When it comes to summer fun, do you like having choices? Lots of choices?
Like, so many choices that you spend hours flipping around on your phone trying to decide what to do and next thing you know it’s Labor Day and you haven’t left the house since June?
You have my sympathies. Because especially when it comes to hearing outdoor music in Minnesota, we have a ridiculous amount of options to select from. We don’t have a lot of outdoor concert weather here, after all, and we’ve got to cram a lot of entertainment into the skimpy time period we’re allotted. That means each weekend we’re faced with impossible choices. A pricey megafestival? A well-stocked block party? A local musician singing her heart out for free in the park? It’s all so overwhelming. What can be done?
Well, as my therapist often tells me, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s good to make a list. So that’s what I did for you, selecting your best musical option in various categories. All to keep you sane.
Most mysterious festival:
Eaux Claires (July 6-7)
Justin Vernon is certainly testing festivalgoers’ brand loyalty this year by keeping the lineup for the fourth Eaux Claires Festival under wraps. To some extent, aka Bon Iver has earned the right to be elusive: The previous iterations of the festival have all been brilliant, and the upper-tier packages are already sold out. Based on clues circulated by Vernon and his cohort, Patti Smith, Phoebe Bridgers, the National, and Sufjan Stevens are among the acts rumored to appear. The question is, are you willing to plunk down the cash to find out who really makes it?
Best outdoor venue that’s really far away from the Twin Cities:
Bayfront Festival Park
Duluth, the Zenith City of the Unsalted Seas (as Dr. Thomas Foster dubbed it 150 years ago), is a fabulous town, and among its finest features is a really big lake. (Some might call it “great.”). Bayfront Festival Park takes full advantage of that gorgeous natural resource. Among the summer’s musical offerings at the park along Lake Superior are Bone Thugs-N-Harmony (with special guests Naughty by Nature and Coolio), hometown pickers Trampled by Turtles, and country star Tyler Farr.
Best outdoor venue that’s really, really far away from the Twin Cities:
What does Moorhead have that neither Minneapolis nor St. Paul does? A full-fledged amphitheater. Honestly, I’ve never been out to the Bluestem, but if distance from our metro is what you crave, then the three-and-a-half-hour drive to the North Dakota border could be the road trip for you. This summer’s schedule overlaps a bit with the Bayfront’s—for instance, Bone Thugs superfans can catch them twice in Minnesota.
Best place to gamble away your kid’s college tuition before seeing Nickelback:
Casinos, casinos, casinos
I’m no expert on games of chance, but I’m told there’s no better place to gamble than a casino. And lucky for you, Minnesota is lousy with them, and several offer outdoor concerts. Treasure Island in Red Wing, nearby Mystic Lake (in Prior Lake), and Hinckley’s Grand Casino all provide similar showgoing experiences. Sure, the traffic’s a mess and the folding chairs aren’t butt-friendly, but come on, you expect to see a Brooks & Dunn concert in Orchestra Hall, your highness?
Best place to see music for free:
Music & Movies in the Parks
All summer long, the Minneapolis Park Board does a great job of scattering free music through five fine outdoor spots—the Lake Harriet Bandshell, Nicollet Island Park, Father Hennepin Bluff Park, Minnehaha Park, and Bryant Square Park. This year’s August Music & Movies series consists of All Tomorrow’s Petty with Almost Famous (Aug. 3), Roma di Luna with Hidden Figures (Aug. 10), the Bad Man withCatch Me If You Can (Aug. 17), and Nooky Jones with Cadillac Records (Aug. 24).
Best free jazz:
Twin Cities Jazz Festival (June 21-23)
That’s not “free jazz” as in crazy, atonal saxophones honking without reference to tempo and melody. We’re talking “free jazz,” as in you can just wander into Mears Park and the surrounding venues in Lowertown and hear a solid mix of local and international jazz artists. This year, the headliners are Tia Fuller, Houston Person, Nayo Jones, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Aurora Nealand, and Tom McDermott.
Best place to see Buddy Guy pretty much every summer if that’s what you’re into:
Minnesota Zoo’s Weesner Amphitheater
Even if it wasn’t one of the few concert series serving up big-name musicians in an outdoor setting locally, Music in the Zoo would be an institution worth celebrating. The best thing about this series is that it’s reliable, booking the sorts of acts that consistently deliver, summer in and summer out. I mean, come on—Buddy Guy is great.
Venue where going to a show is basically like if you could get drunk by listening to the Current:
Surly Brewing Festival Field
With its carefully selected acts, Surly’s Festival Field, tucked over between University Ave. and 280 on the border between the cities, has smartly branded its summer concert series. This year, they’re bringing in Spoon and Grizzly Bear (June 30), Sylvan Esso (July 20), Courtney Barnett (July 21), and Gary Clark Jr. (Sept. 8).
Best bridge-centric outdoor event:
Stone Arch Bridge Festival (June 15-17)
Never underestimate the role a really good bridge can play in an outdoor festival. The Stone Arch doesn’t always get the biggest names, and it may not have as cool a reputation as some of summer’s big block parties, but the entertainment is solid. And they’ve put together a family-friendly event spanning both sides of the Mississippi in one of the most scenic spots in Minneapolis.
Best last-minute replacement for an artist cancellation:
U.S. Girls at Rock the Garden (June 16)
No offense to the young British band Shame, who were originally announced as part of the lineup for the Walker and the Current’s one-day fest, but the substitution of U.S. Girls, Meghan Remy’s increasingly poppy experimental project, is actually a trade up. The rest of the lineup? Beloved narcissist Father John Misty, the long-dormant Feist, Kendrick-approved jazz notable Kamasi Washington, neo-outlaw country singer Nikki Lane, conceptually sharp retro-rockers Low Cut Connie, and standout locals P.O.S and Chastity Brown.
Well, there you have it. I’m not promising this list will solve all your problems. But if nothing else, you should be out of your house by July at the very latest.