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10 of Minnesota's Top Spots For Outdoor Music

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Hilde Performance Center  / Melanie Graves
Nightlife & Music // Article

10 of Minnesota's Top Spots For Outdoor Music

By Lisa Meyers McClintick

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

Sheryl Crow at The Ledge Amphitheater in Waite Park

The Ledge Amphitheater

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 Blues Festival in Duluth

Duluth's Bayfront Blues Festival 

Bayfront Festival Park
Duluth

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.

Vetter Stone Amphitheater
Mankato

Located 80 miles from the Twin Cities, this venue’s tiered limestone slabs and seats for 3,300 overlook the Minnesota River for bands like Old Crow Medicine Show and tasty events like Ribfest.

Bluestem Amphitheater in Moorhead

Bluestem Amphitheater  / Visit Fargo-Moorhead

Bluestem Center for the Arts
Moorhead

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
Winona

The Beethoven Festival in this scenic Mississippi River town culminates in a free Minnesota Orchestra concert. Winona Municipal Band also performs on Wednesday nights.

Surly Festival Field concert in Minneapolis

Surly Festival Field, Minneapolis / Paul Vincent

Treasure Island Amphitheater
Red Wing

Tucked near the Mississippi River, this casino stage has drawn Kid Rock, Wilco and comedians Steve Martin and Martin Short.

Mystic Lake
Prior Lake

Alice Cooper, Gwen Stefani and the Jonas Brothers have all taken the outdoor stage at this casino that accommodates up to 8,000 people.

Surly Brewing Festival Field
Minneapolis

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.

Concert stage at dusk

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

Destination Festivals

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

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.