Discover Music and Harmony in Minnesota

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A band performs at the Riversong Music Festival  / Roman Bloemke
LGBTQ+ // Nightlife & Music // Article

Discover Music and Harmony in Minnesota

By Roger Porter

The following story was produced as part of a brand partnership with EDGE Media, the largest network of local Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBTQ+) news and entertainment publications in the world, serving 6+ million dedicated readers from a variety of metropolitan areas around the United States and beyond.

Prince mural Chanhassen

One of many Prince murals can be found in Chanhassen

If you haven't heard, a Minnesota summer is the most magical time of the year. When the sun dips behind the horizon and the stars light up the sky over the state's shimmering 10,000 lakes, you'll know you're in Minnesota — a place as enchanting and mysterious as the Northern Lights.

Take your Minnesota summer to the next level with live music, the perfect pairing with all that natural beauty. With famous musicians like Bob Dylan, Prince, and Judy Garland all hailing from Minnesota, the state has certainly earned its keep as a harbinger of impressive musical acts.

From outdoor concerts to camping and music festivals and local venues headlining Minnesota's own talent, you'll find a flavor of music that matches your vibe. Grab your favorite drink and gather with your friends for an unforgettable summer of soulful sounds in the North Star State.

Dylan Scott poses with some fans at the Winstock Country Music Festival

Dylan Scott poses with some fans at the Winstock Country Music Festival 

Annual Music Festivals

Barbecue enthusiasts will salivate at the Steele County Fairgrounds for the Smokin' In Steele BBQ & Blues Festival (June 2-3, 2023) in Owatonna. Sign up for the barbecue contest and stroll through the annual antique tractor and car shows for a weekend of delicious food, musical melodies and boisterous fun.

Drive an hour outside the Twin Cities to Winstead for the Winstock Country Music Festival. This two-day outdoor country music festival and campout (June 16-17, 2023) features a lineup of some of country music's biggest stars: Cody Johnson, Miranda Lambert, Gabby Barrett, and Jordan Davis. Check out the festival website to get tickets and find your campsite.

Other camping and music festival experiences showcase raceways and family-friendly fun and games. Kick your music festival into high gear with Lakes Jam in Brainerd, a three-day fest held at the Brainerd International Raceway and headlining rock performers including Hardy, Skillet and Dustin Lynch (June 22-24, 2023). And if you're craving more than music, the nearby racetrack promises lawnmower races, drifting demonstrations and a car show.

The Riversong Music Festival (July 14-15, 2023) in Hutchinson overlooks the Crow River with musical performances from blues and rock to indie and Americana.

Concert stage at dusk

WE Fest in Detroit Lakes is America's biggest country music and camping festival / Keith Griner

For over 30 years, WE Fest has lured 150,000 music lovers from every stretch of the country for three days (August 3-5, 2023) of the biggest and brightest in country music. This year's lineup includes Morgan Wallen, Brad Paisley, Brothers Osborne, Kane Brown, and more. Detroit Lakes hosts the summertime party where campers post up at Soo Pass Ranch to experience their favorite country music performances, barbecues, tailgates, and lake days — all the activities that make Minnesota the best summer spot. 

For family-friendly entertainment, book your campground and festival passes to the Minnesota Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Festival (August 10-13, 2023), a lively event that offers campers horseback riding and a swimming beach. 

The Lakes Bluegrass Festival (August 23-27, 2023), a four-day survey of bluegrass bands in Pine River, features the best in bluegrass, and enthusiasts are known to bring their own instruments and break out into jam sessions that fill the nights with song and dance.

When you're hankering for more summer nights under the stars, find your way to the Grandstand at the Minnesota State Fair (August 24-Labor Day, September 4, 2023) with this year's headliners Duran Duran, The Chicks and Yung Gravy with special guest bbno$.

Exterior of First Avenue in Minneapolis

Formerly a Greyhound bus depot, First Avenue is now Minnesota's premier live music venue / First Avenue, courtesy Meet Minneapolis

Marvelous Music Venues

Take a trip to the Twin Cities for a show that features local and national talent performing in one of Minnesota's iconic venues. No trip is complete without catching a show at Minneapolis's indomitable First Avenue, a legendary rock club and a leader of the Twin Cities music scene. A converted bus depot, the club had a splashy debut in 1970 and in its storied history has given a platform — and a stage — to some of music's most iconic artists, including Prince, the Replacements, Semisonic, Hippo Campus, and in recent years the Grammy Award-winning superstar Lizzo. Upcoming shows include Inhaler, Yo La Tengo, and the Big Bubble Rave. 

Once you've checked First Avenue off your bucket list, head over to Icehouse for great food and music and an upcoming lineup that features jazz dinner nights and weekly brunch jam sessions. Don't miss Varsity Theater, an early 20th-century vaudeville-turned-event-space that hosts the hottest musical numbers, psychedelic folk festivals and other performances. Not-to-be-missed headliners include hip-hop artist Young Nudy, country singer/songwriters Niko Moon and Chase Matthew, R&B artist DVSN and rock performer Jukebox the Ghost. Pop over to St. Paul to catch a show at The Amsterdam Bar and Hall in conjunction with First Avenue. The latest and greatest include Jake Wesley Rogers with Stacey Ryan, Sik-K, Nur-D Crush and more. Or visit the Palace Theatre for upcoming spring shows M83, Billy Idol, and Tove Lo.


A musician performs at the Dakota Jazz Club

A musician performs at the Dakota Jazz Club / George Roedler

A Vibrant Jazz Scene

The Twin Cities also serves up soulful jazz and live outdoor music for a slice of summer fun. Art and All That Jazz, a free weekend festival (August 18-19, 2023), showcases an eclectic blend of art vendors, amazing music acts, and tasty bites in the streets of Burnsville, a suburb south of Minneapolis.

The Dakota offers world-class music performances — notably jazz and blues — seven nights a week, including titan of jazz Christian McBride's New Jawn, Blues & Funk Mae Simpson Band, and South African a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

Don't Miss Dua Saleh

Not only do legendary music venues, concert series and festivals make Minnesota a music destination, eclectic local artists speak to the soul of the music scene and make every show a work of art. One such artist, Dua Saleh, an emerging light of Minnesota talent, is forging a path all their own. The non-binary Sudani rapper has been mixing rap, pop, and R&B into infectious trap beats on the Minneapolis hip-hop circuit since the mid-2010s, culminating in the release of their debut EP, titled Nūr, by the Against Giants record label in 2019. 

In a recent interview with Complex magazine, Saleh opened up about their non-binary coming out in the spotlight as an emerging artist. "I wasn't trying to get into any of these art worlds that I was thrust into. And gender is a very personal journey for each person, we definitely understand how it's complex. I'm only speaking for myself, but also probably for a lot of other non-binary and trans people. It was complicated because I'm in constant communication with my gender and I'm constantly trying to expand my understanding of my gender."

If you're visiting the Twin Cities, check out Saleh's Instagram for updates to catch them live at one of their performances. 

Roger Porter

Roger Porter hails from Austin, Texas and writes intriguing LGBTQ+ characters and stories for a diverse range of media outlets. When he's not crafting stories, travel experiences and content, he's a big movie and TV guy. Catch him soaking up SoCal sunshine biking, hiking and going to the beach.