Rock The Boat w/ Big Wu | 08.15 | MN

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Words by: Nicole Miller | Images by: Ryan Keihn

The Big Wu, Papa Mali, Pert’ Near Sandstone, White Iron Band, God Johnson
08.15.08 :: Rock The Boat :: St. Paul, MN

Rock The Boat :: 08.15 :: St. Paul, MN
Two double-decker paddleboats carrying bands The Big Wu & Friends, God Johnson, Pert’ Near Sandstone and the White Iron Band with surprise guest skipper Papa Mali, set sail off Harriet Island in St. Paul, Minnesota for a cause. With a shared vision of hope for the future of music and art programs in Linwood and Monroe schools in St. Paul, nearly 700 music enthusiasts joined them aboard a cruise of the Mississippi River.

The scene was set on a warm, crisp evening with the smell of barbecue in the air and Jack 104.1 radio providing tunes. In the distance the paddleboats sat front-to-back perched above the Mississippi River. They looked like floating sister ships, two goddesses suspended in time. After sunset their decks would be filled with stomping feet and heartfelt music.

The cruise was the third event held by Vega Productions, a non-profit organization that raises money for disadvantaged Minnesota school district’s art-based programs. This past March over $15,000 dollars was raised at “A Night for Lyndale Elementary,” which took place at First Avenue and benefitted children of the South Minneapolis School. “Rock the Boat” is expected to provide the means to purchase $25,000 dollars worth of instruments that will benefit the pre-kindergarten through eighth grade programs at Linwood and Monroe.

“Rock The Boat was a culmination of a number of dreamers whose visions, on this night, became reality,” said Vega Productions’ Mark Gehring. Guests were able to enjoy a barbeque beforehand that featured a silent auction with some great donated items up for grabs. Artist Chuck Hues, referred to as “Art-Guy Chuck,” and Michelle Ochs painted live during the benefit and their finished masterpieces were just some of the items auctioned. Towards the end of the barbeque passengers lined-up and marched to the boats in an exuberant parade; a drum line of snares led the way as fire dancers followed close behind and a few stragglers grabbed some last minute Hog Wild barbeque.

The Big Wu with Papa Mali :: 08.15 :: St. Paul, MN
The St. Paul skyline lit up the night, creating a sense of stillness to the moments right before boarding. With the Minnesota moon in full bloom, the question on everyone’s mind was, “Which boat do I board first?” Luckily, the boats were connected, so passengers could easily pass from one boat to the other. The boats filled up fast, and the music created a steady flow of traffic from one boat to the other.

The Big Wu, with Jeff Underhill on drums, began their set with a slew of classic originals including, “Kangaroo” and “House of Wu” to a crowd of loyal fans that call themselves “Family.” Papa Mali and former “Wu” guitarist Jason Fladager picked up their guitars to join in creating a pinnacle of good vibrations and great sounding rock ‘n’ roll. This boat was decked out with full-fledged psychedelic lighting that bounced off the walls and intensified the mood.

An organic atmosphere with little artificial lighting, mirrored ceiling and “down home vibe” raged from the belly of the other boat. Pert’ Near Sandstone was first to take the stage, and this five-piece knows how to take bluegrass music to a hard-driving, in-your-face level. These boys also know how to keep a smile on their faces; they emit so much happiness when they play that it echoes into every crevice of your being, forcing a sparkle to radiate out your eyes.

Pert’ Near Sandstone :: 08.15 :: St. Paul, MN
The second-phase of the evening showcased the sounds of seasoned-rock-veterans God Johnson and White Iron Band. Both these bands have been “rawking” the Minneapolis scene for years.

White Iron Band took the stage with a fury. Their drummer was well warmed-up and the beginning of their set was like a bullet coming straight at your face, and as they got going they picked you up with them and swirled your insides around. Their high-energy, beat-stompin’ tunes sent your troubles packing.

On the other boat, God Johnson rocked it out with their sensational combination of electrifying dueling keyboards, a strong rhythm section and rip-roaring guitar solos. The Johnson is a band that vibes off the crowd, making every moment a piece of a living picture that paints a beautiful story. Their catchy lyrics had the crowd bellowing out their tunes right with them.

All the way from Austin, TX was titillating blues artist Papa Mali, who sat in with the Wu and God Johnson multiple times throughout the evening. His surprise guest appearance was the cherry that topped off the sundae.

As the music rolled on down the river everyone’s satisfaction in the evening seemed to multiply by the second. The time seemed to pass us by as we sailed down that mighty Mississippi River with a dream in our hearts and the soft, glistening surface of the water reflecting the star-filled sky. Strolling along the decks with a slight breeze, music, laughter and love filled the air.

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