Charming Small-Town Celebrations … Worth the Drive

May 31, 2019

Many Minnesota communities roll out the welcome mats all summer long, with events and activities that entice visitors and locals alike. If you’re putting together your family’s summer calendar – and face it, after a long winter, you’ve earned some fun – here’s a good start.

In Minnesota, winter is the real deal … and that makes summer that much sweeter. Whether you seek culture, community, or comfort food, these amazing festivals prove that small towns, everywhere around you, know how to throw big celebrations. With quirky traditions you won’t find anywhere else, local culinary specialties, and parades down Main Street; community festivals bring out the best in small towns and make for one-of-a-kind experiences for visitors. From seasonal food and flower celebrations, to re-creations of times gone by, here are some charming small-town festivals that are worth the jaunt.

{Wonderful Winona} Steamboat Days (June 12-16); every summer, Winona pays homage to its roots as a bustling Mississippi River port, with Steamboat Days – a celebration that makes the city hum with excitement. A carnival midway, nightly live music, races, food galore, a grand parade, and fireworks are just a few of the reasons people flock to town for the annual event. Dixieland Jazz Festival (July 13) at Winona State University campus; each June, the one-day festival kicks off with performances by local musicians as well as regional greats who bring the foot-tapping sounds of banjos, horns, and ragtime piano to the masses that turn out. The festival is 30 years strong and free to attend, sponsored by the Upper Mississippi Jazz Society. Great Dakota Gathering (September 7-8) at Unity Park by East Lake; Winona honors its history as the ancestral home of the Dakota tribe each fall with the Great Dakota Gathering, an event that invites tribal members to come to Winona for several days to share their stories, their beliefs, and their rich cultural heritage. Boats & Bluegrass Festival (September 26-29) at Prairie Island Campground; set on the banks of the Mississippi River, the Boats & Bluegrass Festival has become iconic among music aficionados for its jaw-dropping lineups that extend for three days and feature some of the Midwest’s favorite bluegrass and folk performers. Musicians from across the country round out the roster of more than 40 bands set to take the stage.

{Pretty Peterson} Peterson Summer Events; find anything you are looking for on June 21-22 at the 4th annual 60-Mile Garage Sale. Nine Root River Trail Towns team up to throw a huge garage sale, packed with lots of goodies. Gammel Dag Fest (Saturday, June 22 – Sunday, June 23) Help celebrate the longest day of the year with a Scandinavian Midsummer Celebration. Begin your day with the 10:00 a.m. parade, then move to Fillmore Street for food trucks, entertainment, Scandinavian folk artists answering questions; (many offering an opportunity to make simple folk arts); hay rides, scavenger hunts, rock painting, photo opportunities, candy bar bingo, t-shirt painting, music, storytelling, and many prizes! Stay for dinner at Burdey’s and then buy a button to enter the street dance and fun at the Legion. More prizes distributed when button numbers are drawn at 11:00.

{Awesome Austin} Excitement in Austin; come to “Water Festival”, June 10 – June 15. Hosted by Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, family-friendly projects, activities and educational events are featured each day. Then Freedom Fest runs from June 28 through July 4; a huge celebration with games, sports, parades, vendors, entertainment, food, dances, contests, music, and of course wonderful fireworks. August brings the 8th Annual ArtWorks Festival, which takes place in the heart of downtown Austin. It’s a fulfilling celebration of art in all its forms.

{Ooooooh Owatonna} at Owatonna West Hills Complex; some-thirty regional artists will be showing and selling their creations at “Art on the Hills”, Saturday, July 27, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday, July 28, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (on the lawn of the Owatonna Arts Center at the West Hills Complex). The 2019 featured artist is Jon Smithers, photographer. This family-friendly event is held, rain or shine, on the historic grounds of West Hills. Come and shop, have lunch, and learn about the Orphanage Museum. Enjoy live music and see art being made. Free children’s area, where they can be artists. Works by painter Milia Wiley “Crochet in Transition” will be in the gallery, and there will also be an exhibition of emerging artists. The Arneson Atrium will have a display of Sharon Stark’s jackets and shoes, including her classy jacket. Sharon is an avid supporter of the community arts.

{Hooray for Houston} Houston Hoedown Days, a top-ten Minnesota Celebration, is always the last full weekend in July (this year, 26-28). It kicks-off with a kiddie parade on Friday afternoon. From there, it’s a full weekend packed with food, tractor pulls, kids’ activities, car shows, a flea market, a softball tournament, live music at the fest grounds-nightly, craft beer tasting, grand parade, and much more.

{Lovely Lakeville} Lakeville Pan-O-Prog (Panorama of Progress); This tremendous festival runs July 4 – 14. The celebration includes a multitude of events for a wide range of ages. The two largest events are “Cruise Night”, on Friday, July 12, and the Grand Parade, on Saturday, July 13 (both draw 15,000 – 20,000 spectators). Lakeville VFW Post 210 is celebrating their 100th anniversary this year and they have some large-scale activities planned; including an 80% replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall, along with vehicles and reenactments, a Hall of Heroes and several other activities. The wall will be up from the afternoon of July 8 – through noon on July 14. This festival has been held annually since 1967.

{Romp in Red Wing} Summer in Red Wing; July 3-Kidz Bop World Tour 2019 & Fireworks, Live! at the Treasure Island Amphitheater. Amphitheater show ticket includes access to Kidz Bop, food and drink stands, free inflatables, complimentary 3D fireworks glasses and synchronized music during the fireworks. Doors open at 6 p.m. for inflatables and food & beverages. July 4-Fireworks in downtown Red Wing begin at dusk. River City Days is August 2-4. This is Red Wing’s premier summer festival and features many family-friendly events, including free, live entertainment, arts & crafts, parade, Taste of Red Wing, tournaments, pancake breakfast, beer tent, Sidewalk Daze and much more.

{Stewartville Sizzles} Stewartville Summerfest July 3 – 6; Summerfest is the largest celebration of the year in Stewartville, and it is hosted by The Stewartville Area Chamber of Commerce. “It’s the best time of year to catch up with family and friends, as many come back to celebrate in their hometown of Stewartville. There is something for everyone during these four days of intense fun,” commented Chamber Administrator Gwen Ravenhorst. Following is the schedule: July 3 | 5:30 pm – 12:30 am: Street Dance (Florence Park); Aaron Simmons 6 – 9 pm; Diesel Drive 6:30 – 9:30 pm; Beer and Wine Garden, Food Vendors (After 9 pm, 18 years and older); July 4 | 7 am – Dusk: Summerfest Runs (Florence Park); Car Show 9 am – 3 pm (Strikers Corner and American Legion); Arts in the Park 10 am – 4 pm (Florence Park); food and craft vendors (50+); carnival games; inflatables and carnival rides; fishing contest; pie and ice-cream social; fishing contest; balloon artist; Henna tattoos; face painting; fireman’s water wars; kids pedal tractor pull; demonstrations; music; Grand Parade | 6:30 pm; Fireworks | Dusk; July 5: Teen Dance and Pool Party (7-9:30 pm tentative), Stewartville Pool and Aquatic Center; Games, prizes, free popcorn, live DJ; Kids going into 6th Grade – 17 years; July 6: Co-ed Volleyball Tournament | 8:30 am, Bear Cave Park.

{Festive Kenyon} The Kenyon Rose Fest takes place on the 3rd weekend of August (this year it is 16-18). There are street dances on Friday and Saturday nights, town-wide garage sales, book sales, a vendors and farmers market, an amazing car show on Saturday; followed by a parade at 4 p.m., which features the always exciting Shriner Units. There are plenty of food vendors for the weekend and activities for all ages. Some of the family fun activities include Bingo and a free Pool Party Friday night, as well as a challenge course at 7 p.m.; Saturday includes a kids’ tractor pull and an all-ages dance in the evening. The festivities also boast many tours and wine tasting at the historic Gunderson House; and a 5K run on Saturday. “On Sunday, we end the fest with a 2:00 p.m. Field of Flags Closing; it is a very impressive and touching ceremony,” said Julie Sokoloski, city spokesperson.

{Le Sueur Summer Fun} The Giant Celebration in Le Sueur is August 2, 3, & 4 and it is held in the American Legion Park. Giant Celebration is a three-day community event and is a fun-filled weekend. All three days many activities are planned for young and old. Sunday crowds line the 90-something unit Giant Celebration Parade at 1:00 p.m. Following the parade is the Giant Corn Feed. Approximately 8-10 tons of corn are donated by Seneca, rolled in 78 pounds of butter, donated by Crystal Farms, and is all prepared by Agropur. Other activities include Youth Fun Run, Human Foosball, 3-on-3 Basketball, Car Show, and an Arts & Craft sale; and music in the park all day Saturday.

{Fun in Faribault} Managed by Paradise Center for the Arts volunteers, and sponsored by the community, The Blue Collar – Music and Arts Festival, unfolds on August 10. The end-of-summer Faribault celebration showcases a family-oriented mix of live music, arts and crafts, BBQ competition, great food and activities for all ages in historic downtown Faribault. Music Line Up: Lakelanders Barbershop Chorus; Sawtooth Brothers (bluegrass); Greasy Biscuits (Grand Ole Opry-style); Sawyer’s Dream (70’s-style rock/Woodstock); Moses Oakland (blues cover jam); PK Mayo (award-winning original Blue’s artist Paul Mayasich); Martin Zellar and the Hardways (MN Rock and Americana); Street Talk (favorite covers).

The {Taste of the Trail} takes place the first three weekends after Labor Day along the Root River Trail Towns. Sep. 7: Peterson, Whalan, Lanesboro; Sep. 14: Harmony, Preston, Fountain; Sep. 21: Rushford Area, Houston. It’s three weekends of tasting the food, culture and fun along the Root River Trail Towns. Each town has a different setup. People are encouraged to ride the trail and check out each town. “We do have a lot of people that use it as an excuse for a road trip. You can taste food from different restaurants, listen to local music and learn more about what the Root River Trail Towns are all about,” said Gabby Kinneberg, Preston Chamber of Commerce Representative.


By Pat Garry, Contributing Writer

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