Lincoln Has Festivals!
by Julie Nichols, photography by Tom Tidball
As the performing and visual arts crept back last year, audiences and artists returned to the rich array of Lincoln’s street festivals, cultural events, and neighborhood celebrations. Music fans, art aficionados, families and visitors revived the vibrant festivals that make Lincoln a destination for music and art lovers.
Jazz in June
A mainstay of Lincoln music, Jazz in June presents Tuesday night concerts behind the Sheldon Art Museum at 12th and R on the University of Nebraska’s city campus. A long-time favorite of jazz lovers, this festival recently added a pre-show market offering artisan wares, local products, and a variety of food trucks and stands.
Jazz in June Market begins at 5pm, concerts at 7pm. No admission is required, but suggested donations support bringing celebrated jazz artists to a dedicated audience. Lawn chairs and blankets welcome. Enjoy some world class jazz in a beautiful setting.
Find more information and the 2022 schedule at jazzinjune.com.
Lincoln’s Clyde Malone Center has commemorated Juneteenth (June 19th)—the historic announcement of slavery’s abolition—for four decades. This spirited community event celebrates with music and dancing, rap contests, and family fun. Community civil rights leaders, artists, business owners and storytellers offer views reflecting on history and contemporary issues faced by the BIPOC community. Lincoln’s growing list of black restauranteurs provide scrumptious food and drink. Juneteenth also hosts a family health fair, Black business expo, giveaways, free haircuts and more.
Clyde Malone Community Center honors Black heritage, provides resources, and promotes unity throughout Lincoln. For more information on Juneteenth celebrations, visit malonecenter.org, or F Street Community Center at parks.lincoln.ne.gov and on Facebook.
Star City Pride Festival
Held at Pinnacle Bank Arena in the Festival Lot, this two-day event includes food vendors, music and performing arts, dancing, featured speakers, and a kids’ zone from 2 to 7pm with fun activities for youth. Music, performances, dancing and drag shows celebrate Lincoln’s diversity in high style. Daily passes are around $10. Lincoln held its inaugural Pride parade to kick off the festival in 2021. Star City Pride promotes equity for the LGBTQIA community in Lincoln and across Nebraska. For information, see Starcitypride.org.
The Lincoln Crossroads Music Festival
This festival presents performances of internationally-renowned touring artists sharing the stage with local musicians and storytellers for a week of transformative concerts, workshops and events that explore the myriad cultural traditions that call Nebraska home.
Performances span culture—Native American, Ukrainian, Syrian, Celtic, Scandinavian, Indian, Andean, Ghanaian and counting—and genre, including classical, folk, traditional, world, soul and hip-hop. Past artists include multiple GRAMMY®-winners, a Guggenheim fellow, and members of the acclaimed Silkroad Ensemble.
Join this unique celebration of Nebraska’s colorful cultural heritage in late July in venues across Lincoln. For information on events and schedule: lincolncrossroadsmusic.org/landing_page/
Meadowlark Music Festival
Meadowlark Music Festival celebrates 20 years of unconventional chamber music in unusual settings. Venues change with each concert, often outdoors, with food and drinks that reflect the evening’s musical themes. If you’ve never heard a string quartet play Radiohead or Appalachian folk music paired with African percussion, Meadowlark offers adventuresome compositions played by world-class musicians for nominal admission—or free, as concerts offer subsidized tickets as part of Meadowlark’s mission.
With extraordinary challenges for live music in 2020-21, live-streamed performances and artist talks from across the globe replaced live shows, and was so successful that Meadowlark will incorporate virtual, live and hybrid events in future seasons.
Look for this festival in July. Under 16 free. For this year’s schedule see meadowlarkmusicfestival.org.
Each July, this week-long festival begins with club shows and culminates in a two-day star-studded street show. For locals, the weeklong bash is a lot like a big family reunion. A Midwestern jewel, the Zoo Bar stage has hosted legends of Chicago and the Delta since 1973: Buddy Guy, Son Seals, Junior Wells, Koko Taylor, Gatemouth Brown and Lincoln’s beloved Chicago transplant, Magic Slim.
Zoofest presents national acts like Mavis Staples, Los Lobos, Nikki Hill, Mike Zito, Lil’ Ed—and the affordable passes pack a lot of bang for the buck. And it’s not just the blues—Zoofest adds to the lineup accomplished Nebraska bands from punk to funk.
Owners Pete and Amanda Watters reluctantly cancelled Zoofest in 2020, but created a virtual tip jar, sold drinks to-go, and started a monthly membership to counter pandemic woes.
Zoofest is back, full-throttle. View schedules at zoobar.com or on Zoo Bar Fan Club on Facebook for the latest lineups.
Streets Alive!, sponsored by Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln, literally lets you play in the street! An annual health and fitness fair held in Cooper Park/South Salt Creek neighborhood last year, this free festival is part of a world-wide celebration of active living and healthy habits. Using an “open street concept,” a patchwork of music, dance, art activities, learning and fun stretch for two miles. Walk, skate or bike. Streets Alive! is family, pet and wheelchair friendly. See HealthyLincoln.org/streetsalive for dates and this year’s route.
Lincoln Arts Festival
Over 100+ artists from across the nation join local and emerging artists for this festival in the Historic Haymarket. Dance, music, theatre and poetry performances scheduled throughout the day offer a spectrum of the Lincoln art scene, and along with artists’ demonstrations of glassblowing, metalwork, photography, ceramics. Add the Makers’ Market, showcasing the inventive DIY entrepreneurs from neighborhoods south of downtown. Youth of all ages will enjoy experimenting in the interactive upstArt Creative Zone, provided through partnership with Lincoln’s art organizations.
Watch performances and demonstrations livestreamed on LCTV, an outgrowth of Lincoln Calling. For information and schedules, see www.lnkartsfest.com.
An innovative three-day music festival known for pairing touring acts with emerging talent, Lincoln Calling’s lineup offers 75+ bands with a Night Market (local makers and artists), and collaborative art-making events in multiple locations. This nonprofit has expanded to host panels on entrepreneurship, civic engagement, and artists’ discussions. Through work with many nonprofit partners, Lincoln Calling’s festival presents film, interactive art projects and live-streamed events through Lincoln Calling TV. Lincoln Calling’s mission of growing diversity in the arts makes for a distinct variety of bands and artists, with an eye to giving voice to under-represented communities: women, BIPOC, Latinx, LGBTQ, Asian and disabled artists. Look for this festival in September. Festival or single day passes available.
For information, tickets and events: lincolncalling.com
Stransky Park Music Series
Sponsored by KZUM, Lincoln’s community radio station, this popular series returns with gusto to 17th and Harrison Streets. Shows begin in late May and run through mid-August, offering eclectic lineups: blues, jazz, Caribbean, swing, funk. Kid and dog-friendly, shows begin at 7:00 every Thursday with featured food trucks and youth art activities. Bring a lawn chair or blanket and enjoy a soft summer night at this beloved neighborhood series. For more information, see kzum.org.
Lincoln Exposed shows the strong bonds of Lincoln’s music community with a buffet of local talent. Beginning in a single venue with 20 local bands, Lincoln Exposed has expanded to into four nights and 100 performances. See Lincoln bands of all ages and styles—Americana, Latin fusion, metal, blues, Americana, punk and ska—and hop five venues at bargain rates: day passes are $8-10; festival passes (four nights) $25.
Host clubs are all within walking distance in downtown Lincoln, and restricted to 21+ except the Bourbon Theatre. For info: downtownlincoln.org, or visit Lincoln Exposed on Facebook.
Porchfest’s heartwarming, quirky performances transform front porches into stages chockful of talented local musicians. Porchfest’s route weaves through the neighborhoods near the capitol and south of downtown. Look for this free festival in September, take a stroll and enjoy the neighborhood spirit. For more information, dates and schedule of artists, see Porchfest LNK on Facebook or Twitter.
Live at Telegraph Concert Series
The Mill coffee house and ALLO present this casual concert series at the Mill Telegraph location (330 South 21st) from July through September. Relax outdoors with live music every Wednesday from 6-9:00 p.m., offering outdoor seating, dinner selections, coffee drinks, cocktails, and local beers. Pets are welcome. Bring a chair the patio fills up fast! For more information, see liveattelgraph.com, or follow on Facebook or Instagram.
Art in the Garden
Lincoln’s Sunken Gardens (27th and D), hosts an annual art exhibition and sale each September. More than 50 artists from the Noyes Art Gallery mount work among the garden’s spectacular plantings.
A variety of paintings, sculptures, crafts, jewelry, pottery, stained glass, and other items are available for purchase. A portion of sales supports the Sunken Gardens. Admission is free. Learn more at noyesartgallery.com.