Summer skylines are easily viewable from the top of festival ferris wheels. Photo courtesy of Ninja Photographer.

A sneak peek at the quirky Midwest festivals entertaining crowds next month

Words by Brandon Bader

School is nearing its end and that opens the door for pools, games and festivals. With another month filled with festivals, May brings the heartbeat of each state right into the crowds. There are some dates that are close together but with the right amount of planning attending multiple over the month of May is doable. The official kick off to summer is here and it’s only the beginning as three months of warm weather provide parties to the people.

Truman Heritage Festival

May 4-6 | Grandview, MO

Truman Heritage Festival is a free three-day event that brings the Grandview community together with activities, attractions and food from local vendors. In addition to standard street fair staples, there will also be a parade and carnival. The adjacent amphitheater will be hosting performances by regional and national acts.

Prairie Village Opening Day

May 7 | Prairie Village, SD

Prairie Village hosts several events throughout the summer, but none are more exciting than the first opening of the year. Since 1966, Prairie Village has hosted tours and given a glimpse of how people lived on the South Dakota plains hundreds of years ago. In addition to the opening of the grounds, there will be an auction on Saturday, May 6. The chance to purchase farm parts, machinery and relics will begin at 10 a.m.

Machinery from the old prairie settlers still works on the grounds. Photo courtesy of Faron Wahl.

“Opening Day is the most exciting because we are a seasonal offering to the public,” said Faron Wahl, the manager of Prairie Village. “Many want to be involved with the village and to take part in our activities. It gets cold up here so people are excited to take part in what has become a rite of spring and it will be the first day of the season to take in historic items and life from the early 1900s.”

The Prairie Village experience extends back into the 1960’s. Photo courtesy of Prairie Village.

Featured this summer is a late 20th century carousel that is being restored with the hopes of having it back on the grounds in the 2017 season.

Aerial shot of Prairie Village. Photo courtesy of Corey Strom.

In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre MayDay Parade & Festival

May 7 | Minneapolis, MN

Entering its 43rd year, the MayDay Parade is home to puppets and … politics? The art community uses this time to tackle contemporary issues, concerns and visions for a better world with live performances during a parade in the Twin Cities. There are 16 public workshops beginning in April for those who want to participate in the parade themselves. Over 50,000 people attend this event, which allows everyone to display their creativity.


May 20 | Tinley Park, IL

Chicago will once again be hosting PIQNIQ, a music festival held annually in the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre. WKQX is an alternative rock station that keeps the pulse of the area. PIQNIQ is one of a collection of music festivals happening as the weather gets warmer, and with the station trotting out popular bands such as Highly Suspect and The 1975, PIQNIQ may once again be one of the premier festivals in the state.

Plainsmen Black Powder Club Rendezvous

May 20 – 21 | Kindred, ND

This is the 45th time since 1972 that the Plainsmen will hold this historical event. During the times of the settler fur trades, or a “rendezvous” was a designated time where hunters would get together to sell furs and trade supplies with one another. With this modern-day rendezvous held by the Plainsmen, there will be competitions in tomahawk and knife throwing, primitive archery, games for children, cooking contests, homemade wine judging and fire starting.

Salute to Summer (La Vista Daze)

May 25 – May 28 | La Vista, Nebraska

This four-day event kicks off summer in the La Vista metro area. The annual celebration aims to honor active-duty and veteran military members while giving the community an annual introduction to summer. Special events kick off each of the four days that lead up to the family “community” pool party on the 28th to close out the festival. Admission is free, but bring some cash for vendors, booths and tons of food. 

Mitch Beaumont, the festival’s community relations coordinator, is excited for this year’s event. “We rebranded to ‘Salute to Summer’ three years ago,” Beaumont said. “Our area is truly unique. Our county (Sarpy) has five cities, and each city has its own festival, its own identity. Back in 2010, when the city took the festival over, they made ours strictly over Memorial (Day) weekend. We created the festival to honor active duty and veterans.”

Veterans and active duty military personnel are honored annually at Salute to Summer. Photo courtesy of City of LaVista.

Tree Town Music Festival

May 25 – 28 | Forest City, IA

A staple for a Midwestern Memorial Day weekend, this four-day festival brings in thousands of people as country artists perform in Forest City. With ample options to choose from, Tree Town emphasizes an authentic experience. General admission is $155 for a weekend pass or $89 per day. The festival showcases headliners Bret Michaels, Thomas Rhett, Alan Jackson and Jason Aldeen.

Lawrence Busker Festival

May 26 – 28 2017 | Lawrence, KS

This self-proclaimed “Weird Weekend in Lawrence” is celebrating its 10th year. During the three-day event, there are over 25 different acts on three stages. Headlining this year’s events is a recreation of Harry Houdini’s many escape tricks by Bobby Maverick an escape artist and magician. Maverick will attempt to one-up Houdini by lighting his tools on fire. It’s just one event in a three-day party. Seeing them all will be difficult ⎯ but that doesn’t mean people won’t try.

Brat Fest

May 26 – 29 | Madison, WI

Self-dubbed the World’s Largest Brat Fest, this annual fundraiser has been held every Memorial Day weekend since 1983. During the four-day event, there will be Budweiser Clydesdales, a petting zoo and a 5K and 10K walk and run.  You can also catch singer George Clinton’s live performance. This is just a glimpse of what has become one of the largest and most popular festivals in the Midwest. There are 195 different vendors that are available to the public and as a result, there will be ample choices of food to satisfy your palate.

“Our festival began as a customer appreciation day for the original market,” said Jeff Schroeter, the event’s media coordinator. It was the idea of the late Tom Metcalfe, whose family still owns Metcalfe’s Market.

Brat Fest serves over 160,000 people and sold 163,000 brats last year.

Each year over 160,000 brats are served to the patrons of Bratfest. Photo courtesy of Ninja Photographer.

“Each year we try to expand on what we do,” Schroeter said. “It gets stronger each year and it has raised the level of participation. Our activities are geared towards all different people.”

The activities this year include human foosball, a 60-and-over volleyball tournament and a fireworks display. The creativity in the events are the reason Brat Fest is a staple over the holiday weekend.

Johnsonville once again is a big name Bratfest sponsor. Photo courtesy of Ninja Photographer.

Indy 500 Snake Pit

May 28 | Indianapolis, IN

It’s Memorial Day weekend. It’s the Indy 500. It’s the doorstep of summer. Indianapolis is known for its racing, but on this day, it hosts one of the biggest EDM festivals in the state. The venue has been used since the 1920s, but parties like this didn’t start until 1970. Today, it has evolved into a daylong party with some of the most popular EDM artists in the world. This year the festival will feature Zedd, Marshmello, RL Grime and Action Bronson. General admission is $40 and tickets are selling fast with just over a month before the event.