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, hip-hop, 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.

Renewed Tunes

A couple longstanding festivals that were recently on hiatus are coming back again in 2015. A 30-year staple, the Taste of Minnesota will take place at the Carver County Fairgrounds in Waconia on July 2-5, with free admission during the day, live music and nightly fireworks. The 2015 lineup features Foghat, P.O.D., Phil Vassar and Gear Daddies.

Formerly known as Lumberjack Days, Stillwater Log Jam has a renewed focus on local music and history. The celebration, slated for July 17-19, will combine activities like a downhill derby and lumberjack demonstrations with three days of local 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 sticking to its new two-day format this year, June 20-21. The concert has sold out quickly in the past thanks to popular indie artists, like this year's headliners, Belle & Sebastian and Modest Mouse. Striking views of the downtown skyline add to the appeal.

In St. Paul, the Twin Cities Jazz Festival features three days of concerts, June 25-27, in and around Mears Park. This downtown park will also host the second annual Lowertown Guitar Festival on Aug. 9. Both events are free.

One of the biggest hip-hop festivals in the country, Soundset draws 30,000 people every year. For its eighth year, the popular festival will feature J. Cole, Big Sean, and Minnesota artists Atmosphere and Brother Ali. The concert takes place May 24 at Canterbury Park in Shakopee.   

The annual Winona Dixieland Jazz Festival is held on the grounds of Winona State University on June 27. Elsewhere in southern Minnesota, the Solstice Outdoor Music Festival in Mankato’s Riverfront Park features local and regional acts June 20-21, and more than a dozen roots and blues bands play at the Hambone Music Festival in Rochester on July 10-11.

As many as 20,000 blues fans will head to Duluth Aug. 7-9 for the Bayfront Blues Festival; Otis Clay and NRBQ anchor the 2015 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 19-20 in Walker, Moondance Jammin Country Fest brings Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett and Chris Young to the main stage, and smaller stages feature country acts from around the Midwest.

The same site plays host to Moondance Jam on July 16-18, headlined by classic rockers The Doobie Brothers, Peter Frampton and Huey Lewis and the News, as well as modern rock artists Papa Roach, Shinedown and Nickelback. The party continues on the surrounding campgrounds, where the most creative campsites vie to win tickets to next year’s shows.

WE FestOn Aug. 6-8, 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. Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert and Rascal Flatts join Jake Owen, Dierks Bentley 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. 6-9. 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 17-18) and Storyhill Fest in Deerwood near Brainerd (Aug. 29-31), which stars local icons Communist Daughter and the namesake Storyhill duo.