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

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The Current Fall Guide graphic with logo over color-shaded photo of leaves.
The Current Fall Guide. (MPR)

Who's ready for sweater weather? We've compiled a list of happenings to fill your fall days in Minneapolis and St. Paul, with suggested excursions to some of Greater Minnesota's greatest places.

Defeat of Jesse James Days

Sept. 8-12

Although there are multiple accounts of what took place that fateful autumn day in 1876, one thing remains clear: Northfield continues to celebrate the vanquishing of notorious outlaw Jesse James and his gang of bank robbers. Beginning in 1948 as the "Fall Festival," the celebration is jam-packed with attractions and is among the largest outdoor gatherings in the state. History buffs can witness a reenactment of the robbery outside the First National Bank of Northfield and delight in a carnival, car show, cornhole tournament, professional rodeo, musical performance, and even a beard contest. "Can you be as dapper as the outlaw Jesse James with a goatee?" There's only one way to find out. (Lydia Moran)

St. Paul Oktoberfest

Sept. 10-11

Prost! When it's September, that means it's time to celebrate Oktoberfest. We don't make the rules — that's just how it is. Go to the big festival in Munich if you don't believe us. Actually, don't...because the original festival in that city is cancelled this year due to the pandemic. But you still can attend the festivities in St. Paul, by heading to the grounds of the Germanic-American Institute. The two-day nonprofit-run festival sticks authentically close to Oktoberfest's Bavarian roots, featuring Munich-brewed beer from Paulaner — as well as Minneapolis-brewed offerings in the classic style from Utepils, for those who prefer to think global but drink local. The food at the festival is slightly more diverse, with an array of international foods available. There will be wunderbar games for kids on the grounds, with loads of culture and revelry featuring artists like Jimi the Polka Pirate and Doctor Kielbasa. (Sheila Regan)

Winona Dakota Gathering, Homecoming & Powwow

Sept. 10-12

The Winona Dakota Unity Alliance has a dream to bring the Dakota people back to their homeland in Winona and strengthen understanding between Winona, Minnesota, and the Dakota Nation. As descendants of people who were at war 150 years ago, unpacking historical trauma through education helps foster friendship. At Unity Park in Winona, families of Indigenous and local populations around the region gather for a powwow, arts and crafts, Moccasin tournament, lacrosse, and Unity Feast. The learning tent features beadwork, cradleboard, quillwork, dream catchers, and Dakota language. One-to-one interaction is a priority during The Talk Circle, a moderated conversation about historical events. Those with Native American ancestry can learn how to preserve their ancestors' historical sites at the genealogy information station. (Lydia Moran)

Monarch Festival

Sept. 11

The annual Monarch Festival/Festival de la Monarca is a joyful, magical event that has it all: amazing monarch art, games, music, food, dancing, and education about pollination, monarch migration, the importance of Native plants and protecting monarch habitat. From milkweed seed bombs to real life monarchs, it's a cross-cultural festival produced by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and the Nokomis East Neighborhood Association, with a whole list of other partners including Monarch Joint Venture, the Mexican Consulate and the United States Forest Service. While you're there, you can visit information booths featuring the Minnesota Dragonfly Society, Hennepin County Library, the Minnesota Zoo, Nokomis Naturescape, and more. (Sheila Regan)

Wide photo of image projected on screen in front of sunset.
Five-minute films will be projected on a large screen. (Franconia Sculpture Park)

Five Minute Film Festival

Sept. 11

For those of you with short attention spans, Franconia Sculpture Park has got you covered. The inaugural Five Minute Film Fest keeps you guessing with an evening full of rotating art films and videos, documentaries, animated movies, and experimental media, all in bite sizes. Chosen by a five-person jury, including Franconia's executive director and chief curator Ginger Shulick Porcella, the program will include cash prizes for the first, second and third place winners. Arrive early to take in the park's scenic landscape and art in the gorgeous fall light, then settle in for an enjoyable outdoor screening at the amphitheater, or in the commons if there is inclement weather. (Sheila Regan)

Fashion Week MN

Sept. 12-18

If you're not hip to "the interconnected fashion economy of the North," Fashion Week MN is here to provide not one, but two easy opportunities each year to check out what local designers are up to. In addition to showcases like Native Visions, Northwoods Greene (sorry if that was going to be your next album title, Taylor Swift), and the culminating Evolve runway event, music fans can take in live performances at the Freakshow "vintage circus" and a Dr. Zwack Global Launch party with some guitar grinding from the always-natty Little Man. (Jay Gabler)

Black Fashion Week MN

Sept. 16-25

Black Girl Magic, Black Man Magic, model painting (as in people, not airplanes), the Art of Streetwear...Black Fashion Week MN has it all, and that's not even mentioning the Crazy, Sexy, Cool Fashion Show that kicks it all off. As a press release explains, "Black Fashion Week MN was created as a platform to showcase talented and creative black, indigenous, people of color." As with Fashion Week MN, this week comes around twice a year; for added value, the fall event features music from DJ Lazy T and two chances to check out the brand-new Brother Justus Whiskey Company cocktail room. (Jay Gabler)

Minnesota Children's Book Festival

Sept. 18

Dancing with help from an eagle, a guide to apologizing for all ages, the magic of nature in the middle of the city — this year's Minnesota Children's Book Festival authors present new books covering a range of themes. The festival is held annually outdoors at Anderson Center's historic Tower View campus in Red Wing; attendees can enjoy live readings and participate in a meet and greet and book signing with this year's featured authors. Ignite the imagination off the page with additional activities such as face painting, stilt walking, bookmaking, puppet theater, and more. Climb the historic Anderson Water Tower and hear stories set to breathtaking views. All ages are welcome. (Lydia Moran)

Boats and Bluegrass Festival

Sept. 23-25

True to form, Boats and Bluegrass ushers in the official start of Autumn with a family-friendly weekend of camping, canoeing, and live music on the banks of the Mississippi River near Winona. On Friday and Saturday, attendees can explore the river and take guided canoe trips (boats and lifejackets are provided). Then a celebration of roots music — bluegrass, folk, Americana, country, old-time — with over 40 bands playing all weekend long. This year's lineup includes Charlie Parr, Them Coulee Boys, Peter Rowan, and many more. Kids 16 and under are free with a paying adult and camping is included with the purchase of an all-weekend pass. (Lydia Moran)

Solidarity Street Gallery

Sept. 23-25

This cultural festival along Payne Avenue in St. Paul unites the Eastside for three days of art, poetry, food, and important conversations. In partnership with Oyate Hotanin ("Voice of the People"), the 2021 festival will focus on Indigenous sovereignty and environmental justice. There will be opportunities to learn through music, large-scale public art, and an eco-park that will highlight local environmental initiatives and the preservation of sacred sites. Art in the Hollow, the Eastside's longest-running art festival, will take place in Swede Hollow on Saturday along with the Harvest Festival Parade. (Lydia Moran)

Woman made up to look like her face has been stitched together.
Are you ready for a haunting experience? (Molitor's Haunted Acres)

What the Constitution Means to Me

Sept. 30 - Oct. 24

The Guthrie Theater hosts the first stop on a national tour of What the Constitution Means to Me. The play, by Heidi Schreck, premiered on Broadway back in 2019 starring Schreck herself for a limited engagement and became a runway hit. The national tour stars Cassie Beck as the lead character who grapples with the legacy of the Constitution, especially as it impacts her as a woman. The play jumps back and forth in time between the present and the narrator's past, which she was a 15-year-old Constitutional debater. Besides a funny and heartwarming experience, you'll also get the bonus of learning about the Constitution — especially the ninth and 14th amendments. (Sheila Regan)

Haunted houses

Dates vary

What's October without a good scare? Minnesota is home to some particularly inventive annual haunts — including the Haunted Basement, which went virtual last year and has yet to announce plans for 2021. Several haunted houses have already announced their returns, though, including Cottage Grove's Haunting Experience ("the scariest of all the Halloween attractions and haunted houses in Minnesota"); Shakopee's Trail of Terror (offering a "Phantom's Feast" if gore stimulates your appetite); Rochester's Fright Farm (complete with a hemp maze designed to "educate and inform"); Chaska's Scream Town ("Seven massive haunted houses! One low price!"); Valleyfair's Halloween Haunt, which adds a particularly kinetic dimension to seasonal horror; Chaska's Abandoned Hayride ("you will literally be abandoned"); and perennial favorite Molitor's Haunted Acres near St. Cloud. If you like the idea of being able to strike back at the hardworking actors providing your Halloween entertainment, the Zombie Rampage paintball bus makes sure there's never a trigger far from your finger. The Scare Factor maintains a detailed, searchable guide to facilitate your fright finding. (Jay Gabler)

Afton Apple Fest

Oct. 2-17

There's a lot more than apples at Afton Apples. The family-owned and -operated orchard in the St. Croix Valley also has raspberries, strawberries, and pumpkins for all of your Minnesota-grown pie filling needs. There's even a corn maze, with three different difficulty levels that are all newly designed for 2021. In October, the orchard transforms into a party, with three weekends of fun during the Afton Apple Fest. Check out a magic show, listen to some local music, play games and try out an array of tasty items like apple fritters, caramel apples, and more. The area is full of apple orchards, including Aamodt's (Stillwater) and Pine Tree (Stillwater), so you have a ripe range of options for delicious fall fun. (Sheila Regan)

Twin Cities Oktoberfest

Oct. 8-9

Technically, Oktoberfest beers are supposed to come from six particular breweries in Munich, but Trademark disputes around the name haven't really held up internationally. For now, we Minnesotans can enjoy our own great brews and ciders from Utepils, Waconia Brewing Company, Castle Danger Brewery, and Sociable Ciderwerks at the Twin Cities Oktoberfest held at the State Fairgrounds. Besides beer, the festival features traditional Bavarian musical troupes, as well as the modular band Shirts & Skins. Also plan to come hungry, because the food selection includes Sarah's Tipsy Pies, Burbach's European pancakes (made with sour cream or apple sauce), brats, barbecue, and more. (Sheila Regan)

Stillwater Harvest Fest

Oct. 9-10

After a hiatus in 2020, the sound of a giant pumpkin (or two) smashing into the banks of the St. Croix in downtown Stillwater will echo once more as Stillwater Harvest Fest resumes full outdoor programming. Festivalgoers can enjoy a beer and wine garden, hear live music, and marvel at the mass of the region's heaviest pumpkin (in 2019, that was a whopping 2,091 pounds). On Sunday "pumpkin pilots" race down the river in hollowed-out pumpkins. On Saturday and Sunday evening, giant pumpkins that were grown from seed by midwest growers drop from a 100-foot crane and meet their fate amidst cheers. (Lydia Moran)

Twin Cities Book Festival

Virtual events Sept. 16 - Oct. 14, in-person event Oct. 16

Like many arts organizations, adjusting to pandemic restraints in 2020 equipped Rain Taxi, the Minneapolis-based book review and literary organization, to include an expanded virtual community into its annual gathering of contemporary literature lovers. In addition to in-person activities at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, the 2021 festival will host virtual author conversations in the weeks leading up to the live portion. Readers of all ages can meet with writers and publishers, browse books, and celebrate reading with others after social isolation made an already solitary pursuit even more lonely. And speaking of health and safety, this year's festival will be shaped by health guidelines around crowd flow and occupancy limits. (Lydia Moran)

Twin Cities Film Festival

Oct. 21-30

The Twin Cities Film Festival goes hybrid this year with a mix of in-person showcases and events at select locations in St. Louis Park, livestream premieres, and on-demand offerings on the TCFF Streams platform. In addition to standard independent cinema, TCFF partnered with St. Louis Park-based REM5 Virtual Reality Laboratory this year to inject a new kind of immersive storytelling into live event offerings. In support of TCFF's mission to support social dialogue through film, this year's Changemaker Series spotlights Mental Wellness. The need for greater social, emotional, and psychological wellbeing will be explored through feature films, panels, and community partnerships. (Lydia Moran)


Oct. 31

Quaran-ween last year fell on a gorgeous full-moon Saturday night. Welp! It's a Sunday this year, but you can fully expect that people will be making the most of the preceding weekend. Watch The Current's website for a guide to musical happenings and, inevitably, costume contests on Oct. 29 and 30. Time to dust off that disco wig, Tony Manero. Hope that white suit still fits. (Jay Gabler)

Art Attack

Nov. 5-7

The artists at the Northrup King Building have been hard at work and are ready for visitors for Art Attack weekend, taking place on all four floors of the largest artist studio building in Minneapolis. While it's not as well-known as the annual spring Art-a-Whirl, Art Attack allows visitors to Minnesota's largest studio complex to take a peek inside the workspaces of the artists who make up Northrup King's vibrant community; see the art, gifts, home decor items and more that will be on view; and take the time to chat with the artists. The open studio event is a great way to build relationships with makers and creatives, find out about their process, meet new artists, and discover new work. (Sheila Regan)

Minnesota Craft Beer Festival

Nov. 13

Expand your Minnesota beer vocabulary at this festival that features 500 beers from over 130 breweries from Minnesota and beyond. Think you're an expert on local brews? Challenge yourself and your beer knowledge in a taproom atmosphere inside a convention experience, with beers you may have encountered, and some that are limited releases. Get ready to have your taste buds go on overdrive as you sip your way through the Minneapolis Convention Center for this beer-lover event that has often sold out in past years. Sure, there will be brands you may recognize — like New Belgium Brewing Company, Summit, and Boom Island Brewing Co. — but there are sure to be breweries you may not have encountered before. (Sheila Regan)

Triptych of photographs of woman standing amidst greenery.
Valerie Oliveiro. (Walker Art Center)

Thanksgiving Eve

Nov. 24

Traditionally, Thanksgiving Eve has been one of the biggest nights of the year for live music — particularly local music, with fall tours wrapped up as artists head home for the holidays. At press time there were still a lot of question marks about what that will look like this year, but we'll keep our eyes peeled as we sip our PSLs. Watch for a forthcoming feature rounding up IRL and virtual pre-turkey shows. (Jay Gabler)

Choreographers' Evening

Nov. 27

Transdisciplinary artist Valerie Oliveiro curates this year's Choreographers' Evening, a long-standing post-Thanksgiving tradition at the Walker. The series is an annual gathering that highlights Minnesota dancemakers creating new forms from both emerging and established choreographers, serving as a get together of sorts for the dance community in the Twin Cities. Oliveiro has performed a number of times at the event, and is a force in the Minnesota dance scene as a performer, choreographer, and designer, not to mention arts leader through her work as a co-director of Red Eye Theater and MOVO Space in the Ivy Arts Building. (Sheila Regan)

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