Kick off your summer with outdoor music and movies in Kansas City
From outdoor venues to cinema under the stars, add more fun to your summer in Kansas City.
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Summer kicks off (officially) on the longest day of the year, June 21, which marks the end of Gemini season and the beginning of Cancer season. But there’s more to look out for than the usual celestial shifts; the solstice means it’s time to get back into Kansas City’s excellent live music and entertainment scene. Outside!
So many of our great stages had to close their doors during the pandemic — this could be the year you finally see bucket list artists such as Bon Iver at the Starlight Theatre or Thundercat at Grinders in the Crossroads. Actually, why not both?
In the City of Fountains, we’re just lucky like that. We have options. From sprawling amphitheaters to funky neighborhood joints bedecked in string lights, let this be the season of exploring in the name of open-air entertainment.
West Bottoms is getting a lot of (well-deserved) love lately, so it should come as no surprise that the historic neighborhood boasts its own low-key outdoor music venue: Lemonade Park.
We say low-key because Lemonade Park is a space to be stumbled upon. It’s aesthetically perfect in its unexpectedness, and seeing a show there is equal parts backyard shindig and industrial block party. If Kansas City feels like a small town sometimes, Lemonade Park — in all its unpretentiousness — gives big city vibes.
Co-owned by the team behind miniBar and recordBar, Lemonade Park is the place to see up-and-coming acts before they get big, as well as veteran KC-area musicians such as The Grisly Hand, playing July 9. Catch goth-country rock band Murder by Death on Aug. 9 with Amigo the Devil.
One thing’s for sure: the summer lineup at Grinders KC in the Crossroads is absolutely stacked.
The venue formerly known as CrossroadsKC is tucked behind the attached — and endearingly off-the-wall — restaurant of the same name. In one day, on one block, you can walk where Guy Fieri walked, consume taste bud-annihilating hot wings and see The National out back.
Other upcoming acts include Fitz and The Tantrums (with St. Paul and The Broken Bones, of gold-shoes-on-the-Tiny-Desk fame) on June 21, Sheryl Crow on July 21, and the aforementioned bass genius Thundercat on Aug. 8. As the kids say, sheeeeesh!
Located southeast of downtown in grassy Swope Park is Kansas City’s Starlight Theatre. For more than 50 years, locals and visitors alike have experienced Broadway musicals and concerts on its mystical, castle-shaped stage.
Upon opening in June 1950, the venue celebrated Kansas City’s 100th birthday with its first performance and has since operated as a nonprofit organization. In 2013, the Starlight was honored with the prestigious Venue Excellence Award. Classic acts including Styx, REO Speedwagon, Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire ask to return on a regular basis.
If you’re looking to see a show on a stage like no other, Bon Iver will grace the Starlight in June, comedian John Mulaney in July and Jack White in August.
If you remember going to a show at Sandstone back in the day, you’ve already been to Azura Amphitheater. Locals still lovingly refer to the massive, open-air venue by its old name.
Located near the Kansas Speedway, Children’s Mercy Park and the Legends shopping outlet, this Bonner Springs, Kansas, stage has hosted epic musical performances in some capacity since 1984. To give you an idea of the venue’s hugeness, it can hold up to 18,000 people.
Along with upcoming concerts from Incubus and Turnpike Troubadours in August and Kevin Gates in September, interested runners can register to participate in a 5K that involves glow-in-the-dark foam. Turns out, you can have it all.
Outdoor cinema experiences
Music isn't the only entertainment you can find at outdoor venues this summer. From old school drive-ins to outdoor cinema experiences, there's plenty for cinephiles to enjoy throughout the season.
You can catch the latest blockbusters showing at B&B Theatres Twin Drive-In in Independence, Missouri, and at Boulevard Drive-In in Kansas City, Kansas. Be sure to check showtimes before you go and don't forget to bring snacks!
If you're searching for an elevated outdoor cinema experience for you and your friends, Tivoli Under the Stars is back for another season at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Each movie begins right after sunset, and visitors must reserve a ticketed "pod" on the lawn in advance, which can accommodate up to four guests. Films this season include pop culture classics such as "Sister Act," "Bring it On," "The Princess Bride" and more.
In response to theater closures during the pandemic, Screenland Theatres in North Kansas City launched a series of easygoing outdoor film screenings in its back parking lot. These Backyard Movies were a hit and have returned for another season, allowing viewers to bring their own chairs, purchase snacks and even bring along well-behaved fur babies. Check out the 2022 lineup.
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