Summer Music Fests Combine Sun & Song

By Erica Wacker

Music FestGreat music and the great outdoors aren’t hard to come by in Minnesota, and attending a summer music festival means getting a big dose of both at once. Jazz, bluegrass, classic rock and country are just some of the genres you’ll find, with national and local acts attracting loyal and new fans alike.

“Artists want to play at these festivals because of the great crowds and support there is for music in Minnesota,” says Ellen Stanley, executive director of the Minnesota Music Coalition. See your favorite artists while soaking up the sunshine at any of this season’s fests.

New Tunes

This year, a couple longstanding festivals that have been on hiatus are coming back to life. A 30-year staple, the Taste of Minnesota will take place at the Carver County Fairgrounds in Waconia on July 3-6, with free admission during the day, live music and nightly fireworks. This year's eclectic lineup features Soul Asylum, Starship, Halestorm and Joe Nichols.

Formerly known as Lumberjack Days, Stillwater Log Jam has a renewed focus on local music and history. The 80th anniversary celebration, slated for July 18-20, will combine activities like a soap box derby and lumberjack demonstrations with four stages of music, including a kids stage in Teddy Bear Park.

City Sounds

Urban settings provide the backdrop for several music festivals this summer. Rock the Garden, held outside the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, is expanding to two days this year, June 21-22. The concert has sold out quickly in the past thanks to popular indie artists like The Hold Steady and Neko Case; striking views of the downtown skyline add to the appeal.

Also in Minneapolis, the Skyline Music Festival at Target Field features Melissa Etheridge, O.A.R., The Rembrandts, Gear Daddies and The Honeydogs on Aug. 9.

In St. Paul, the Twin Cities Jazz Festival features three days of concerts, June 26-28, in and around Mears Park. This downtown park will also host the second annual Lowertown Guitar Festival on Aug. 9. Both events are free.

The 27th annual Winona Dixieland Jazz Festival is held on the grounds of Winona State University on June 28. Elsewhere in southern Minnesota, the Solstice Outdoor Music Festival in Mankato’s Riverfront Park features local and regional acts June 14-15, and more than a dozen roots and blues bands play at the Hambone Music Festival in Rochester on July 11-12.

As many as 20,000 blues fans will head to Duluth Aug. 8-10 for the Bayfront Blues Festival; Robert Randolph & The Family Band and Los Lonely Boys anchor the lineup. Making travel plans well in advance is encouraged for this popular event.

Campin’ Country

Numerous Minnesota festivals combine live music and camping into fun-filled weekends. On June 20-21 in Walker, Moondance Jammin Country Fest brings Hunter Hayes, Justin Moore and The Shuggah Pies to the main stage, and smaller stages feature country acts from around the Midwest.

The same site plays host to Moondance Jam on July 17-19, headlined by classic rockers REO Speedwagon, Styx and Foreigner. The party continues on the surrounding campgrounds, where the most creative campsites vie to win tickets to next year’s shows.

WE FestOn Aug. 7-9, some of the biggest names in country music – and tens of thousands of their fans – descend upon Soo Pass Ranch in Detroit Lakes for WE Fest. Jason Aldean, Brad Paisley and the Zac Brown Band join The Band Perry, Travis Tritt and more for this annual bash.

For a family-friendly camping and concert experience, check out the Minnesota Bluegrass & Old-Time Music Festival in Richmond near St. Cloud, Aug. 7-10. Many attendees are musicians themselves, so listen for impromptu jam sessions happening on the campgrounds.

Other good options for families include the RiverSong Music Festival in Hutchinson (July 18-19) and Storyhill Fest in Deerwood near Brainerd (Aug. 29-Sept. 1).