Free live music performed in many of the Twin Cities’ public parks has become a time honored tradition. This summer, for only the second time in 34 years, the Walker Art Center has decided not to offer its much loved program of music and movies in Loring Park. But luckily for area residents, there are plenty of other options to choose from every night of the week featuring local and national acts playing everything from the blues to indie rock with classical and cultural opportunities too.
Here is a round-up of the best known and most accessible venues and programs. Follow the links to get additional details like scheduled artists, specific dates and times, maps, addresses and parking information.
If you know of more free music or festivals, please add the information as a comment, and also add it to our community calendar.
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board schedules more than 200 musical performances every summer in four main parks. Concerts begin May 31 continuing until Labor Day and feature full orchestras, solo performers and every imaginable combination in between.
- Bryant Square Park – Tuesday and Thursday at 7:00 p.m.
- Father Hennepin Bluffs Park – Monday and Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. Check out Native American music and movie events Thursdays, July 22-August 12
- Lake Harriet – Monday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday 2:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Don’t miss the Minnesota Pops Orchestra Saturdays and Sundays in July.
- Minnehaha Park – Monday through Thursday at 7:00 p.m. Special events include the Freedom Jazz Festival (August 7) and Laughing Waters Bluegrass Festival (September 6)
Workers on their lunch breaks, or on their way home, join the downtown Minneapolis crowds for music in Peavey Plaza throughout the summer. Located beside a grand fountain and Orchestra Hall, the outdoor amphitheater offers vendors supplying food and drinks while local and national acts take the stage.
Weekdays in June, Peavey Plaza features musical acts twice a day. The program was started by the Downtown Council in 1985 and has been expanding ever since.
- Tunes at Noon – acoustic sets, Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
- Alive after Five – Monday through Friday from 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
- Sommerfest Weekends in July, Peavey Plaza is full of music once again, with Sommerfest concerts from the Minnesota Orchestra. Starting July 9, performances feature classical and contemporary musicians.
St. Paul Parks
St. Paul Music in the Parks features acts large and small performing at four parks in the city. Concerts start May 16 and continue until September 5.
- Como Lakeside Pavilion – the covered open air bandshell can seat up to 800 people on its benches. Almost daily performances from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Most shows are free, except some Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays in July and August.
- Phalen Amphitheater – Featuring musical acts with a variety of dates and times. Check out acts like Watching Leona (June 20).
- Rice Park – Surrounded by landmarks in the heart of downtown St. Paul, features music from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. on a variety of Mondays.
- Mears Park – This Lowertown city park is a hot spot for summer music. Check out blues or jazz ensembles various Tuesdays from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.
- Mears Park is also the site for the seventh year of Music in Mears. Free Thursday evening concerts from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. feature mostly local rock bands June 10 – August 26. Movies follow the concerts July 22- August 26. Food, drinks, art and other merchandise are available from local vendors, like The Bulldog and Barrio Tequila Bar.
- Other Mears Park special events include the Twin Cities Jazz Festival (June 17-19) and the Concrete and Grass Music Festival.
- On St. Paul’s west side, Parque Castillo features Movies and Music in District Del Sol, family friendly Thursday nights (June 18-August 6) with art activities starting at 6:30 p.m., music at 7:30 p.m. and a movie played at dusk. Each week focuses on a different decade of Mexican history and culture.