If you’re a full-time live music fan in the Twin Cities, you probably know all the big, usual summer offerings: The Music in the Zoo lineup, First Avenue’s concerts outside the Surly brewery, the Twin Cities Pride Festival, Rock the Garden and the Basilica Block Party. We figure you folks could use tips on new places to try this summer.
Those of you who aren’t steady concertgoers, perhaps you just haven’t found the right venues or experiences. Here are some off-the-radar places to seek out for new live music adventures this summer, whatever your level of fandom.
Backyards: House gigs have grown increasingly popular for musicians and music fans tired of nightclubs, and now shows are popping up outside houses, too. At the forefront is the Grand Oak Opry series in St. Paul, whose 2019 schedule includes Dua Saleh (June 22), Akie Bermiss (July 20) and Maria Isa (Sept. 7). There’s also Porchfest returning June 20 to the Kingfield neighborhood of south Minneapolis. Facebook events pages are a good way of tracking down other options.
Riverfronts: Rochester’s Down by the Riverside series leaves other Minnesota cities’ riverfront series in its wake, with free Sunday gigs by 10,000 Maniacs on July 14, Cloud Cult on Aug. 11, the Revolution on Aug. 18 and more. Stillwater has revived its popular Lumberjack Days festival with new operators and free music July 19-20, including Soul Asylum and the Bad Man.
As for Minneapolis’ underused riverfront, at least there’s still the Stone Arch Bridge Festival, happening Friday through next Sunday with All Tomorrow’s Petty, Ice Palace, Sam Cassidy and many more.
Barns: Who doesn’t love a good old barn? There are a few within a couple hours of the Twin Cities that host music. The Hungry Turtle Farm in Amery, Wis., is an old beauty that will host performances with Ellis on June 22 and Beth Wood and David Stoddard on July 27. The Loy Show Barn in Oronoco (near Rochester) has a country dance with Trailer Trash this Saturday, plus Robbie Fulks on July 20 and Banjo Bash with Clay Hess on Aug. 17.
Much farther away but in a scenic part of Wisconsin, the [Expletive] Barn in Spring Green (hint: rhymes with “witty”) is as colorful as its name, hosting touring acts including the Cactus Blossoms, the Beths, Black Pumas and Mason Jennings.
Houses of the holy: The Basilica party set off a lot of imitators, but there’s a promising new twist on the concept with the Common Sound festival June 30. The collaboration between Beth El Synagogue and Benilde-St. Margaret’s Catholic prep school boasts a sweet message of unity and a strong lineup, too, with Doomtree and Jeremy Messersmith.
Glensheen Mansion: You’ve probably skipped rocks on the beach outside the famous manor, and now it’s time to get your rocks off there. The historic Duluth estate now hosts a weekly July series with bands performing on the big stone pier. Kayaking to the gig is encouraged. It kicks off July 3 with Charlie Parr and continues with Sarah Krueger (July 10), Big Wave Dave & the Ripples (July 17), Black River Revue (July 24) and the 4onthefloor (July 31).
Hazelden treatment center: Another iconic Minnesota haven in its own way, the serene grounds of the original Hazelden center in Center City host the popular HazelFest every year to celebrate sober living. This year’s Aug. 3 lineup features Messersmith, Annie Mack, Chris Kroeze and other “Voice” finalists.
Treasure Island Amphitheater: What’s surprising here is how normal the amphitheater is — the kind of 15,000-person, half-seated and half-grass amphitheater found in most other big cities. But in our case it’s located outside a casino in southeastern Minnesota. After last year’s well-received inaugural run, the lineup this summer includes Lynyrd Skynyrd (July 19), Kid Rock (Aug. 10), Reba McEntire (Aug. 17), Rod Stewart (Aug. 24) and the Avett Brothers with Trampled by Turtles (Sept. 21).
Other amphitheaters worth a road trip: Mankato, Duluth and Moorhead all have sizable, unique amphitheaters that attract touring acts and fans from all over. This year’s offerings at Mankato’s Vetter Stone Amphitheater include Death Cab for Cutie (July 9), Kip Moore (July 25) and Buddy Guy (Aug. 29). Duluth’s Bayfront Festival Park has Trampled by Turtles’ mini-fest (July 6), Steve Miller (July 14) and the Bobby Rush-led Bayfront Blues Fest (Aug. 9-11). Moorhead’s impressive Bluestem Amphitheater booked Incubus (Aug. 3), Devil Wears Prada (Aug. 10), Robert Plant (Sept. 25) and more.
Big Top Chautauqua: This circus-tented stage on a ski hill overlooking Lake Superior in Bayfield, Wis., has enough rustic, scenic charm and relatively big-name performers to draw Twin Citians from four hours away. This year’s schedule includes Lake Street Dive (June 26), the Jayhawks (July 13), Lyle Lovett (July 20), the Spinners (Aug. 3) and Brandi Carlile (Aug. 29-30).
Iowa festivals: Go figure. The Des Moines area now arguably outshines the Twin Cities for hip, multiday summer festivals. Downtown’s 80-35 Fest returns July 12-13 with Portugal. The Man, Metric, Liz Phair and Noname. South of town, alt-twang and rootsy music lovers can hit Hinterland again Aug. 2-4 with Kacey Musgraves, Jason Isbell, Carlile and Hozier. And for younger dance and rap fans, there’s 515 Alive, Aug. 16-17, with Griz, Wiz Khalifa and Illenium.
Como Lakeside Pavilion: Much closer to town, the historic — and covered! — open-air ballroom overlooking Como Lake in St. Paul has become the best city park venue around thanks to groover and shaker Molly Maher, who lined up more than 100 shows for the season. Highlights on the schedule include Tonic Sol-Fa (June 22), Jaedyn James & the Hunger (June 28), Matt Wilson’s Orchestra (July 25), Trailer Trash (Aug. 6) and a tribute to “The Last Waltz” (Aug. 10).
Cabooze Plaza: Another overlooked site in the heart of the cities, the parking lot between the Cabooze and Whiskey Junction — easily accessible via light-rail and bike — is being used again for more fun outdoor shows. Catfish & the Bottleman and X Ambassadors play there June 28, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony hit it July 19, Prof returns Sept. 8 and ol’ UB40 is back Sept. 14.