A lot of Ed Ackerson’s many talented friends are paying tribute to him Saturday night at First Avenue, including the Jayhawks, Kraig Johnson, Mark Mallman and Two Harbors. But don’t call it a tribute show.
For one thing, “having a traditional tribute with a rotating cast of singers doing his songs wouldn’t have really been his thing, as great as that can often be,” said his wife and bandmate, Ashley Ackerson.
Even more important, “We didn’t want it to be all about the past.”
Ackerson, 54, died in October a little over a year after learning that he had pancreatic cancer. In the interim, he spent ample time with Ashley and their toddler, Annika. He also apparently got in quality time with his third-greatest love: his renowned studio.
“Ed was creating music up until his very last days,” his wife said. “We really wanted to celebrate that more than anything.”
A Stillwater-bred singer/guitarist, Ackerson got his start fronting wigged-out Brit-rocky bands the Dig and 27 Various. But he made his biggest mark as a frontman with the whirring group Polara, which earned a national buzz and then a record deal with Interscope in 1997.
He went on to produce records for some of Minnesota’s rock royalty at his Minneapolis recording studio, Flowers, including the Replacements, Soul Asylum and the Jayhawks.
During his last year, Ackerson often holed up at Flowers to finish off another solo project, “Capricorn One,” an album that Ashley described as a “space-rock odyssey.”
“Honestly, it’s my favorite thing he ever did,” she said.
Ed made the record entirely on his own, underlining what Jayhawks frontman Gary Louris said recently of him: “He was always the best drummer, bass player and guitarist in the room.”
Saturday’s show is thus serving as a release party for “Capricorn One.” It will also mark the re-release of Polara’s 1995 self-titled debut album, the one that sparked a bidding war among labels. It’s being issued on vinyl for the first time — a sign of the CD-dominated times when it first came out.
Both LPs are limited-edition, colored-vinyl sets, “the kind Ed would flip for,” Ashley said.
To tout the “Polara” reissue, the other members of the band will reunite Saturday, including keyboardist/guitarist Jennifer Jurgens, bassist Dan Boen and drummer Peter Anderson. They will be joined by a special guest, Boston rocker John Strohm of Blake Babies and Antenna notoriety, who heavily participated in the original recording (Ackerson was also performing in Antenna then).
Meanwhile, the most recent of Ackerson’s many bands, the hellacious fuzz-rock duo BNLX — which he and Ashley formed in 2010 after getting married — will also perform without him Saturday. Two Harbors members Kris Johnson and Chris Pavlich will help her round out the band’s very full sound.
“I really missed playing, so that’s been another positive side to this event,” Ashley said, noting that she and Ed last performed in June 2018, a few months before his diagnosis. “We both loved being able to do that together.”
Two Harbors and Mallman heavily relied on Ackerson as a producer, so on Saturday they will offer up some of their own music that he helped create.
Their involvement also serves as a reminder that Flowers is still very much an active recording space, with Two Harbors guitarist Johnson now serving as primary engineer.
“Ed was so proud to have that place where he could help other bands create the art and try to achieve the things they’re passionate about,” Ashley said, “just as he was so passionate about his art.”
And one more positive: Money from Saturday’s show will go to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network as well as a fund for Ed’s daughter.
“Our main goal is to keep his legacy alive and moving forward,” Ashley summed up. “I think this will be a great start to that.”
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658 • @ChrisRstrib