The History Behind Minneapolis Park and Rec's Music & Movies in the Park

The story behind summers of free entertainment brought to your backyard

More than 100 years ago, a mobile stage wagon that traveled around the city was the site of free entertainment for the Minneapolis public. Minnesotans looked to take advantage of summer weather and as the craze for free music spread, Lake Harriet’s first Bandshell (there have been four others at the location since) was also built. Since then, Park and Rec’s outdoor concert series has expanded, and they hopped on the bandwagon (er, mobile stage wagon) of outdoor movies, among restaurants and the Walker’s series at Loring Park. With six venues, Park and Rec’s is the biggest free outdoor entertainment series in the city.

The Lake Harriet Pavillion, early 20th century, courtesy of Minneapolis Park and Rec

“You won’t get the same crowd at Lake Harriet as you would in a bar or club downtown, so you’re reaching a whole different audience and making new fans,” says Molly Murray, the coordinator of Music & Movies in the Park. For the movie series, parks get to pick what flicks they want to show (on a blow-up screen) based on the personality of their neighborhood. Think The Goonies in Dinkytown’s Van Cleve Park and Rent at the Lake Harriet Bandshell. When it began in 2007, just 20-25 free movies were shown. Now, more than 60 are offered within a three-month period, all alongside 200 free concerts—a combo unheard of among other cities.

This summer, some new features are Food Truck Tuesdays at Father Hennepin Bluffs including Natedogs, Sandy’s Grill and Italian Ice, and other favorites, a new venue at Theodore Wirth Park, and partnerships with the Film Society of Minneapolis-St. Paul and the Twin Cities Black Film Festival. Murray hopes that in the future the program will be able to recognize Minneapolis’ local movie scene by partnering with more local film festivals and filmmakers. “We do this for the community, so if it wasn’t for them coming out and enjoying their evenings with us, we wouldn’t be very far,” Murray says.

Summer’s short—move to be outside instead of indoors by grabbing your lawn chair, blanket, and bug spray for a movie and/or live music any day of the week at sundown through August 23. “When we show cheesy movies, like Top Gun or Grease, the audience will hoot and holler when the big kiss comes, or when it’s an overdramatic glance,” Murray says. “It’s great to see people enjoy themselves.” Join the crowd and show your city some TLC. For the full schedule of events, go to