Northern Spark 2016: Climate Chaos, Climate Rising

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I attended the Northern Spark for the fifth time this year, and it was quite the adventure as always. Checking it out with my sister and aunt as well, it was Lindsay’s first time experiencing this idiosyncratic standard of the Twin Cities summer! Spending a sultry summer night experiencing the many wonders brought to you from the innovative and diverse minds on the streets of Minneapolis has always felt like a magical night to me. Wandering around, there were new and strange wonders to experience everywhere. This year, the majority of the festival centered exclusively in the Mill District, utilizing facilities at the Mill Ruins Park, Mill City Museum, and the Guthrie, so Lindsay and I biked in from St. Paul. As the twilight faded and night arrived, haunting images were projected up on the old grain elevators and factory chimneys and eerie music began to drift up from some undersea dance.

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The glowing sea creatures of the Illuminated Reef. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

The theme this year’s Northern Spark was climate change and the future, “Climate Chaos and Climate Rising,” a theme that is continuing on to next summer as well, and if you’ve followed my other blog, Reading Rainstorm, you know this is a topic I find fascinating. Many of the events and exhibits brought a makeshift, tongue in cheek “apocalypse” to the Mill District, fitting in well in the industrial ruins of the former milling capital.

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The flags indicate jars of water and their quality from various bodies of water around the Twin Cities, from Lake Calhoun to a puddle from a dog park. 

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Entrance to the Night Library

Having a couple of librarians with us, we of course started out at the Night Library, the Hennepin County Library’s interactive performance celebrating the role of libraries in the community. Nestled under the Stone Arch Bridge, the Night Library imagined a post-apocalyptic future swampland in Minneapolis, plagued by mutant mosquitoes and moose, as scavenging librarians hoped to piece together the knowledge of the past to share with the future. A little weird, but a lot of fun!

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The Minnesotan Ice bartering storefront. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

The Minnesotan Ice concessions stand seemed to come from the same world, a traveling caravan carting potable Minnesotan Ice to the parched lands of the future, allowing festival goers to trade random objects for some object frozen in a block of ice, 2.5% of which were edible. While we didn’t come away with a treat, Lindsay did get a cool

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Treasure from Minnesotan Ice. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

“grandma” card frozen in an ice cube!

Over in the Guthrie, the Nerd vs. Nerd event, sponsored by the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Advanced Study, was another festival highlight, in which local scholars present short papers while a local artist interprets them. A good way to sit down for awhile while learning some interesting things. Over in the Mill City Museum, we also got some rest watching the intriguing Wayang kulit, the shadow puppet art form from the island of Java in Indonesia in its traditional all night length. A new story, Bimo Gugah, depicts a hero realizing that various climatic calamities were the result of his country’s poor leadership, the lush show featured guest artists from Indonesia and the rest of the U.S.  

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Late Night in the Mill District. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron.

 

As we paused to listen to the music and watch the screen and behind the scene working of the music and shadow puppets, we noted climatic changes of our own as lightning began to arc across the sky above the Minneapolis skyline, followed by distant thunder. Realizing the night was nearly over, as the rain began to fall, we began pedaling our way back to St. Paul, getting soaked during the journey. The wet bike ride was an exciting end to a fun night!

 

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The Cure in St. Paul

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The Cure, from the top of the seats!

So, seminal English post-punk band, The Cure, visited the Twin Cities for the first time in twenty years as part of their North American 2016 tour last Tuesday, packing the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, and Lindsay and I were there! Lindsay, a bit of a fan of the ‘80s band, picked up tickets for us and we were excited to be present! Of course, we had to be, I mean, these tickets weren’t exactly cheap, and, of course, The Cure! Growing up, I was a bit ignorant of much of popular music, but over the last few years I’ve been trying to increase my knowledge, so this was a great opportunity to see some giants play.  

This was my first real experience with a huge, arena rock show and it was quite the spectacle. Approaching the Xcel, we found ourselves swamped in a hoard of 40-something Cure fans, all clamoring to get through the metal detectors and into the stadium. Lindsay had gotten us some good seats, at least until the organizers decided to open up more of them, pushing us further away from the stage. Up there in the nosebleeds, it was like, as expressed by Lindsay, we were watching an audience watch a show! The flags of the United States and Canada hung above the space usually set aside for hockey, where instead an eager audience awaited a band from Britain. The Cure were opened by The Midnight Sad, a band from Glasgow, Scotland, whose lead singer bantered with the crowd in his Scottish brogue. After their set, the Cure came on!

Robert Smith, founding member and sole remaining original, performed plenty of Cure classics, for nearly three hours, pausing for an encore every forty-five minutes or so. The production values were quite impressive, rainbow lights and pulsing, themed images projected behind the band members as they went through their numbers. The air became thick and foggy with illicit smokes and the screams of fans who, having imbibed too much, were reliving their misspent youth. Lindsay and I realized that we were on the lower end of the average age bracket of the show. Upon the last encore, we left the Xcel along with a dazed crowd, who dispersed into the quiet, midnight streets of St. Paul, a city which had long since gone to bed.   

Grand Old Days 2016

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The crowd takes over Grand Avenue, St. Paul

Last Sunday, Lindsay introduced me to another new event right there in my new neighborhood, Grand Old Days! The first of the year’s summer street festivals in St. Paul, Grand Old Days, celebrating the neighborhoods adjacent to Grand Avenue, from Dale Street to Fairview Avenue. My first time experiencing this decades old event. While the Open Streets Minneapolis events have been drumming up interest in bringing together local businesses, institutions, and residents together in shutting down major thoroughfares for pedestrian and cyclist exploration of Twin Cities neighborhoods, across the river in St. Paul they have apparently been doing this since the 1970s!  

Although Grand Old Days includes a parade in the morning, Lindsay and I made a casual visit later in the day to check out what was going on this year. We strolled down the entire route, from Dale to Fairview and back, around six miles round trip – encountering crowds of festive people, food trucks, and local organizations along the way. There was plenty of food to keep us going; gourmet chocolate mini-doughnuts, Frio Frio ice lollies, and some of Brasa’s delicious tortilla chips and guacamole. We couldn’t pass up some of Topper’s topperstix, too, of course.

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come get your free plungers! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

In addition to the food and drink, there were many opportunities for people watching. Along the route, we passed many other people out enjoying the beautiful weather, along with various booths for local businesses, non-profits, and assorted eccentric groups It was a bit weird to see some of the political outfits, though, in particular the rather cringe inducing National Coalition for Men harping about just how hard it is to be a man these days what with all of those false rape accusations being filed against us. Well, what can you do? Just laugh openly as you pass ‘em, I guess. The only thing more funny than them was the religious whackos taking advantage of the crowd to stand on the street corner shouting at passersby about hell and the sin of having fun, only to be mocked by a woman yelling down from her balcony. Anyway, it is amazing how many people wear t-shirts proclaiming their love of Minnesota and the various breweries that can be found here!

Speaking of that, for those looking to enjoy some libations, an $8 wristband was required, which also granted access to a series of “entertainment district” venues along the route. Of course, that cost does not include the libations! Some offered fun activities, like hammerschlagen and volunteers from the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s interactive mural made from festival goer colored panels. Of course, the centerpiece of the entertainment district  was the variety of musical acts performing throughout the day. At Axl’s Bonfire, Your Dad’s Band was there, performing nostalgic rock covers for those drinking the overpriced drinks. Down the street at Dixies on Grand, the local electronic indie band Solid Gold played a pretty appreciative crowd, with a beach ball being lobbed around.

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Solid Gold plays Grand Old Days! Photo courtesy of Lindsay Cameron

There really is nothing more fun, I feel, then to walk carefree down the middle of a busy road. It really lets you get an even closer, more detailed view of the neighborhood.I am looking forward to checking out a few in Minneapolis later in the summer.