Arts and Culture

Gettin' the bands back together: Your guide to music fests around Minnesota

Lowertown Sounds
Lowertown Sounds brings live free music to St. Paul's Mears Park in 2019. Lowertown Blues and Funk Fest is back this year as a series of concerts.
Courtesy One Simple Plan

Updated: July 14 | Posted: July 8

Thanks to vaccines and ebbing COVID-19 cases, you can once again nod your head, snap your fingers or dance like nobody’s watching in front of your favorite bands this summer.

Here’s a look at which festivals are back for the summer.

If you like country: WE Fest

The well-known celebration of all things country music is gearing up for its 37th year. The all-ages festival will be going on, rain or shine, Thursday, Aug. 5 through Saturday, Aug. 7. You can purchase tickets for each day or a three-day pass. Reserve a campsite to stay close to the action and if you want to be close to friends make sure you arrive together, there is no saving specific campsites ahead of time. The lineup this year includes Florida Georgia Line, Dierks Bentley and Blake Shelton.

Bonus: Another campout country-fest can be found in Winsted on Aug. 20-21. Winstock will be headlined by Sam Hunt and Luke Combs. Be quick, campsites are filling up fast.

If you like jazz: Twin Cities Jazz Festival

The Twin Cities Jazz Festival is back with an in person live event scheduled for Sept. 17-18 in Mears Park in downtown St. Paul — more details to come. However, TCJF has already put on several live shows and is serving up more via their Jazz Fest Live livestreams. You can tune in on their Facebook page or reserve your spot in one of their upcoming CrowdCasts. And it’s all for free, though they do accept donations.

Twin Cities Jazz Festival
Twin Cities Jazz Festival 2009.
Chris McDuffie for MPR 2009

If you like feel-good music: Shangri-La

If you want to get in touch with nature as well as shake it up, Shangri-La might be for you. Held at Harmony Park over Labor Day weekend, the outdoor festival will feature a variety of genres with a lineup including Wookiefoot, Trevor Hall, The Reminders and Lowdown Brass Band. Camping is a big part of the festival, as is the effort to keep the event clean and green. Guidelines for cutting down on waste are posted on the event's website. One change this year is that you must be 18 or older to attend.

Bonus: For something more family-friendly check out Fest du Nord in Ely over Labor Day weekend. These outdoor concerts will include fun performances by the Okee Dokee Brothers, jeremy messersmith, Koo Koo Kanga Roo and more.

If you like funk: Lowertown Blues and Funk Fest

In lieu of a big event in Mears Park this year, the Lowertown Blues and Funk Fest lives on as a concert series hosted at Dual Citizen Brewing in St. Paul. We’re too late to tell you about June’s show, but you can still catch The Good, The Bad and The Funky on July 10 or Bernard Allison on Aug. 14. Both events are all ages and free to the public, you can donate to the organization here.

Bonus: Lowertown Blues and Funk Fest are also putting on daytime shows at Mears Park on Sundays, check out the latest lineup on their Facebook page.

If you like variety: Down by the Riverside

Pack your lawn chair and head over to Mayo Park in Rochester every Sunday starting July 11 for a free and unique musical experience. Down by the Riverside is another event that takes the form of a series of concerts rather than a weekend-long show, but you won’t want to miss this scheduled lineup: Lindsay Ell, Chastity Brown, Smash Mouth, Polica and more.

Mayo Park
Mayo Park, home of Rochester's free summer concert series Down By the Riverside.
Mike Pruett of MLT Group

Bonus: The Minnesota Fringe Festival, taking place online and in-person Aug. 5-15, features performances of all kinds, including some great local music.

If you like rock: Moondance Jam

If you're ready to rock — and camp — head to the Moondance Jam in Walker, Minn., on July 22-24. Headliners include Halestorm, Cheap Trick and Todd Rundgren. You can choose from a variety of ticket packages and any tickets and passes purchased for last year’s canceled event should be valid for this year’s shows.

If you like blues: Bayfront Blues Festival

Catch a refreshing breeze off the blue(ish) waters of Lake Superior while you enjoy over 20 performers at this celebration of the blues. The festival goes from Aug. 13-15 at the Bayfront Festival Park. Again, you can pick from a variety of ticket packages, with one-day general admission tickets on sale for $59 if you buy early. Headliners include The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Tab Benoit and C. J. Chenier.

If you like classical: Northern Lights Music Festival

For almost the entire month of July this festival takes shape as a series of concerts, performances and lectures at several venues around the Iron Range. Tickets can be purchased online or in person. The lineup features international artists as well as award-winning young artists.

If you like big band: Vintage Music Festival

It'll be horns galore at this July 31 festival in Northfield. For 12 hours, 11 bands will be performing at Bridge Square in the city’s downtown. Bring your dancing shoes since many of the bands will be serving up jazz and swing as well as big band. The event is free with the option to donate. Bring on the brass!

If you like bluegrass: Minnesota Bluegrass August Festival

Held at El Rancho Mañana in Richmond, this festival, running from August 5-8, offers great music as well as workshops. Featuring High 48's, Sam Bush Band, Sideline and more, tickets are on sale now and ages 12 and under get in for free. If you have your own banjo, fiddle, bass, guitar or mandolin bring it with and learn something new at the workshops being held during the festival — or just in case someone nearby wants to join in on an impromptu jam.

Bonus: If you want more activity with your festival, float on down to the banks of Prairie Island Campground for the Boats and Bluegrass Festival Sept. 23-25. As the name implies, there will be boats! The lineup has yet to be announced but tickets are on sale now — 16 and under can attend for free. This fest has a heavy focus on fun and keeping the area clean after the fans leave. Make sure you read the rules before you go.

Double bonus: The 15th annual Lakes Bluegrass Festival has a new home at the Lakes Music and Events Park in Pine River. Get your single or multi-day tickets for this bluegrass jam taking place Aug. 25-29 — Appalachian Road Show will be headlining.

If you like techno and house: The Great Beyond

This event is combining techno and natural beauty at the Minnesota River Valley Sanctuary in Franklin, July 30 through Aug. 1. You can choose a three-day pass that either includes camping, or if you’re feeling more indoorsy, shuttle service from Jackpot Junction casino/hotel nearby.

If you like hip-hop: Godflow

Godflow is a youth rally and Christian hip-hop festival taking place in Minneapolis on Sept. 11. In addition to a huge line up of artists there will also be a 3-on-3 basketball tournament. Their website also states a purpose: “to stand against youth violence, and to empower urban youth in the community while meeting their practical and spiritual needs.”

If you like comedy: Pay Gap Festival

Laugh and dance! This festival happening Sept. 25-26 at the Minnesota State Fair Grounds is a hybrid of great comedy and music. Pick tickets for a half day of comedy, half day of musical performances, a full day of both or the whole two-day event. There’s even a virtual livestream ticket option in case you can’t make it in person. Alongside the performances — which include shows by Jamecia Bennett and Annie Mack — there will be a free marketplace. The event supports gender equality in the Twin Cities and the Finnegan’s Brewery Community Fund. Attendees can bring non-perishable food items to donate.

If you like folk: Grand Rapids Riverfest

Get ready to jam at this festival Sept. 10-11 in, you guessed it, Grand Rapids. This show brings a variety of great artists together with Trampled by Turtles headlining Friday and Yonder Mountain String Band closing out the fest Saturday night. Bring your own chair, and possibly an umbrella because this show is rain or shine!

If you like road trips: Some festivals happening outside of Minnesota

Pitchfork Music Festival at Union Park in Chicago, Sept. 10-12.

Rock Fest in Cadott Wis., July 15-17.

Blue Ox Music Festival in Eau Clare, Wis. Aug. 19-21

Hinterland Music Festival in St. Charles Iowa, Aug. 6-8.

Rushmore Music Festival in Spearfish and Rapid City, S.D., July 10-26.

North Dakota Country Fest in New Salem, N.D., July 8-10.

What’d we miss? Tell us about your favorite music event and we’ll add it to the list!

Correction: (July 9, 2021): A previous version of this report listed an incorrect location for the Minnesota Bluegrass Festival. The story has been updated.