The Current Summer Guide 2021: Things to do in the Twin Cities and beyond

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The Current Summer Guide graphic.
The Current Summer Guide (MPR)

Minnesotans always steer into summer, and this year's is going to be a season like no other. We've curated a summerlong list of happenings to spark your excitement and inspire your adventures.

Minneapolis Paddle Share

Opens May 29

For a population that has been emotionally landlocked by pandemic-related stress, the slow constant current of the Mississippi River is a refuge. Visitors can satisfy their yearning to connect with the river on May 29 when Mississippi River Paddle Share begins kayak rentals. The process is simple and free of human contact: book a rental online; select a route from five options with starting locations in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Brooklyn Park; use your access code to unlock a locker at the starting location and retrieve your kayak; use a map to self-guide; and return your trusty vessel to the locker at route's end. Since conditions on the Mississippi are constantly changing, previous kayaking experience is required; less-experienced paddlers are encouraged to double paddle with an experienced lead. Follow @MissPaddleShare to stay up-to-date on weather-related closures. (Lydia Moran)

Music and Movies in the Minneapolis Parks

Music kickoff May 31 (movies start May 25)

If there was ever a summer for music and movies in the parks, this is absolutely it. Expect enthusiastic crowds in parks across Minneapolis for movies like Ferris Bueller's Day Off (June 12, Armatage Park), Selena (July 26, Lake Harriet Bandshell), and special presentations by the Twin Cities Black Film Festival. Live music begins with Necessary Diversion and Sawyer's Dream at Lake Harriet on May 31; artists hitting the parks later this summer include the Dylan tribute BOB! (June 25, Lake Harriet), New Primitives (August 21, Lake Harriet), and more. Expect some big names (yet to be announced) at the Lake Harriet Bandshell on Friday nights in August. Here's the schedule so far. (Jay Gabler)

Man in baseball cap stands in front of pink background.
Joel Ross performs on the Walker Art Center hillside on Aug. 6 as part of the Summer Ahead series. (courtesy Blue Note Records via Walker Art Center)

Summer Ahead at the Walker Art Center

ongoing throughout the summer

Summer behind, but Summer the race to make the most of this warm-weather season, you want to be in the front of the pack. The Walker Art Center is concentrating outdoor activities on the first weekend of each month (starting on the museum's ongoing Free First Thursdays) in its seasonal series featuring Minneapolis Sculpture Garden tours; jazz and soul performances; art-making opportunities; and poetry readings. (Jay Gabler)

Kiss the Tiger album release

June 3

Kiss the Tiger get the summer party started with the launch of its third album, Vicious Kid, on Icehouse's outdoor stage. With a classic rock and roll sound elevated by the charisma of lead vocalist Meghan Kreidler, Kiss the Tiger blend catchy lyrics (like the memorable "Sunday Morning") with a danceable sound. Kreidler's background as an actor adds to the five-person band's stage presence, while also making for some dramatic music videos. Their last outdoor performances at Icehouse lit up Nicollet Avenue with energy, with the soulful opener Mayda getting thing started, as she will this time around as well. The album release kicks off a residency at Icehouse, with subsequent weeks featuring guests TABAH, Tekk Nikk, and Thomasina Petrus. (Sheila Regan)

Henderson PrinceFest

June 5-6

"That ain't Lake Minnetonka," said Prince to Apollonia in Purple Rain. No, it wasn't: it was the Minnesota River near the town of Henderson, which now commemorates the iconic scene with an annual PrinceFest. This year's festivities include a concert by Johnny Rodgers and Jellybean Johnson; an art show; a dove release (!); and of course tours of the Purple Rain filming sites. (Jay Gabler)

Franconia Art & Farmers Market

First Sunday of every month through October

Nestled among the gentle slopes of the St. Croix River Valley and about one hour's drive from the Twin Cities, Franconia Sculpture Park's 50 acres of mind-expanding sculpture, installation, and land art emerges along Route 8 like an otherworldly jungle gym. For the second summer in a row, Franconia's Art & Farmers Market connects patrons with local art and agriculture — from oils, syrups, and spells by Plant & Page, to the flakey goodness of Ruhland's Strudel Haus, to candles and honey produced by local bees and fashioned by Bone Lake Meadows Apiary. Because 2020 was the market's inaugural year, Franconia is learned in the art of social distancing and urges shoppers to review the Minnesota Department of Agriculture's guidelines for safe shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Lydia Moran)

Lowertown Sounds

Thursdays, June 10 - Aug. 26

Summer's outdoor music boom continues with a star-studded series in St. Paul's beautifully blooming Mears Park. Headliners include the stylish Lady Midnight (for the series kickoff on June 10), poignant singer-songwriter Sarah Morris (June 17), local legends the Flamin' Oh's (July 8), barnburning rockers the Shackletons (July 15), the riveting Annie Mack (July 22), Latin orchestra Salsa del Soul (July 29), hopeless romantic Jeff Arundel (Aug. 5), first-ever Local Show music guest Dan Israel (Aug. 12), the beloved New Standards (Aug. 19), and hip-hop heroes Heiruspecs (Aug. 26). The openers are no slackers, either! Check out the complete lineup. (Jay Gabler)

Annie Mack performs at The Current's 14th Birthday Party
Annie Mack, seen here at First Avenue in 2019, is among this year's Lowertown Sounds performers. (Nate Ryan | MPR)

The SOTA Movement

June 11-13

Maia Maiden Productions has been raising the bar for hip-hop excellence in the Twin Cities for over a decade, through the popular Sistah Solo | Being Brothas and Rooted: Hip Hop Choreographer's Evening events. Now the dancer-turned producer Maiden is teaming up with Herb "Fairwarning" Johnson III and Ololade "O" Gbadamosi-Alashe for a three-day festival of hip-hop dance and culture. The free event will stream two shows live from Park Square Theatre on Friday, host in-person and streaming classes and workshops all afternoon from Studio 208 in St. Paul on Saturday, and offer in-person and streaming Krump classes and a Krump battle on Saturday from The Lab in Minneapolis. (Sheila Regan)

Northern Spark

June 12-27

Northern Spark has evolved since the early days, when the festival hosted public art, performance and installations over the course of an all-night event. A few years back, they spread out the festival over two nights, and now are stretching the fun out over the course of two weeks, with a mix of in-person and streaming events around the Twin Cities. This year's theme is alchemy, alluding to the ways that artists transform both their materials and the world around them. The festivities will include an outdoor participatory dance/walk led by Lelis Brito, an interactive sculpture created from an intergenerational collaborative project, as well as many projects offered virtually and as mail-art delivered to addresses in Rondo, Frogtown and East St. Paul. (Sheila Regan)

Juneteenth in the Minneapolis Parks

June 19

2021 marks the first time Juneteenth will be an official city holiday in Minneapolis. (Since the holiday falls on a Saturday this year, government offices will closing on Friday.) Celebrations of this African American Freedom Day will be taking place throughout the Twin Cities; among them will be a week of story strolls, movie screenings, and community discussions in the Minneapolis Parks. (Jay Gabler)

Stone Arch Bridge Festival

June 19-20

Looking for something artsy and musical to do for Father's Day weekend? Head over to the the Stone Arch Bridge Festival. This year, the fest hops across the Mississippi River, a move to offer more room for social distancing. Taking place on West River Parkway from the Stone Arch Bridge to about N. 4th Ave., it will include an art market with 200+ artists and a culinary arts market where you can sample local venders offering an array of honey, cheese, cocktail mixes, oils and more. There will also be live music and the Art of the Car show, plus a display of vintage and collectible cars on display. (Sheila Regan)

Silverwood OnStage

June 23 - Sept. 11

"Imagine performances coming alive on an iconic sculptural wood stage framed by towering oaks of a restored savannah landscape," reads the promotional copy for Silverwood OnStage. "Loons cry from the shores of Silver Lake and the glow from the stage lights forms a warm, bonfire-like circle as the moon rises overhead..." Are you sold yet? Wait until you see the lineup. Top local talents including Monica LaPlante, Humbird, Moise, and Freaque are taking the amphitheater stage in St. Anthony; all shows are free and open to the public. (Jay Gabler)

Art in Motion Music Festival

June 25-27

Cycle through the central Minnesota town of Holdingford during the last weekend in June, and you may hear tunes wafting in the wildflower-scented breeze. In the summer of 2020, avid cyclist and Holdingford native Greg Konsor opened Art in Motion, a combined art gallery, artist workshop, and cafe on 32 acres mere steps from the 65-mile historic trail. One year later, Konsor invites locals and out-of-towners alike to an outdoor music festival featuring Minnesota musicians Nelson Hamilton, Micheal Shynes, Leon Laudenbach, Harper's Chord, and Ring of Kerry. Visitors can lounge in the facility's wide green space, indulge in ice cream and beer at Boho Cafe, and view or make art of their own in the gallery. This event is socially distanced and has a capacity of 250 people. To find weather-related updates, visit the event on Facebook. (Lydia Moran)

Independence Day celebrations

July 4

Why not try something different for your 4th of July tradition? For example: the Return of the '90s Throwback River Cruise, launching from Harriet Island. Ray Seville and the Original 5 are hosting this night cruise, set to a sound track of '90s hip hop, R&B, Chicago house, and dancehall music. Wear your best '90s getup. Or, for a more family-friendly option, venture over to CHS Field to watch the St. Paul Saints take on the Storm Chasers. Fireworks will take place for people that came for the game. For those wanting to get the party started early, head to the WAP Drag Brunch: Summer Edition, hosted by Flip Phone at Crave. Red White and Boom, the traditional Minneapolis riverfront holiday celebration, is on hiatus again this year due to COVID safety and uncertainty; instead, the Minneapolis Parks are planning a series of smaller celebrations at parks across the city. (Sheila Regan)

Legacy of the Lakes Classic Boat Show

July 9-10

There's nothing wrong with setting your folding chair out on Snelling Avenue and watching the classic cars drive by during shows at the Fairgrounds...but in the heat of summer, maybe lakeside vehicle viewing will be a little more comfortable. The Legacy of the Lakes Museum is hosting a fleet of classic boats on Lake Darling in Alexandria to showcase the more contoured side of Minnesota lake life. There's a ticketed music performance by Kelley Hunt on Friday night, then on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. the classic boat and car show is free for rubberneckers to attend. (To display a vehicle, registration is required.) While you're in Alexandria, you can also check out Minnesota's most controversial museum. (Jay Gabler)

Polica, seen here at Rock the Garden in 2016, are among this year's Down by the Riverside performers. (MPR / Evan Frost)

Down by the Riverside

Sundays, July 11 - Aug. 15

With indoor events still limited, many music fans are casting their gaze to outdoor shows this summer — and there aren't many settings more appealing than the bank of the Zumbro River in Rochester. This year's free concert series includes high-profile acts ranging from local favorites Chastity Brown and Poliça to national hitmakers like .38 Special and — hold on loosely — Smash Mouth! (Jay Gabler)

Roots, Rock, & Deep Blues Festival X

July 15-17

An eclectic mix of sounds converge at the Hook & Ladder's outdoor space as this neighborhood music festival returns to public stages after last year's virtual event. This three-day festival runs the gamut of styles, starting off on day one with Mae Simpson's gravelly voice that will remind you of Janis Joplin. Gully Boys' high-energy rock headlines day two, followed by Molly Maher on day three, one of many artists bringing an Americana sound to the line-up. Meanwhile, kick back with blues artists Kent Burnside and the Flood Brothers as well as R.L. Boyce; a mix of world music sounds, funk, country, and more fill the weekend. (Sheila Regan)

Twin Cities Pride Festival

July 17-18

This year's Pride celebration in Minneapolis is, like many other big summer events, treading a middle path: not fully back to pre-pandemic normal, but not cancelled or moved online either. While there won't be a parade this year, given the extensive planning required (not to mention the joyfully crowded conditions), a Twin Cities Pride Festival will fill Loring Park with "BIPOC and LGBTQ+ vendors, food courts, a beer garden, and music stages." Admission will be free. If you're vaxxed up and ready to get sweaty, First Avenue is hosting dance parties on both Friday and Saturday nights of this postponed Pride weekend. (Jay Gabler)

Brainerd Ski Loons Water Shows

July 18, Aug. 1, Aug. 15, Aug. 18

While a three-tiered pyramid of water skiers clad in outfits that could be inspired both by 1980s figure skating champions and the cast of Shrek is a complex triumph, the mission of the Brainerd Ski Loons is quite simple: support personal development, teamwork, and community involvement through water sports. Team members vary in age and are trained in the sport from beginner to performer. Last summer, the Ski Loons performed free shows to over 1,800 people in the idyllic Brainerd Lakes Area. In 2021, the team has four more family-friendly events scheduled at Lum Park to showcase intergenerational community pride and gravity-defying feats. (Lydia Moran)

Pickup Truck Opera

July 18 - Sept. 12

Mixed Precipitation became a beloved staple in the Twin Cities and around Minnesota through its joyful "Picnic Operetta" program, where the classics were entwined with modern and popular music, performed in community gardens. In light of COVID, the company has altered the concept slightly with its Pickup Truck Opera, which like the earlier iteration is a traveling show. For Volume One: The Odyssey, the company has adapted Monteverdi's 1639 opera, l ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (The Return of Ulysses to his Homeland), adding some Dolly Parton and other country music for good measure. Accompanied by banjo, cello, and pump organ instrumentalists, the operatic singers — including Momoko Tanno in the role of Penlope and Rodolpho Nieto as Ulysses — breathe twangy new life into the baroque classic. The production is led by music director and composer Gary Ruschman, with staging by Jac Miller and producing artistic director Scotty Reynolds. (Sheila Regan)

Minneapolis Aquatennial

July 21-24

It's an 80-year-old tradition, first started in 1940: celebrating the City of Lakes (hence "Aquatennial") with fireworks, a parade, and activities for the whole family. This year's Aquatennial is set to take place in downtown Minneapolis, headlined by the CenterPoint Energy Torchlight Parade on July 21 and the Target Fireworks on Saturday, July 24. Meanwhile, virtual "AquaTivities" created during last year's pause — including puzzles and a scavenger hunt — are still available at (Sheila Regan)

Valleyfair Grand Carnivale

July 24 - Aug. 8

For those disappointed about missing carnival celebrations (think Mardi Gras) when they traditionally occur during February or early March, Valleyfair has concocted an opportunity to be immersed in the larger-than-life extravaganza at the peak of summer. Known for being a time of indulgence prior to the season of lent, carnival participants adorn themselves in costumes to escape everyday personas and conjure a sense of unity with one another — much like the sense of unity one may discover with fellow roller coaster riders. This day-to-night event features decorated floats, costumed performers, a parade, and live music with an interactive dance party accompanied by international cuisine. This summer marks the Shakopee amusement park's return after remaining closed throughout 2020 due to the pandemic; find updated COVID-19 safety protocols here. (Lydia Moran)

Open Streets

July 25, August 1, and other dates into the fall

This summer Open Streets Minneapolis returns to a street near you, creating bicycle and pedestrian fun with music, art and community without any cars. Open Streets is a great way to imagine what typically busy streets like Lyndale, East Lake, and Broadway Avenues would look like in a car-free utopia, and it's also a fun way to see your neighbors. With block party vibe and a different feel depending on the businesses and neighborhood groups that are organizing, you'll find food, demonstrations, music, arts and more. The festivities kick off on July 25 at East Lake Street, and move to new streets throughout the summer and through October. (Sheila Regan)

All Pints North

July 31

More than 100 craft breweries and brewpubs from across Minnesota will come together at Duluth's Bayfront Festival Park after a trying year for the food and beverage industry — and doubly for small businesses. "In-person events strengthen that sense of community that is so crucial to the craft beer industry; attendees really get to connect with the people who are making their favorite local brews," Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild executive director Lauren Bennett McGinty said in a press release. So, in that spirit of friendship, sip samples of craft beer, cider, seltzer, and non-alcoholic drinks and enjoy food trucks, local shops, live music at this year's reunion, all while basking in the glory of Lake Superior. To prevent a sellout, one thousand tickets will go on sale at a time. To snag the first batch (starting June 1) and find a complete list of participating breweries, visit (Lydia Moran)

Minnesota Fringe Festival

August 5-15

After going virtual in 2020, this year the Fringe is offering a hybrid experience, with both pre-recorded and live virtual performances, as well as in-person independently produced shows. That means, for the in-person shows, the venues may look different than the past, including outdoor venues. What hasn't changed is the spirit of the Fringe, where a mix of new and veteran theater makers, dancers, and other sorts of performing artists offer an anything goes lineup. In the mood for a comedy? The Fringe has you covered, but there's also a lot more, and it's up to you to find those hidden gems that end up becoming hits. (Sheila Regan)

Irish Fair of Minnesota

August 13-15

"Resume shenanigans!" directs the Irish Fair of Minnesota regarding its return to Harriet Island. With international travel still curtailed, this year's lineup draws strongly on local artists like the Belfast Cowboys, the Wild Colonial Bhoys, and the Sweet Colleens. In addition to music and — of course — dancing, the St. Paul festival includes cooking demonstrations, a marketplace, kids' entertainment, and eats. You can also enjoy a pub tent and whiskey tastings, but don't get fluthered! (Jay Gabler)

Blue Ox Music Festival

The Schell's Stage at Schilling Amphitheater
The Schell's Stage at Schilling Amphitheater. (Minnesota State Fair)

August 19-21

Get your camping gear packed and get ready for three days of bluegrass, roots, and Americana music near the Chippewa River in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. With national acts like the Grammy-winning Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, as well as the Austin-based Shakey Graves (a.k.a. Alejandro Rose-Garcia, who is also a film and TV actor), it's all set in a picturesque landscape. Minnesota's own Charlie Parr is also on the lineup, while the Twin-Cities-based Pert Near Sandstone host the festivities. Also watch out for the virtuosic mandolin playing of Sam Bush Band and the biting lyrics and rich sound of Lillie Mae. Organizers are also planning a special tribute to the late Max Graham, a hero of the local Americana scene. (Sheila Regan)

Duluth Superior Film Festival

August 19-22

To challenge mainstream ideas about who and what is the "norm" in filmmaking, the Duluth Superior Film Festival uplifts regional talent and exposes audiences to lesser-known stories. Festival director Matt Koshmrl says the multi-day event has been reimagined this year and partnered with organizations such as the NAACP and American Indian Community Housing Organization. "We're engaging a larger community than just the filmmaking community," Koshmrl said.

Partner organizations will partake in programming by promoting film categories to their networks, such as "Cinema Re-Formed," focusing on social, economic, and racial justice, and "Indigenous Angle," written or directed by a member of the Indigenous community. Short and feature-length documentary, narrative fiction, and experimental works will be screened at the Zeitgeist Zinema 2. There is potential for screenings throughout the Northland in 2021. Submissions are accepted until June 30. Filmmakers can also pitch new productions for grant money and training. (Lydia Moran)

Minnesota State Fair

Aug. 26 - Sept. 6

We're still reeling from the 2020 cancellation of the Great Minnesota Get-Together, so it might be a bit surreal to be once again amidst a sea of farm animals, every food you can think of served on a stick, seed art, monarch rooms, brightly painted tractors, and people of all stripes. At the Grandstand, some acts that were scheduled for last year will be returning in 2021, including country music singer Miranda Lambert; the 50th Anniversary Tour of the Doobie Brothers; and Tim McGraw. Rapper NF's The Search Tour was also scheduled for 2020 and will be coming this year, as will 16-year-old ventriloquist Darcy Lynne Farmer (winner of season 12 of America's Got Talent) along with the Okee Dokee Brothers. (Sheila Regan)

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