Basilica Block Party returns with strong vaccine rules but a much-needed party

Arriving two months later than usual — with extra COVID precautions and one of its headlining acts missing — the Basilica Block Party at least still felt like a much-needed party on opening night Friday.

In its 25th year — not counting last year’s canceled installment — the two-day festival outside the Basilica of St. Mary in downtown Minneapolis was bumped from its usual July slot to September, when the concert industry thought everyone would feel safer from COVID-19. So much for that plan.

Led by sibling pop trio AJR and hometown rockers Motion City Soundtrack, Friday’s lineup was the largest music event yet in the Twin Cities to require proof of vaccination or negative test results for entry. So much for steering clear of politics this year.

Attendees made it through the gates as swiftly as any other year, though, thanks in part to added entry points.

“I don’t think it could have gone any smoother getting in,” said John Bonnes of Minneapolis, attending his umpteenth Basilica party with wife Chrissie — who was pleasantly surprised about another big change-up in 2021. “It’s a lot nicer weather in September than July,” Chrissie added.

Like most attendees, Sara Strien of St. Anthony said she probably would still have attended without the vaccine rule but was “very glad they made the requirement.”

“Especially being outside, it feels nice and safe,” Strien said.

Lower attendance also helped alleviate entry logjams. The 7,500 or so people on hand was about half of what the crowd is in a good year.

More attendees were expected Saturday for headliners the Avett Brothers, but the popular North Carolina bluegrass-pop strummers canceled last-minute “out of an abundance of caution” after being exposed to COVID. That leaves indie acts Spoon, Black Pumas and Jade Bird to lead Saturday’s lineup.

Aside from Motion City and the tween-appealing AJR, Night One’s main stages were laden with young, little-known pop newcomers who combined looked like an all-white version of the “Outer Banks” cast. Between utterly forgettable sets by Tate McRae and the hopelessly mopey Ritt Momney, Canadian piano man JP Saxe at least made a memorable impression on the youngest attendees.

“They did not tell me this festival was affiliated with a church and that there would be children in the front row,” Saxe said before singing five or six F-bombs in “3 Minutes.”

A sharp contrast to all the sad, mid-tempo piano pop, Motion City Soundtrack came off like a “Pulp Fiction”-style jolt to the heart of the festival. The pop-punk quintet had only just returned from hiatus when the pandemic hit, but once again it came back strong — and had the strongest comment about finally being in front of a crowd again.

“Turns out, I actually like the human race,” frontman Justin Pierre cracked.

The young, faux-funky brothers of AJR — Adam, Jack and Ryan Met — finished off the night with a clowns-carload amount of energy, often sounding more like a giddy kids-music act than the actual kids-music act on the lineup (Koo Koo Kanga Roo). They didn’t kid around about liberally employing pre-recorded vocal tracks, either. Songs like the opener “Bummerland” and the crowd fave “Bang!” sounded unusually close to the original recordings.

Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658

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