Summer Guide: Music & Festivals

Pierre Ware

Pierre Ware

Here's our selection of the best concerts and festivals to catch this summer.

Janelle Monáe

Janelle Monáe Atlantic Records

Janelle Monáe

State Theatre

After her breakout acting roles in Oscar nominees Hidden Figures and Moonlight, Janelle Monáe returned to music in earnest with April’s Dirty Computer, her first album in five years. On her adventurous, Afrofuturistic first two albums, 2010’s The ArchAndroid and 2013’s The Electric Lady, Monáe kinetically blended pop, R&B, soul, rap, and funk. Dirty Computer (which, as with The Electric Lady, Prince worked on before his death) is 20 minutes shorter than either, but it’s still eclectic and full of ideas, with contributors ranging from Brian Wilson to Pharrell to Grimes. And with Monáe’s focus on themes of race and sexuality—she came out as pansexual in a Rolling Stone cover story earlier this year—it feels like the record Monáe was born to make. Highlights include her fierce raps on “Django Jane,” the Grimes-assisted electropop of “Pynk,” and the Prince-ly “Make Me Feel.” With St. Beauty. 7:30 p.m. $53.50-$93.50. 805 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis; 612-339-7007. July 3 —Michael Madden



Rarely does a band transform like Paramore has and make it work so well. Led by its only constant member, Hayley Williams, the Tennessee three-piece has departed from the explosive pop-punk of “Misery Business” and “Crushcrushcrush” that first won over an audience a decade ago. With last year’s After Laughter, the band’s fifth album and the follow-up to their 2013 self-titled record, Williams and her crew took to exuberant ’80s new wave and synth-pop sounds without a misstep. From the album opener “Hard Times” onward, Williams, who can sound fiery and graceful at the same time, comes across as a bona fide pop star. Though it’s the kind of record guaranteed to alienate some longtime fans, it all made for a surprisingly smooth transition that’s still rooted in the band’s alt-rock beginnings. With Foster the People and Jay Som. 6 p.m. $55-$150. 500 S. Sixth St., Minneapolis; 612-315-3965. July 5 —Michael Madden

Courtney Barnett

Surly Brewing Festival Field

Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett was clearly a special talent right from the start. Her 2013 debut single, “Avant Gardener,” introduced her conversational, wry lyricism and a cool detachment that lent itself to effortless melodies. Barnett made her full-length debut in 2015 with Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, then found a kindred slacker in Kurt Vile, releasing the joint LP Lotta Sea Lice with the Philly indie rocker last year. Barnett’s follow-up, May’s Tell Me How You Really Feel, is more of a grower than her previous records, but what it lacks in immediacy it makes up for with pointed writing about misogyny and patriarchy on tracks like the punk scorcher “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch” and the Kim and Kelley Deal-assisted “Nameless, Faceless.” With Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus. 18+. 6 p.m. $37.50/$40. 520 Malcolm Ave. SE, Minneapolis; 763-999-4040. July 21 —Michael Madden

Jay-Z and Beyoncé

Jay-Z and Beyoncé courtesy of the artists

Jay-Z and Beyoncé

U.S. Bank Stadium

Music’s most powerful husband-and-wife team may have skipped the Twin Cities in 2014 with their first On the Run Tour, but at least we get to check out the sequel. And it’s been an eventful four years for the Knowles-Carter family, with Jay-Z and Beyoncé publicly working through his Eric Benét-like infidelity, leading to one deeply personal album apiece. In 2016, two months after her Super Bowl L halftime performance, Beyoncé released the stylistically exploratory Lemonade, unambiguously singing about Jay’s cheating but not too rattled to keep her from making a masterpiece. Jay, meanwhile, is coming off last year’s 4:44, his first vital solo album in a decade. On the entirely No I.D.-produced LP, he purposefully delivered “a million dollars’ worth of game for $9.99,” his topics including financial advice, regret over his dalliances, even his mother’s recent coming-out. He’s since remained in the spotlight due, in part, to his (reciprocated) criticisms of Trump. 7:30 p.m. $49.50-$1,993. 401 Chicago Ave., Minneapolis; 612-777-8700. August 8 —Michael Madden

Taylor Swift

U.S. Bank Stadium

At this point, Taylor Swift has completely abandoned Nashville, doubling down on the full-on modern pop of 2014’s 1989 with last fall’s Reputation. The lead single from her sixth album, “Look What You Made Me Do,” introduced the LP’s electronic beats and positioned Swift in an oddly meta mode. The rest of Reputation can be messy at times—Ed Sheeran and Future probably don’t even belong on the same album, let alone the same track—but hooky songwriting prevails on “...Ready for It?,” “Gorgeous,” the hit-waiting-to-happen “Getaway Car,” and the momentary delicacy of closing song “New Year’s Day.” Swift’s Minneapolis visit, her first to the Twin Cities since 2015, marks the first time an artist has performed two consecutive nights at U.S. Bank Stadium. With Camila Cabello and Charli XCX. 7 p.m. $47.50-$897. 401 Chicago Ave., Minneapolis; 612-777-8700. August 31 and September 1 —Michael Madden

Northern Spark 2018

Northern Spark 2018 Bobby Rogers

Northern Spark 2018

Downtown Minneapolis

True to its ever-evolving nature, nocturnal arts festival Northern Spark has undergone a transformation: The latest iteration of the community-focused gathering will no longer be a one-night dusk-to-dawn affair, but will instead take place over two consecutive evenings, commencing at sundown and concluding at 2 a.m. each night. There should be ample time to enjoy festivities thanks to the three host sites—the Commons, Minneapolis Central Library, and Nicollet Mall (between Third and Eighth Streets)—being so centrally located. Not only are these venues in close proximity to one another, each underscores Northern Spark’s goal of accessibility, a mission further reinforced by this year’s theme of commonality. Like a recurrent thread running through the multimedia displays, interactive activities, and ongoing performances, Northern Spark continues to foster an inclusivity vast enough to honor our wonderfully diverse Twin Cities community. Find locations and more info at 9:02 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. June 15-16 —Brad Richason

Romeo and Juliet

Various locations

“No one has bought a ticket,” says Joseph Papke about the particular pressure of presenting Shakespeare in the park. “No one has to sit there and listen to you. If they stay, it’s because what you’re doing is engaging them.” This is the fifth year Papke’s company, Classical Actors Ensemble, is bringing the Bard to Twin Cities green spaces, and audiences have been steadily increasing. Papke says it’s gone from, “Oh, hey, there’s 30 people today! That’s great,” to, “Oh my God, there’s like 250 people here.” This year, the company is breaking with past practice and presenting a tragedy instead of a comedy. They’re not hitting us with Lear, though: They’re staging Romeo and Juliet. “It actually is a fantastic balance of comedy and tragedy,” says Papke. Even if you just caught the Guthrie’s 2017 production, Papke believes the timeless tale is worth seeing again. “There’s something to the experience of going through the story with actors in an intimate, real-world setting in the beauty of our local parks.” Find times and locations at June 15-July 15 —Jay Gabler

Stone Arch Bridge Festival

Stone Arch Bridge

The best place to spend Father’s Day weekend (with or without your dad) is the Stone Arch Bridge Festival. Taking over the riverfront area of St. Anthony Main, the festival is the third largest in Minneapolis, attracting thousands of visitors each year. You like live music? Check out the three stages of free concerts. You want art? They have more than 200 artists showing off an incredible array of work using any material you can imagine. There’s also a classic-car show, a beer sampler, and family activities, meaning that you could have three entirely unique days of sweaty summertime fun. Best of all? You can tell your dad you brought him along because it’s his day—even if you don’t care about him at all. For more info, visit 5 to 10 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Free. 212 SE Second Ave., Minneapolis. June 15-17 —Patrick Strait

Twin Cities Pride

Twin Cities Pride Khalil Ross

Twin Cities Pride

Loring Park

Twin Cities Pride returns this summer for two days of fun. This festival offers sporting tournaments, representatives from political and outreach organizations, a beer garden, food trucks, and family fun in Loring Park. Or just sit on a nice patch of grass and chat up some new friends. Saturday night’s concert headliner is early-aughts icon Brandy. The parade on Sunday morning is always memorable. As it marches along Hennepin Avenue, from Third Street to 16th Street, you’ll spot local sports teams, businesses, entertainers, and more, and there are plenty of places serving cocktails along the route. For a full schedule of happenings, visit 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Free. 1382 Willow St., Minneapolis. June 23-24 —Jessica Armbruster

Little Mekong Night Market

Little Mekong

In 2014, the Little Mekong business district launched the Little Mekong Night Market as a way to draw visitors to all the splendid things the area has to offer. The festival features arts, culture, and dance groups performing traditional forms, hip-hop, and breakdance. There are plenty of kid-friendly art activities, and tons of delectable snacks: spicy tater tots, refreshing bubble tea, Twistatos chips, frozen yogurt, and towering Lu’s sandwiches. You’ll want to come with an empty stomach to take advantage of all there is to offer. More info can be found at The market opens up the first Saturday and Sunday of each month from July to October. 5 p.m. to midnight Saturday; 2 to 10 p.m. Sunday. Free. 422 University Ave. W., St. Paul. July 7-October 7 —Sheila Regan

Minneapolis Aquatennial

Various locations

Now in its 78th year, the Minneapolis Aquatennial is a celebration of the city. In addition to long-standing favorites like the Torchlight Parade and the massive fireworks finale, this year’s party will include yard games on Hennepin County Government Center’s South Plaza and lunchtime piano performances. For those looking to put the “aqua” in Aquatennial, Wednesday’s Loring Park Family Fun Night will include free canoeing and paddling instruction from Wilderness Inquiry, and the always popular Twin Cities River Rats water ski show happening Thursday and Friday night. Sadly, the Aquatennial Beach Bash, with milk carton boat races and sandcastle building, is no more. However, the Minneapolis Fire Department and Kids’ Zone will still be a part of the festivities. Run the Torchlight 5K, pick up your 2018 Skipper Pin, and get ready for the “Best Days of Summer” once again. For a complete schedule, check out July 18-21 —Patrick Strait

The Floating Library

Phalen Park Beach

Just in time for National Library Week, the Floating Library returns to Lake Phalen. Yes, that’s right, it’s a library that floats in the middle of a lake. On this raft you’ll find an oasis of art books and reading material for your pleasure and perusal, along with friendly merfolk librarians who will guide you to reading material that strikes your fancy. To get to the Floating Library, all you have to do is rent a canoe, kayak, or paddle boat, available at the shore. (Paddle boats are highly recommended for their ease and convenience in the reading-and-paddling department.) The library is filled with books created and donated by artists, submitted through an open call process. It’s a great opportunity to check out some zines and indulge in visual delights, all while blissfully soaking in the sun on a beautiful lake. For more info, visit 1 to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Free. 1400 Phalen Dr., St. Paul. July 21-August 5 —Sheila Regan

Flow Northside Arts Crawl

Flow Northside Arts Crawl courtesy of event organizers

Flow Northside Arts Crawl

North Minneapolis

This July, north Minneapolis lights up with art, music, performance, and community during FLOW Northside Arts Crawl. Organized by the West Broadway Business and Area Coalition, the crawl is a three-day festival that takes place both indoors and outdoors in spaces along West Broadway Avenue. Things kick off on Thursday with an evening block party, followed by art receptions and a farmers market on Friday. On Saturday, visitors can tour 35 different sites featuring 300 artists from the Mississippi River to Penn Avenue North. Bop around Freedom Square, the Capri Theater, Juxtaposition Arts, and the KMOJ stage for fun, entertainment, and joyful art. Find more info at 6 to 10 p.m. Thursday; 3 to 10 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday. Free. West Broadway, from the Mississippi River to Penn Avenue, Minneapolis. July 26-28 —Sheila Regan

Greenway Glow 2018

Midtown Greenway

Summertime bike rides are special. The annual Greenway Glow ride is especially memorable. Each year, the Midtown Greenway Coalition hosts an illuminated, artsy bike festival featuring twinkling art installations, fire artists, and treats. This year there will also be beer, eats from Taco Cat, and ice cream. The festival is free, but those who sign up for the VIP experience will help support the Greenway. Choose from family-friendly, twilight, and nighttime rides. Registration and more info can be found at 7 p.m. to midnight. Free; $35, plus $15 minimum in raised funds. 2834 10th Ave. S., Minneapolis. July 28 —Jessica Armbruster

Fringe Festival

Various locations

A quarter-century ago, Bob McFadden bet that the Twin Cities was ready for a Fringe festival like the one he’d seen in Winnipeg. “It gave virtual unknowns a chance to be seen, and it gave people who hadn’t seen a lot of theater a chance to see a great deal,” he told the Star Tribune as he launched the Minnesota Fringe Festival with similar goals. That democratic ethos, accentuated by the fact that the festival is non-juried, has fueled the growth of the Minnesota Fringe into one of the country’s largest. For its 25th year, though, the festival is scaling back geographically: There won’t be any performances in Uptown, with venues focused on hubs in the West Bank and northeast Minneapolis. The festival is also welcoming more out-of-town artists and launching a Family Fringe, “a concurrent juried festival championing multigenerational performances” at the Celtic Junction Arts Center. Despite the changes, the adventure of Fringing should remain fundamentally the same. You never know quite what you’re going to get—and that’s a good thing. Plan your Fringe by checking out the schedule at August 2-12 —Jay Gabler

Dr. Falstaff and the W orking Wives of Lake County: A Picnic Operetta

Various locations

“Where we’re at is where I hoped to be, in terms of the geographical reach of the project and the community around folks who dedicate their summer to coming together to make this work,” says Scotty Reynolds, Mixed Precipitation’s artistic director. There were precedents for shows resembling the company’s picnic operetta—an itinerant blend of classical music, pop songs, and foodie fiesta—but it was still ambitious to imagine that the production would last for 10 summers, as it now has. This year’s inspiration is The Merry Wives of Windsor, an opera composed by Otto Nicolai (1810-1849), with added songs by Bruce Springsteen. A landmark mining case in the Arrowhead Region, where Reynolds grew up, will also play into the plot. Mining can be a hot-button topic, but Reynolds says he’s hoping to take an “even-handed and humorous” approach that evokes “the look and feel of late-’70s, early-’80s northern Minnesota.” That environment, he says, “has been deeply embedded in my soul, my heart.” $10-$20 suggested donation. Make reservations by calling 1-800-838-3006, or visit for locations and info. August 16-September 30 —Jay Gabler

Minnesota Renaissance F estival

Festival Fairgrounds

Theater geeks, history lovers, and fans of all things sparkly: This is the summertime festival for you. Yeah, your trip back in time is going to be anachronistic; there’s a tent where people can watch NFL games, and you’ll probably spot at least one dude dressed as Dr. Who, but that is all part of the fun. Take in some campy theater, watch the guy who walks the flaming tightrope, and get a little tipsy in the bar that hosts 1400s-style jam bands (who doesn’t want to hear Awolnation’s “Sail” played on an oud?). Along the way you’ll find games, quirky characters, and giant turkey legs. Themed happenings include pet-friendly days, Oktoberfest, and chocolate romance weekends. Be sure to stop by the tent near the jousting for free beer and wine samples. Tickets and more info can be found at 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, plus Labor Day and Friday, September 28. $13.50-$24.95; season passes available. 12364 Chestnut Blvd., Shakopee; 952-445-7361. August 18-September 30 —Jessica Armbruster

Minnesota State Fair

Minnesota State Fair courtesy of Minnesota State Fair

Minnesota State Fair

Minnesota State Fairgrounds

What’s new this year at the Minnesota State Fair? Everything, and nothing—which is exactly the way Minnesotans like it. The ultra-sincere Coliseum contests will be back (“This little lady brought her horses all the way from Moorhead!”). Monsters will still be exhaustedly dancing to “Thriller” outside the Haunted House, and god knows Sweet Martha’s anthropomorphic cookies will still be winking coyly, tempting you to take a bite. There will be snack-on-a-stick debuts, of course: Minnesotans anticipate the arrival of the State Fair’s new-food list like wedding guests wait for the electric slide. Fairgoers will also bid adieu to a longtime staple that got a little stale: The Robbinsdale OES Dining Hall is becoming a new hub for Pronto Pups. Meanwhile, the Grandstand will offer nostalgia for every generation, from the ’60s (the Beach Boys, a.k.a. Mike Love’s Beach Boys cover band) to the ’70s (Earth, Wind & Fire) to the ’80s (Culture Club) to the ’90s (311) to 2015 (Niall Horan of One Direction). Daily gate hours are 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.; 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Labor Day. $9-$14. 1265 Snelling Ave. N., St. Paul; 651-288-4400. August 23-September 3 —Jay Gabler