Special Festivals Highlight GOP Convention

Posted August 5, 2008 at 12:45pm

More than 45,000 people are expected to descend on Minneapolis- St. Paul in early September, all headed for the Xcel Energy Center and the Republican National Convention.

But beyond the delegate action and myriad convention floor speeches, there will be plenty to do in the after-hours scene.

While the new Congressional ethics rules have tamped down some of the more traditional lobbyist-sponsored convention events, there still will be plenty of corporate-sponsored parties that will show off the local flavor of Minneapolis-St. Paul.

The Twin Cities are hosting two major cultural events — spark24 and Civic Fest.

The first is a tribute to the region’s dedication to the arts.

Founded by Scott Mayer, spark24 will showcase a wide range of theatrical acts for 24 hours leading up to the Republican National Convention. Starting at 5 p.m. Aug. 30 on Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis, the event will include political satire, theatrical presentations, choral groups and bands.

“We really have a phenomenal arts community in Minneapolis-St. Paul, and I wanted to make sure the media and our guests knew that,” Mayer said.

For those looking for a break after the convention is under way, the Minneapolis Convention Center will house Civic Fest.

“It’s a very unique exhibit put together specifically for this convention with more than 35 exhibits including a replica Oval Office, a model White House and Air Force One,” said Tracey MacFarland, a spokeswoman for the group.

In addition, Civic Fest will have an exhibit featuring gowns worn by each of the former first ladies and an area dedicated to Minneapolis history and business innovation.

Despite the new ethics rules, not all traditional parties have gone by the wayside.

One long-standing tradition, the Southern Tribute party, is set to continue with American rocker Sammy Hagar headlining.

Rob Jennings, president of American Event Consulting, and Brandon Winfrey of Front Row Strategies are organizing the Aug. 31 bash at the Fine Line Music Cafe in the heart of the Warehouse District in downtown Minneapolis.

“It’s a fun way to open the convention, to blow off steam and for people to enjoy themselves,” Jennings said.

Jennings is also helping coordinate the “Friends of New Orleans” charity party on Sept. 1 at the Fine Line.

The “All-Star Jam-balaya” event, of which Roll Call is a sponsor, is being hosted by former Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), conservative pundit Mary Matalin, former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson and actor John Larroquette. The proceeds will go to Heroes of the Storm, a Louisiana-based nonprofit. The group is also considering designating some of the funds to charities in Iowa and Missouri, Jennings said.

The Creative Coalition, presented by Target Corp., will also put on its quadrennial gala Sept. 3. The group, which is dedicated to promoting the arts, will bring out a star-studded delegation led by Tim Daly.

Beyond the party scene, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for one, is planning to roll its 2008 “Vote for Business” bus tour through Minneapolis-St. Paul during the week of the Republican convention. The group did a cross-country get-out-the-vote bus tour in 2006 and this year will have two buses cruising the nation (one will stop at each convention).

For those looking for a more family- oriented outing, use the last day of the convention to hit the Metro Dome. While the hometown team, the Minnesota Twins, will be out of town, a group of corporations is renting out the space from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 4 for convention-goers to get a chance at batting practice on a major league field.

“This time we’re actually allowing people to go out and field balls and be a part of what happens in the field,” said LeeAnn Peterson, a lobbyist who has organized similar events at the Democratic conventions since 1996.

Popcorn and sodas will be available for those looking to mix and mingle and watch the amateurs hit.

As delegates and convention organizers wind down, Washington-based law firm Patton Boggs will be holding court with its “Wrap Party” at the Landmark Center in St. Paul. Originally a federal court house and post office for the upper Midwest, the historic venue will open its doors for everyone to let their hair down the last evening of the convention, according to Nicholas Allard of Patton Boggs.

“I think we have a prospect of having some really neat co-hosts,” said Allard, who expects to attract a diverse crowd.