland, the Dubliner features foot-stomping Irish music six-nights a week in a no frills bar. And they pull your glass of Guinness correctly. Best part? There’s never a cover.

The Dakota Jazz Club – This club serves dinner with your jazz. It’s polished and perfect if you want to dress-up and do the town to see some of the best jazz musicians on tour today.

Kitty Cat Klub – On the East Bank of the University of Minnesota in Dinkytown, there is a lounge club like no other called The Kitty Cat. Velvet sofas, lampshades and oriental rugs set the scene for solid music that is typically free on the weekdays, or if you go early enough for food on the weekends.

Lee’s Liquor Lounge – This is my favorite spot to see honky-tonk. Johnny Cash just sounds better in Lee’s. And the dance floor is always full of regulars who make-out or square dance-out the evening in front of the band. The old guy behind the bar is Louie, the owner, and he runs a tight ship. Be sure to check out his impressive collection of Elvis memorabilia hanging throughout the place.

Mayslack’s Bar – Nice-sized stage with a small dance floor, Mayslack’s is a great old building with solid music. If you go, try the roast beef sandwich.

Nye’s Polonaise Room – Voted the Best Bar in America by Esquire magazine in 2006, Nye’s is a mix of polish sausage, country blues, a polka band and a piano bar. The vinyl booths and orange/red 1960s decor are the icing on the cake.

For a full listing of music in the Twin Cities, look for the City Pages on free newsstands or visit

Read my take on Soundset, one of the largest hip hop festivals in the Midwest, hosted in Minneapolis by Rhymesayers.

Have more than one night to spend in Minneapolis-Saint Paul? Check out The New York Times city recommendations.