10:07 AM — I arrive at my buddy Collin’s house. After a small breakfast, we head to pick up a couple more friends. We scoop them up, and begin the journey to Canterbury Downs for Soundset 2011, the biggest summer music event in Minnesota. This year, De La Soul, Big Boi and Atmosphere are billed as the hip-hop festival’s headliners.
11:10 AM — I’m standing in the will-call line for my ticket. After 20 minutes and absolutely no line movement, it is painfully obvious that I should have selected the “print your ticket” option when I purchased it online. A handful of people cut in line, making the situation worse. To further the pain, almost all of my compadres get in before me and tell me how much fun I would be having if I was inside instead of in line.
11:32 AM — My friend Dan sends me a text saying DJ Abilities’ set has been derailed by faulty technology. I finally get my ticket, and take the long walk to the entrance gate. I am handed a small foldout playbill, and descend a small hill into the action. After meeting up with the squad, we check out both the main stage and Fifth Element stage before touring the grounds.
12:14 PM — It takes me about a solid five minutes to realize Macklemore is chilling in his own tent. Sifting through some awesome merch, I look up to see the mohawked Seattle rapper speaking to some fans. We talk with his lovely wife, who is running the stand, then get a group picture with the the quirky man himself.
12:25 PM — A quick look at Sab the Artist (formerly Musab) generates little interest, so we head back to the Fifth Element stage and catch a little bit of Rocky Diamonds, an up-and-coming rapper that Carnage, the stage’s emcee, admits he has never heard of. Rocky doesn’t do the trick, either, and it’s back to the main stage, where Zion I & The Grouch are finishing up their set.
1:02 PM — Grieves pops onto the main stage gleefully and begins to tear through his set list. A small white kid with a moppy haircut and a lip ring, Grieves looks like he should be in the crowd instead of in front of it, but his ecstatic demeanor is infectious. This is the fourth year of Soundset, he says, and the fourth year he has played, which means he is batting a thousand. During the set, a couple kids get carted out, including a girl with a blank stare and lifeless body. Despite these intense moments, the crowd gets a kick out of Grieves’ DJ, Budo, who plays an electric guitar, trumpet, and keyboard, amongst multiple other things.
1:28 PM — Before the Grieves set is over, we head out to get some grub. The one ATM in sight isn’t working with my card, so Dan spots me like a champ. In the outside world, it’s not hard to find a cheesburger/hot dog combo for under $10, but this is Soundset, so we have to man up financially. We meet with our friends Ryan and Peter to chill out up on the hill by a fence. After trying unsuccessfully to check out the horse races across the parking lot—there’s no re-entry to Soundset, apparently—I fall asleep for a little while.
3:21 PM — Apparently, Blueprint has thrown off the lineup schedule, because our attempt to sneak into the crowd just in time to catch the beginning of Mac Miller’s set has turned into us watching almost all of the Evidence/Rakaa-Iriscience/DJ Babu performance. Miller finally takes the stage and launches into an up-tempo set list. Usually chilled out and toned down, Miller seems a little off running around the stage like a demonic lawn ornament. He admits he has never performed in front of a crowd this large, and it shows, as his stage presence becomes more and more minimal as the show goes on.
4:17 PM — All seven members of Doomtree, one of my most anticipated acts of the day, file onstage and the problems begin immediately. The group is quite the live visual, as they all possess a lot of energy, but Dessa has serious trouble with her mic volume, prompting P.O.S. to give her his own. This happens several more times, and a couple other members gesture to the sound booth before I decide to ditch the show and get to Fifth Element in time for Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ set.
4:52 PM — The set begins on time, more or less, and Macklemore is quickly bouncing around. The crowd goes wild when the guitar riff from “Otherside” comes on, but the show-stopper is “Wings”, a tune about Air Jordans that crescendos into a cautioning commentary on American consumerism. The real highlight, however, is when Macklemore dives behind Lewis’ DJ table to change into his “Ravin’ Bowie” costume, which allows him to channel the legendary British rocker during the song “And We Danced”, complete with a wig, cape, violent dance moves, and an admission of “skeeting”.
5:39 PM — The main stage is even more behind schedule than before, as we walk into De La Soul’s set expecting to catch the last couple songs but instead get about 20 more minutes of music. As legendary as the group is, they can’t seem to connect with the young crowd, and teenagers look bored on the large screens on either side of the stage. A handful of blank faces look on during the hippie rappers’ James Brown cover. Not even the hit single “Me Myself & I” can save the situation, and I can’t help but feel that the teenage scream-inducing Mac Miller and De La Soul don’t belong on the same stage during the same day.
6:06 PM — Brother Ali struts onstage rocking a bucket hat and a George Mikan Mitchell & Ness throwback. It’s hard to imagine the albino rapper in a more ridiculous outfit, but I absolutely love it. Alas, after attending a raucous Arctic Monkeys show the night before, my tiredness kicks in once again, and I leave the pit to hang out on the hill.
6:50 PM — I decide it is my moral obligation to check out the Eyedea-less Face Candy at the Fifth Element stage. Collin’s college budy Niko and I sidle over in time to see Carnage show off his beat-boxing skills, creating a looped beat before rapping a couple Eyedea verses. For those out of the local know, Eyedea passed away last October after a drug overdose, and this show has a eery feel to it. Drummer J.T. Bates and bassist Casey O’Brien set up shop while M.C. Kristoff Krane announces the show will be 45 minutes of improvisation and free expression.
7:04 PM — The Big Boi show starts up across the park, creating a weird sound warp during the softer parts of the Face Candy set. Krane begins to freestyle, “Over there, they’re having fun, but who’s actually getting something done?” A little later, he asks for a moment of silence for Eyedea. Big Boi’s thumping hit “Shutterbugg” is juxtaposed with a few hundred people saying a silent prayer just a short walk away.
7:25 PM — Face Candy introduces multiple guests during the set, including Joe Horton of No Bird Sing and Sadistik. The tempo throbs and dissipates, and crowd becomes larger and larger. Just as the set ends a half hour later, Atmosphere steps onto the main stage for the headlining performance of the night. The emotion of the last show has created a surreal condition for those middling by the Fifth Element stage, and I no longer care about seeing the biggest show of the night.
8:22 PM — I see Carnage talking with some people offstage, and I give him a hug. He has tears in his eyes, and I tell him I had an opportunity to speak to Eyedea a couple of months before his death, but decided not to for reasons I still don’t know. “Talk to him tonight,” he says, and I get a chill down my spine. I later spy Krane with tears streaming down his face, and I give him a hug as well. Atmosphere’s “Sunshine” fills the park with sound a hundred yards away, but it feels like it’s coming from another world.
8:31 PM — Dan and I finally track down Horton and speak with him about the new No Bird Sing album, amongst other things. After a nice conversation, we grab the rest of the group to figure out what to do next. I mouth the words to “Puppets” as we walk out into the parking lot. The decision to leave early and avoid traffic may seem stupid, seeing as a rap legend is in the middle of his set, but Face Candy has inadvertently zapped all of our energy and emotions, and we head home, trying to put together the pieces of what we learned at the last show on the Fifth Element stage.