Photo by Dusty Hoskovec

Aquatennial to shine a light on downtown

Updated: June 28, 2017 - 11:58 am

After nearly eight decades, the summer tradition continues to showcase the downtown riverfront

Summer has arrived, which means the Minneapolis Aquatennial — now in its 78th year — will take over downtown for four days of events and outdoor fun.

This year’s festival will once again focus on bringing Twin Cities residents to the downtown riverfront, following two years since its organizer, the Minneapolis Downtown Council, consolidated the Aquatennial to a leaner, concentrated celebration.

From the North Minneapolis riverbank where the Twin Cities River Rats perform to the Target Fireworks that light up Central Avenue, festival director Leah Wong said riverfront venues have played a role in the Aquatennial for decades.

“Water has always been a part of the Aquatennial,” Wong said. “That’s where the city was born.”

The changes have had little effect on the festival’s flagship events. The Aquatennial officially kicks off this year with the CenterPoint Energy Torchlight Parade on Wednesday, July 19. The event, a tradition for nearly 20 years, lights up Hennepin Avenue between Loring Park and Fifth Street downtown as the largest nighttime parade in the state.

The Target Fireworks, the festival’s most popular destination and one of the largest fireworks displays in the country, will have some brand-new tricks up its sleeve this year, Wong said. The display will be set to a soundtrack of artists who are slated to perform at U.S. Bank Stadium and Target Field. Audiences can also look forward to new pyrotechnics, she added.

“We’re excited to show people some things they haven’t seen before in the sky,” she said.

While the Downtown Council hasn’t messed with the chemistry of its flagship events, it continues to tinker with new programming and venues.

Target Field Station will host the Fido-focused Candid Canines Film Fest on Thursday, July 20. With the spirit of the Walker Art Center’s now-shuttered Internet Cat Video Festival — new organizers now host their own in St. Paul — the film fest will showcase clips submitted by dog owners. For dog lovers, pooches are welcome at the family-friendly event.

Recent years have brought park venues into the Aquatennial celebration. The Commons, the new two-block park in Downtown East, joins the festivities this year with a yoga event on Friday, July 21 at 5:30 p.m. Last year saw the inclusion of Northeast’s Boom Island Park, which hosts AquaJam. The skateboarding event and competition, once a popular Aquatennial destination in the 1980s, returned last year to host open skating, local food and craft beer from presenter Fulton Beer.

Other events include the Aquatennial Tennis Classic at 2nd & 5th where the area’s tennis pros will compete; the free MN Made Market at Nicollet Mall’s JB Hudson Jewelers with vendors from around the state; and Twin Cities Carifest, a Caribbean Festival that brings people to West River Road between Plymouth and Broadway avenues for Caribbean food before the Target Fireworks.

Wong said the festival’s newer programming and downtown focus are meant to cater to a changing downtown audience.

“We want to make sure as downtown is growing, expanding, changing and attracting more residents that we’re providing the programming that people desire, that is meaningful to them and encourages them to come out,” she said.

For out-of-towners, the Aquatennial is one reason to stay downtown even people come downtown to catch a show or dine at a new restaurant, she added.

“We want them to come down for something, and that could be the Aquatennial, but hopefully they stay downtown and do three or four things while they’re here,” she said.

Photo by Dusty-Hoskovec
Photo by Dusty-Hoskovec

Aquatennial Events

CenterPoint Energy Torchlight Parade

Floats, high school bands and a whole lot of lights will go down Hennepin Avenue as part of the annual Torchlight Parade. Be sure to claim your spot early.

Where: Hennepin Avenue between Basilica of St. Mary and Fifth Street

When: Wednesday, July 19 from 8:30 p.m.–10:30 p.m.

Cost: Free


Candid Canines Film Fest

You didn’t read incorrectly. Instead of Cannes, Minneapolis has a canine-themed film festival with clips of pooches submitted by locals.

Where: Target Field Station, 335 5th St. N.

When: Thursday, July 20 from 4 p.m.–9 p.m.

Cost: Free


Twin Cities River Rats

The high-flying Twin Cities River Rats perform stunts, make jokes and form a human pyramid all the while skiing across the Mississippi River.

Where: West bank between Broadway and Plymouth avenues

When: July 20–21 at 7 p.m.

Cost: Free


Target Fireworks

The biggest boom in Minnesota brings throngs of people to the Stone Arch Bridge to “ooo” and “ahh” at some of the best and brightest fireworks.

Where: West River Parkway near Stone Arch Bridge

When: Saturday, July 22 at 10 p.m.

Cost: Free