A Song For The Birds

Minneapolis’ Weesner Amphitheatre is consistently voted the best outdoor venue in the city. Maybe being the only amphitheatre in Minneapolis has something to do with that, but it doesn’t hurt that it’s surrounded by birds, tigers and caribou.

Because it is placed in the center of the Minnesota Zoo, the 1,500-seat shed is charming – next to a lake, with a tiger cage nearby and caribou behind the beer stand. Still, it presents some unique challenges for concerts, not the least of which is the bird show.

“No one gets a break. The birds trump,” promoter Sue McLean told Pollstar.

The bird shows are held at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. daily, and load-in and sound-check have to wait until they’re finished.

The feathered friends are then taken to their cages behind the stage. The bird show has been canceled only twice since Sue McLean & Associates started promoting concerts at the shed 10 years ago.

“It’s challenging. Bands complain, definitely, but they work with it,” she said. “In addition to the time constraint, it’s getting the buses down to the amphitheatre. And the dressing room is a trailer in the woods, so it’s rustic.”

Bands that play two nights have to break down in between for the next day’s bird shows. About six years ago, sound check had to be delayed because one of the birds wouldn’t come down from a nearby tree.

“I remember [the artist] saying, ‘The birds have better management than we do,'” McLean said. She added that many bands request tours of the bird area.

Los Lobos tour manager Mando Tavares agreed that load-in can be a, um, bear, but said it’s pretty neat.

“It’s a cool, cool scene they’ve got there, you know? I think that’s the only place in the country where we play a zoo,” Tavares told Pollstar. “[Bassist Conrad Lozano] is sort of a bird connoisseur. He’s a big bird guy. He usually comes in early to check out the birds around there.”

Because of a 100 decibel limit, the venue can’t play host to heavy metal or other loud music, but this summer’s lineup includes Los Lobos, Gov’t Mule with Xavier Rudd, Buddy Guy, Daryl Hall & John Oates, The Funk Brothers, Robert Randolph & the Family Band, and Loudon Wainwright III.

Meanwhile, bird show supervisor Dave Cruz told the city’s Star Tribune the birds are used to loud noises all day long, so a little music at night doesn’t hurt them any. Cruz added that music he listens to around them doesn’t include swear words, which the birds might mimic.

— Joe Reinartz