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Why Minneapolis is a top destination for live music

By Alyssa Hayes

Timeless venues, fun festivals and more–Minneapolis is home to a wonderful live music scene you’re sure to enjoy.

Live music in Minnesota
Credit: Shannon Porter

Over the years, Minnesota’s music marvels have played a major role in shaping popular music history, due in large part to legendary artists such as Prince, Bob Dylan, The Replacements, Atmosphere and more.

The Twin Cities music scene gets a special shout out from locals and visitors alike for its rich diversity, varied venues, local talent and outdoor festivals. And publications including National Geographic, Travel + Leisure and Culture Owl all rank Minneapolis as one of the top 10 cities for live music in the entire country.

“Cross-pollination makes the Twin Cities music scene a vital one. ‘Local’ is not a genre, but a fierce, hard-working streak found among our area talent,” notes Reed Fischer, editor of Minnesota Monthly. “Folk singers end up as guest vocalists on hip-hop records, there are a dozen venues that sell out regularly with local headliners, radio stations love to play Minnesota artists, and there’s a good chance that the person standing next to you at a show has a band of their own.”

Legendary venues

Whether you groove to jazz and blues, indie, punk, reggae, rock, country or classical, you’ll find live music in small coffeehouses, bars and taprooms, auditoriums and big-name venues across the Twin Cities. Discover new and well-established talent at local clubs including First Avenue, Varsity Theater, Mill City Nights, Icehouse and the Cabooze in Minneapolis, and The Amsterdam, Turf Club and Palace Theatre in St. Paul.

Jazz and blues fans shouldn’t miss The Dakota Jazz Club in downtown Minneapolis and the Minnesota Music Cafe on St. Paul’s east side. The Fine Line in downtown Minneapolis and the summer concert series at the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley both feature eclectic lineups, and The Cedar Cultural Center near the University of Minnesota campus is renowned for world music.

With all of these venues and many more, there’s not a night in the week you can’t find live music.

Major music festivals

Music festivals in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area can be the focal point for a visit. In May, Soundset kicks off the summer with a full day of hip-hop at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. Rock the Garden, held outside Minneapolis’ Walker Art Center, is essential for indie fans, and the Twin Cities Jazz Festival draws thousands to Mears Park for a weekend of free live music in late June.

Summer music festivals continue with the Basilica Block Party in July, with big-name pop rockers and local favorites playing on multiple stages. Closing out the season, the Grandstand at the Minnesota State Fair hosts a different performer every night; recent headliners include Brandi Carlile, Weird Al Yankovic and Hootie & the Blowfish.

For the hearty, there are even outdoor concerts in winter. As part of The Great Northern festival in late January, you can catch a free performance on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis.