The following story is taken from Explore Minnesota's annual travel guide, which can be ordered for free and viewed online alongside our many other print publications and maps here.
The golden light of a sinking sun and a gentle breeze ripple through a gleeful crowd at The Ledge as Sheryl Crow takes the stage and spreads good vibes through classic jams.
Rock stars seem especially fitting at the state’s newest venue, which accommodates close to 3,500 people in a picturesque setting tucked between two water-filled granite quarries and rock-pile walls in Waite Park. Fountains light up at night and beckon visitors to photo ops while others line up for ice cream or tip back a Rock-a-Rita as the stars come out, literally and figuratively.
Here’s a sampling of other can’t-miss concert settings that embrace natural scenery across the state:
Bayfront Festival Park
This tall canopy boasts a showy backdrop, with ships gliding by as groups like Duluth’s own Trampled by Turtles perform. The spacious park welcomes 20,000 fans for weekend festivals devoted to world, reggae and Christian music, as well as its annual Bayfront Blues event.
Tucked into a wooded oxbow of the Red River Valley, this elegantly arched landmark hosts up to 3,000 concertgoers for national acts like Tedeschi Trucks Band, Billy Strings and comedian Amy Schumer, along with productions from the nearby Trollwood Performing Arts School.
Lake Park Bandshell
The Beethoven Festival in this scenic Mississippi River town culminates in a free Minnesota Orchestra concert. Winona Municipal Band also performs on Wednesday nights.
The legendary First Avenue teams up with this destination brewery to bring 5,000 fans together alongside midstream artists like Patti Smith, Phoebe Bridgers, and Tame Impala.
Anyone craving weekends full of outdoor music — often with camping — can also festival hop all summer in Minnesota.
WE Fest bills itself as the biggest country-and-camping festival in America. Celebrating its 40th year Aug. 3-5, WE Fest’s past headliners such as Miranda Lambert and Luke Bryan have drawn more than 100,000 fans to Soo Pass Ranch in Detroit Lakes.
Country fans also flock to Winstock Festival, which celebrates its 28th year June 16-17 in Winsted. Expect a lineup along the lines of previous live performers Tim McGraw, Reba McEntire and Casi Joy. Moondance Ranch in Walker has a camping-focused country weekend every June, too, followed by its better known Moondance Jam with rock stars like Daughtry and Bret Michaels in late July.
Metro area music lovers watch a wide variety of wild performances at the Twin Cities Jazz Festival ever June. Nearly 30 St. Paul venues hosted such headliners as the Zacc Harris Sextet and Treme Brass Band last year. Kicking the concert season off even earlier in Minneapolis are the weekend-long Whirlygig and Liquid Zoo festivals Indeed Brewing and Bauhaus Brew Labs host during Art-A-Whirl, an annual gathering of eager gallery hoppers and culture vultures looking to catch local acts like Gully Buys and Kiss the Tiger.
Lisa Meyers McClintick is a prolific travel writer for outlets including USA Today, Midwest Living, the Star Tribune and her website lisamcclintick.com. A mom of three, she especially enjoys family travel, hands-on learning vacations, local food and farms, living history and outdoor adventures.
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