Lake Effect

The Belfast Cowboys bring the euphoria to the Lake Harriet Bandshell on June 24. Credit: Photo by Donald Jay Olson

The title track to Terry Walsh and 2 AM’s 1995 record “Harriet” was a pensive ballad inspired by the beautiful body of water named for Harriet Lovejoy Leavenworth, a teacher, mother, and the wife of a Minnesota army man. It was written in 1988 and sung wistfully by my brother Terry, a struggling musician and lover at the time, as a hopeful message for all dreamers, and a promise to himself: 

Oh, Harriet
One day I’ll look into your face
You’ll be the same old place
But I’ll be a different man

The kids I played with on your shore
Have all grown up now
Don’t want to play anymore
They look down on me
I’m still playing

But Harriet
One day I’ll look into that face
All the bad memories will be erased
‘Cause I’ll be a different man

That one day came to unequivocal fruition in glorious fashion last Wednesday, as my brother’s 10-year-old big band The Belfast Cowboys transformed Lake Harriet and its storied if often snoozy bandshell into what had to be the happiest place on the planet. With a glorious sunset on the horizon and a couple thousand people gathered on the benches and lawn, the Cowboys conjoined every heart there with as memorable a performance that has ever graced that stage, including Barack “Amazing Grace” Obama’s visit there last June. 

“Welcome to the most beautiful place in the world,” said my bro at the outset, to a smattering of knowing applause, and that it is and that it has never been more so, as the Cowboys ripped through a 100-minute set of joyful noise. Much of the material was culled from their great new CD “Upside To The Downslide” (“Hard Working and Poor,” “Looking For The Northern Lights,” “Rock Band”), along with old favorites (“Bike Ride On 35W”), and Van Morrison songs and other covers (“Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher and Higher,” “Moondance,” “Call Me Up In Dreamland,” “Into The Mystic,” “Days Like These,” “You Make Me Feel So Free”).

I spent the time walking the grounds with my dog, Zero, and visiting/dancing with friends, family, neighbors and strangers. There were my brother’s sons, wandering the joint like they owned it. There was my sister Molly and her daughter Sarah, grooving to the good energy and scarfing down Harriet’s famously fabulous popcorn. There were our parents, holding down a row of family and friends. There was the entire Dunlap family, with our hero Slim listening and tearing up in his wheelchair a few feet away as the band tore it up on Slim’s own tune “Busted Up.”

There was my cousin Ann and her family, dancing and laughing just a few months after unspeakable tragedy. There was my daughter and her boyfriend, grooving to the horns and devouring ice cream cones on their first-anniversary date. There were old schoolmates, local musicians, seagulls, sailboats, and a palpable shared feeling of one-night-only abandon. Wow.

Bill Forsyth’s “Local Hero” remains one of my all-time favorite films, a 1983 slo-mo charmer about a type-A oil company man who falls in love with the simple life via a small Scottish town and its star-strewn bay front. Since I first saw it, I’ve dreamed of being part of a scene like the one near the end of the film, where the town gathers for an Irish-Scottish church basement dance.

The roots and history of the place and its people positively drip off the celluloid, and while I’ve had several live music moments that have come close to it, Wednesday was it for me — and many others. Every day since the Cowboys killed it (somebody make a commemorative brick already), I’ve talked to people who were happy to be there, or wished they had been. For that tribal moment we have one man-kid, who now lives in an apartment overlooking Lake Harriet and who grew up biking, walking, and running around her shore, to thank:

But oh dear God if you gave me these dreams
To tease and not be fulfilled
You know I’d rather die today
I’d rather have you take me today

And when all these dreams
When they finally come true
I’ll come back here and have a laugh or two
With you
Because the love between us
Harriet will never die

Aw, Harriet
One day I’ll look into your face
You’ll be the same old place
But I’ll be a different man

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet. He can be reached at [email protected]