The instructions seemed to come out of nowhere in the middle of the second inning, like the voice of God sending commandments to Moses.
“OK, band, you only get a minute and 20 seconds this time,” came the word from up high — actually the voice of Twins production manager Sam Henschen, coming all the way across Target Field into sound monitors on a third-floor balcony overlooking left field, where the 4onthefloor was set up to perform.
“Go, band, go!” was the only command that came next.
With that, the Minneapolis-based rock quartet was off, like Eduardo Escobar stealing second. The 4onthefloor’s members have been proud to sell out First Avenue nightclub and put on two-hour shows for fans. On Wednesday, they seemed equally grateful to play two-minute-or-less snippets of their songs to a crowd 25 times larger for zero payment at the Twins’ ballpark.
Wednesday’s rather ugly day game against the White Sox made the perfect setting for the first installment of a new Target Field promotional event dubbed the Twins Midwest Music Series. At each Wednesday home game until the end of August, a local band will perform during the pregame warm-up, between innings and even during pitching changes.
Suffice to say the 4onthefloor got to play aplenty Wednesday. During a call to the bullpen in the sixth inning, their performance slot came up so quick they weren’t prepared. They had to wing it through a hackneyed cover of “Yakety Yak” sung by drummer Mark Larson, who hilariously cursed out his bandmates afterward for leaving all the vocals to him.
“That was literally out of left field,” quipped the band’s new guitarist, Nate Case.
The genesis for the music series came a year ago when things really weren’t going well for the Twins. Enter Trampled by Turtles singer Dave Simonett, who sent an offer via the band’s Twitter account to come down to Target Field and perform in front of the dugout for the team as a sign of support.
“Our reaction was, ‘That’s a pretty good idea, but why not have them perform for everyone at the ballpark.’ ” recounted Chris Iles, the Twins’ senior manager of corporate communications. He arranged for Trampled to perform there in mid-June.
It went so well, the 4onthefloor and Farewell Milwaukee were recruited to play later in the season as a test run for this year’s series.
“They were very well-received by the fans, and it really seemed to add to the experience of coming to Target Field,” Iles said. “The goal is for fans to always have a good time here, however the team is doing.”
Trampled by Turtles are returning to play Aug. 14. “We were ecstatic that what started as a lighthearted conversation on Twitter turned into us playing at Target Field,” frontman Simonett said. “We’re happy the Twins are again inviting local artists to be a part of the fun at the ballpark.”
In much the same fashion that the Twins showcase Minnesota restaurateurs and brewers in the concourse, the team used to regularly showcase Minnesota music between innings over the loudspeakers. Much to the chagrin of local music lovers and their Twitter accounts — but admittedly unnoticed by most of the ballpark’s patrons — the team switched music directors and started spinning Auto-Tuned teen pop and Top 40 R&B three seasons ago to promote fledgling FM station 96.3 NOW, owned by the Pohlad family (as are the Twins).
As of this year, though, the teen-pop DJ was put on the DL, and 96.3 NOW is now KTWIN-FM — the official Twins game broadcaster and a rock station with a hand in promoting and booking the Midwest Music Series. KTWIN is even hosting a contest to select an act for the final slot in the series on Aug. 28 (one-song submissions can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org).
Twitter came into play once again this year when it came time to book the series. The Twins tweeted fans, asking which local artists they would like to see. Both Trampled and 4otf were near the top of that list, as were local hip-hop giants Atmosphere, who wound up getting traded for P.O.S. Sidelined for medical reasons of late, the high-energy rapper is set to play the July 3 game against the Yankees — pretty much a grand-slam day at the ballpark, with fireworks, too.
The lineup also includes veteran heartland rocker GB Leighton on May 29, rockabilly stalwarts Jack Knife & the Sharps on June 12 and rowdy country stars Rocket Club on July 31.
The bands don’t get paid for the gig, but they do get treated like rock stars. A catering spread is laid out in the suite behind the performance balcony, and a short stack of tickets is provided for friends and family to join them.
“I told everybody on the train headed to the game that they had better cheer for the band,” said Linda Holm, mother of 4onthefloor bassist Chris Holm, who drove five hours from Clearbrook, Minn., to see her son’s big call-up. “He’s a lifelong Twins fan, so aside from him being here as a ballplayer, this is the next best thing.”
The first thing Linda and her sister, Diane, saw when they walked through the gate was a close-up of Chris on the Jumbotron during the band’s first of two pregame sets. Those came about 40 minutes and 20 minutes before game time and lasted 5-6 minutes apiece. “One long song or two short ones,” as singer/guitarist Gabriel Douglas put it.
Except for the timing challenges, Douglas said the gig was relatively easy. Thanks to the “stage” being tucked away in a corner under the Budweiser Party Deck, the band is blocked from the echo of their music coming through the stadium loudspeakers, which always challenges singers down on the field.
While Holm complained of having to make the 9 a.m. sound check, Douglas actually got to the ballpark at 7:30 a.m. to appear on the KTWIN morning show, broadcasting from the stadium. By the time sound check ended around 9:30, he headed straight for the large stash of free Summit and Grain Belt beer.
“I’ve been up for four hours, so it’s cool,” he cracked as he cracked one open.
Even without all the extras and the promotional opportunities for the bands, Douglas said the gig still would be worth the hassle.
“I mean, come on, we’re playing for a Twins game at Target Field,” he said. “Is there a more fun gig out there?”
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658 • Twitter: @ChrisRstrib
TWINS MIDWEST MUSIC SERIES
May 29: GB Leighton (7:10 p.m. vs. Brewers) • June 12: Jack Knife & the Sharps (7:10 p.m. vs. Phillies) • June 19: Hitchville (7:10 p.m. vs. White Sox) • July 3: P.O.S. (7:10 p.m. vs. Yankees) • July 31: Rocket Club (7:10 p.m. vs. Royals) • Aug. 14: Trampled by Turtles (12:10 p.m. vs. Indians) • Aug. 28: “Sound Factor” contest winner (7:10 p.m. vs. Royals)