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Summer Outdoor Music Guide

June 7, 2017

As a local concert aficionado, people love to ask me what my favorite venue is. Every time I say the exact same thing. When the weather is right, my favorite place to see music is the Weesner Family Amphitheater at the Minnesota Zoo.

Yes, you heard me correctly, the Zoo has the best concert space in the greater Twin Cities area. Yes, I like it better than First Ave. I like it better than the Turf Club or the The Entry because there’s nothing quite like watching your favorite band under the night sky, a cool breeze in the air and (mostly) mosquito free (because they spray the area heavily).

The amphitheater is large enough to hold a solid number of people, yet every seat feels close to the stage. The amphitheater shape ensures that no one will be blocking your view and the ambiance (tigers napping close by) is unique to say the least. In Minnesota we have so few of these perfect summer nights, it would be a crime to stay inside during one of them. There’s no better way to take advantage of the weather like seeing a great band. That said, there are some things you can do to prepare yourself to maximize the enjoyment for yourself and others.


  1. Dress appropriately – Just because it’s 80 degrees when you get to the show doesn’t mean it’ll stay that way. Wear layers or bring layers. Check the weather and be prepared for rain or wind or sun. Know the terrain on which you will be sitting or standing and choose footwear accordingly. Really amazing Jimmy Choo heels don’t look as great sinking in mud, and your feet will be mad at you for standing hours on flat concrete in thin footed ballet slippers.
  2. Bug spray – People laugh at me in summer because I always carry my “bug kit” with me wherever I go, but they stop laughing to ask me if they can use my bug spray. No one wants to spend their evening swatting bugs all night. Who cares if you smell like citronella? It’s better than being swollen and itchy. (For that I also carry Afterbite).
  3. Be Comfy – Check the FAQ for the show and see if you can bring a blanket or lawn chair to sit in. Be cognizant of how far you’ll have to walk from the car to the show and how much you’re comfortable carrying and if you’ll want to sit for the entire duration of the show. For example, we saw an outdoor show in Plymouth last summer and spent the beginning of it on a thin fleece blanket I brought with, sitting in the grass. Toward the end we wanted to stand closer to the stage and my blanket was thin enough that I could fold it up and fit into my bag without it being too heavy.
  4. Be Respectful – Free outdoor shows are nice because they’re usually pretty family (furry friends included) friendly. With that in mind, be respectful of your neighbors. Don’t smoke in close proximity to others. Be aware of your conversations near young ears. Be the guy who lets the little kids scoot up near the front. Clear a space so little kids can dance or so older people can sit down. Remember we all do better when we all do better and that applies to many things including outdoor music. Don’t be a jerk.
  5. Have a sober ride home – A lot of these shows happen in parks or places in walking distance, biking distance or convenient to public transportation. If you’re planning to indulge in a few beers or sangria or what have you, make sure you have a responsible way to get back home. Alcohol can sneak up on you when you drink in the hot sun, so be careful.


These tips should help you to have a safe and fun evening, taking in stellar local bands as the Minnesota sunsets in the background.


Now Playing

Marian Hill – Entering the fray of minimalistic electronic + vocal duos, Marian Hill uses saxophone and sparse arrangements to set them apart from the pack. Their hit “Down” got an up from a rap verse by Big Sean, but honestly it’s a better track without him.

Cloves – The Australian born singer has a thick strong syrupy voice that almost seems too heavy for her 90’s waife frame to hold. Her style is a little vamp ala Lana Del Rey, and it resonates similar to Zola Jesus. She adopted that early folky girl pronunciation where an “ow” swoops and emcompasses all the vowels at once.


Go See – Summer Music Series Edition

Music in Mears – St Paul, MN, Thursday nights at 6 pm June – August you can see FREE music in Lowertown. Bring a blanket or a lawn chair, your dog, maybe your dancing shoes. There’s food trucks and local breweries hawking their goodies so come hungry and thirsty. This is a gorgeous spot in the middle of the city that on Thursday nights feels like a neighborhood block party. Notable standouts in their lineup include Chastity Brown, Jillian Rae and We Are The Willows.

Down By The Riverside – Rochester, MN, July 9 – August 13, Sundays at 7 pm in Mayo Park you can see live music FOR FREE. If the weather is right (or even if it’s not) I would definitely try to get to at least one of these shows. The lineup for this summer includes The Spin Doctors, Dessa, Cassadee Pope and Pert Near Sandstone.

Mid West Music Store Signature Series – Winona, MN, they apparently do this every quarter (not only in summer) but the 3rd quarter shows were recently announced. Tiny Desk Concert winner and Duluth native (also one of SoMinn Sound’s Badass Local Women in Music) Gaelynn Lea July 31, J.E Sunde Aug. 18 and our favorite Chastity Brown Sept. 7. This is a great way to see local music in a small intimate setting. Tickets are only $10 in advance, $15 day of event.


This Happened

RIP – 2017 claimed two more musical greats, godfathers of their genres some might say, Chris Cornell of grunge and Gregg Allman of Southern Rock. Both were claimed by disease yet very different ones, in very different ways with the exception that they were both terminal. Chris Cornell hung himself in Detroit hotel room following the last show he would ever perform. He was 52 years old. Unbeknownst to many, he had been bearing the heavy weight of mental illness. Chris was a founding member of Seattle’s Soundgarden, later performing solo, and as the lead voice of Audioslave. His voice was that of a generation. Gregg Allman’s death was due to complications with liver cancer, however the musician who was still touring in 2015 had a history of various health problems. He was the founder of the Allman Brothers Band and enjoyed decades of success. He was known for his soulful voice and quotable attitude toward his life. In his book, My Cross to Bear he said this about his life “I must have said this a million times, but if I died today, I’ve had me a blast. I wouldn’t trade [my life] for nobody’s, but I don’t know if I’d do it again. If somebody offered me a second round, I think I’d have to pass on it.”


Sarah Osterbauer is a die-hard music lover. When she does her budget each month, food comes after concert tickets. Find her on twitter @SarahOwrites.

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