Your guide to the best summer festivals in southeast Minnesota
This week marks the beginning of several festivals and events in Rochester and the surrounding area. Below, you'll find a list of some of the more well-known festivals, starting with Rochester first and then exploring the surrounding towns.
Once you have your calendar filled up, be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom of the article to vote for your favorite festival or event. Each person who participates will be entered in a drawing for four (4) free passes to the Minnesota Zoo, courtesy 97.5 Pulse FM.
Thursdays on First and 3rd
One of Rochester’s most iconic events, the Thursdays on First and 3rd Summer Market and Music Festival takes place every Thursday from June 4 – August 27. This free event has over 100 street vendors featuring everything from arts and crafts to food, drinks, and entertainment. Visitors can catch live music from local performers on two different stages from 5 to 7 p.m. With all this excitement, surrounded by the many downtown restaurants and shops, there’s something for everyone to enjoy!
Rochester Downtown Farmers Market
Foodies rejoice! Fresh, locally produced food is what you’ll find at the Rochester Downtown Farmers Market, held every Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to noon on Fourth Street and Fourth Avenue SE. The vendors here carry a wide variety of goods, including fruits, veggies, meats, cheeses, baked goods, and more. This free event provides a place to visit with fellow community members, be healthy, and help promote independent family farms in Rochester and the surrounding area. The market also runs on Tuesdays from 2 to 6 p.m. at Ashley Furniture on the north side of Rochester.
Living History Weekend
Feeling nostalgic? Visit the History Center of Olmstead County for their Living History Weekend and learn about life in early Minnesota! Between Civil War reenactments, museums, baseball games, and garden parties, the whole family can immerse themselves in good, old-fashioned 1860’s fun. This event runs the weekend of July 25 - 26 and costs only $5 with a history button.
Olmsted County Free Fair
Rides, games, competitions, and fried food on a stick: what’s not to love about the Olmsted County Fair? Whether you’re looking for excitement at the bull riding ring or some laid-back family fun at the kid’s pedal tractor pull, the fair has plenty of entertainment to offer all its guests. You can find the fun at the Olmsted County Fairgrounds from July 27 – August 2. This is a free fair, but tickets are needed for select events.
Days of Yesteryear
Antique lovers will love Rochester’s Days of Yesteryear, an exhibition of antique cars, trucks, engines, and tractors. From August 8 – 9 at 9 a.m., come to admire these vintage machines and watch demonstrations, or vaunt your own antique – no club membership required! Visitors can also make their own butter, observe blacksmithing demonstrations, or participate in the youth scavenger hunt. This event is only $5 with an advance sale button and $8 at the gate.
Enjoy the sounds and tastes of the Mediterranean at this year’s annual GreekFest! This festival showcases Greece’s exciting history of music, food, and dance with vendors and live dancers all weekend long. Satisfy your sweet tooth with the festival’s plentiful collection of authentic Greek desserts and tour the multi-ethnic Sts. Kosmas & Damianos Greek Orthodox Church. This is a free event running August 28 – 30.
Downtown Oronoco Gold Rush Days
With premier antiques, art, and flea market, the Downtown Oronoco Gold Rush Days is one of the top twelve antique shows in the Midwest. With over a thousand booths of local goods, visitors can take in vintage-inspired contemporary art, high quality antiques, and foods from local vendors from August 14 – 16. Interested in displaying your own goods? Contact the Gold Rush Days committee for more information.
Berne Wood Fired Pizza and Summer Concert Series
Little town, big flavor: that’s what Berne has to offer with its Wood Fired Pizza and Summer Concert Series. From 5 p.m. every Wednesday night through August, guests are welcome to come enjoy wood-fired pizza picnic style and serenaded by that week’s musical act. Soda, water, ice cream, and chips are also sold on the grounds. This event is held as a fundraiser for the Zwingli United Church of Christ in Berne, and all profits go to the church and its chosen charities.
Woody Guthrie’s American Song
We’ve all heard Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” and many of his other tried-and-true American classics. Now you can experience the Commonweal Theatre Company’s musical tribute to the man behind the music, titled Woody Guthrie’s American Song. For just $35 ($15 for students), you can see this performance conceived and adapted by Peter Glazer, which follows Guthrie’s travels across America and will leave you “clapping and singing, laughing and crying.” The show runs through September.
Buffalo Bill Days
In 1990, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Shows were performed in Lanesboro. Now, over a century later, the city continues to honor the legacy of these shows with its 31st Annual Buffalo Bill Days. From July 31 – August 2, visitors can take part in sports tournaments, games, a petting zoo, live music, fireworks, and beers and brats. You can also take part in a $5 raffle for a number of cash prizes!
Looking for more local culture? Look no further. The ArtWorks Festival is a free, two-day event held in Austin’s historic power plant and features the work of both local and nationally renowned artists. The festival displays a wide range of art forms, from visual, to performing, literary, culinary, and more from August 22 – 23. Visitors will be able to enjoy the galleries amidst the music of local performers and attend the Dick Schindler Celebration Concert.
Fishing for Eagles
The National Eagle Center in Wabasha is proud to host their weekly Fishing for Eagles event every Wednesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. 4 p.m. This event aims to bring awareness to lead poisoning in eagles, a result of the use of lead tackle. Kids can also donate their catches to feed the Center’s resident bald eagles. Kids 15 and under can fish without a license, and all fishing gear is supplied for free with paid admission to the National Eagle Center.
37th Annual Riverboat Days
Looking for some fun on the Mississippi? Look no further than Wabasha’s 37th Annual Riverboat Days! They’re kicking off the festival with a 5k River Run, followed by several family-oriented events like fishing contests, a pancake breakfast, skateboard and BMX competitions, a firemen’s water fight, and much much more. The main event—a performance by Lost Highway—takes place on Saturday, July 25.
Great River Shakespeare Festival
To go or not to go should be an easy question to answer for Shakespeare fans. The 2015 Great River Shakespeare Festival is a celebration of the great English poet who penned the iconic stories we know and love to this day. This year’s festival features live performances of “Much Ado About Nothing,” “King John,” and “Romeo and Juliet,” as well as an adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s “The Glass Menagerie.” There will also be films, free concerts, and group discussions. Most of the events, which wrap on August 2, require a ticket.
Blue Collar BBQ and Arts Festival
This fundraising event for the Paradise Center for the Arts promises to be anything but dull. From 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on August 8, head on over to the Blue Collar BBQ and Arts Festival for an art fair, inflatable children’s bounce-houses, a bbq competition, and live music. This is a great opportunity for artists, both established and emerging, to present their work to the public in a fun, supportive environment. The festival also offers free rides home for those who’ve maybe had a bit too much fun at the Beer Garden.
About Sydney Flottum: Sydney is a double major in graphic design and English literature at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. She enjoys being back in Rochester for the summer and spending time reading, drawing, and catching up with friends and family. Currently, she’s attempting to teach herself how to play the accordion but is overwhelmed by all the buttons.
What's your favorite summer event in SE Minnesota?
(Cover photo: 2014 Olmsted County Fair / Chad Johnson)