© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Each week, KCUR's Adventure! newsletter brings you a new way to explore the Kansas City region.

Kansas City is stuffed with summer festivals, fairs and concerts. Here's a guide

Drone image of a crowd of people on picnic blankets and lawn chairs on a large open green space.
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR 89.3
Throughout the summer, Kansas Citians gather for the region's summer festivals.

With music, food, and the great outdoors, summer is the time for festivals and concert series all around Kansas City. We put together a list of the season's can't-miss events, including July 4 festivities and annual staples like the Ethnic Enrichment Festival.

This story was first published in KCUR's Adventure newsletter. You can sign up to receive stories like this in your inbox every Tuesday.

Summer “officially” began on the Summer Solstice on June 20, although the high temperatures got here a lot sooner. If you are willing to brave the heat (and humidity) there are plenty of summer festivals and events where you can celebrate the best that the metro area has to offer in terms of food, art, music, and the outdoors.

Your options range from free, to low-cost, to a bit of a splurge, depending on what kind of vibe you’re feeling. Whether you want to eat a hot dog, dance to ‘80s music, or see some butterflies, we put together this list of the best summer events around Kansas City.

Focus on food (and drink)

Two smiling women in straw hats and tee shirts stand in front of a sign that reads Haiti.
Savanah Hawley-Bates
/
KCUR 89.3
The Ethnic Enrichment Festival is a staple of the Kansas City summer, held in Swope Park.

The City of Shawnee is hosting its sixth annual PARKED festival on June 28 to ring in National Parks and Recreation Month, which begins in July. While not officially a food festival, the event will feature over 15 food trucks.

You can get pan-fried chicken at Julita’s, fried huli huli chicken at Iruzilla's Hawaiian Grill, or a vegetarian harvest bowl at The Hungry Hatch with sweet potatoes, black beans, and bell peppers. The event will have live music from Vinyl Revival, a bounce house and face painting for kids, and a fireworks show at 9:30 p.m. The event is free to attend, and festivities start at 5:30 p.m. at Shawnee’s Stump Park.

If you are a beer and whiskey enthusiast, you are going to have a hard time deciding what to do on July 13 — both the Strang Hall Beer Fest and Legends of Whiskey Summer Festival are happening that day.

Strang Hall in Overland Park is hosting its fourth annual Beer Fest from 2–5 p.m. For $55 (plus tax and fees) you can get a wristband that gets you samples of craft beer from 14 area breweries. The fest is serving up hometown favorite Boulevard in addition to beer from smaller breweries like Fields and Ivy from Lawrence, Limitless Brewing from Lenexa, and Rockcreek Brewing Co. from Mission. If you aren’t drinking, they also have a $10 designated driver ticket.

While the festival will happen outdoors, your wristband also gets you 20% off food indoors at any of Strang Hall’s food concepts. If you stick around after the Beer Fest, you can watch live music outdoors starting at 6:30 p.m.

If you opt for some harder liquor that day instead, the first annual Legends of Whiskey event will be at Children’s Mercy Park (at the Legends, get it?). With the price of admission, you can sample whiskey from Union Horse Distilling Co. out of Lenexa, which considers itself the first grain-to-glass distillery in the Kansas City area since Prohibition. They will also serve up whiskey from distilleries outside of Kansas City, like Deerhammer from Colorado.

The Legends of Whiskey is 21+ and general admission tickets are $55, VIP tickets are $250, or $15 for nondrinkers. Entrance is at 4 p.m. for VIPS and 5 p.m. for general admission. Food will be available for purchase at the stadium’s concession areas, and VIP ticket holders have access to a free buffet before the event starts.

The Heart of America Hot Dog Festival on August 3 is so much more than a food festival. Hosted by the Negro Baseball League Museum, the event will feature live music from 1990s R&B favorites like headliner Stokley, from the group Mint Condition, and the female group Brownstone. For food—you guessed it, there will be hot dogs, and there are also alcoholic drinks and nonalcoholic drinks available.

If you get your general admission ticket before July 15 it will cost $35, or $50 after that date. Kids tickets are $10. While GA tickets get you access to the concert, VIP tickets are $125 and come with two hot dogs, two cocktails, and a bottle of water. The festival starts at 3 p.m. in the 18th and Vine District between 18th Street and Truman Road.

The Ethnic Enrichment Festival is a staple of the Kansas City summer, and it is returning to Swope Park for its 45th year on August 16–18. Hosted by the Ethnic Enrichment Commission of Kansas City, the festival typically features a sprawling array of food vendors who represent over 40 countries.

Last year’s festival had a booth from Colombia that served arepas rellena with beef and potatoes, a booth from Iraq with burek (crispy egg rolls) and a booth from Norway with aebleskiver (small spherical pancakes). Each day also has a jam-packed schedule of music and dancing from different countries, as well as a parade of flags. Entrance is $5, and kids 12 and under are free. The festival is 6–10 on Friday, 12–10 on Saturday, and 12–6 on Sunday.

At the end of summer, Food Fest Friday will be in Raymore on August 30 with food trucks and live music at Recreation Park. The Taste of Kansas City Festival will also return for its second year on September 4 at Harris Park. Keep an eye out for more information about these events.

Enjoy the arts

Red and teal painted foam letters spelling out Art Garden.
Sidney Steele
/
Startland News
Summer is the time for outdoor activities and concert series, including the weekly Berkley Riverfront Festival.

Back for its second year, the Berkley Riverfront Festival is an eclectic free art, shopping, and wellness event that runs every Sunday from April through October, from 11-4. Hosted by Art Garden KC, an artist-led collective that specializes in pop-up markets, the weekly festival boasts over 60 vendors with handmade items by local artists.

They also have open mic performances, a wellness garden with free or donation-based walk-up classes in things like yoga or breathwork, and booths with services like face painting, reiki, and tarot card reading. The event welcomes pets and families and has food trucks and yard games if you want to hang out and make a day of it.

This summer, the Downtown Community Improvement District is hosting a new art, music, and performance series Summer in the City twice every month from May through September. For a lively lunch break, visit Oppenstein Park at 12th and Walnut on the second Wednesday of every month from 12-1:30 p.m. for the Activation Series. This monthly event features music and dance performances along with yard games and food trucks.

The next one is on July 10. If you can’t make a lunch event, they also host musicians, dancers, and spoken word artists on the fourth Thursday of every month from 5-6:30 p.m. at the same location. The next one is this Thursday, where performers from Voler - Thieves of Night will give an aerial dance performance.

Bring your blanket or lawn chair to the Kansas City Museum for their monthly outdoor Summer Concerts on the Lawn series. Held on the second Friday of each month from June through September, these concerts are only $7 if you buy a ticket in advance, or $10 at the gate. Entrance is free for kids 12 and under. Knobtown Skiffle Band will perform at the next concert on July 14, and they describe themselves as “old-timey” with blues and jazz influences. You can bring in a picnic and nonalcoholic drinks. Alcoholic drinks are not allowed in, but wine, beer, and cocktails are available for purchase. The show is on the museum’s East Lawn and gates open at 6:30 p.m.

For the full festival experience, Country Stampede is a three-day camping and country music festival happening this coming weekend from June 27–29. Hosted at Azura Amphitheater in Bonner Springs, the festival is bringing in big-name acts in contemporary country: headliners include Chris Janson, Riley Green, and John Pardi. The price for a campsite ranges from $349–$999, but camping is not required to attend the festival. For the festival itself, there are a range of ticket packages that range from $149 to $299 for all three days, or you can purchase a single-day ticket for $79.

Totally Tubular Festival is a traveling throwback concert coming to Grinder’s on July 7. The concert promises a medley of 1980s favorites like “I Melt with You” and “I Want Candy” performed by artists like Modern English and Tommy Tutone. GA tickets are $49.50, preferred access tickets are $90 and include access to an air-conditioned lounge and private viewing area, or 1980s pop superfans can pay $239 for a Totally Tubular meet-and-greet package that comes with a free fanny pack and a chance to meet the artists.

And if one throwback concert isn’t enough for you, the Old School Throwback Goodwill Music Festival is happening on August 23–25 at the Grandview Amphitheater. If you are wondering what “old school” entails here, the answer is a little bit of everything. The festival highlights R&B and soul music from the 1960s and beyond, including well-known R&B and soul bands from the 1960s and 1970s The Intruders, Sonny Bivins Manhattans, and Blue Magic. Tickets are $60 for a day pass or $150 for all three days.

The great outdoors

A person holds a black butterfly with white spots.
Julie Denesha
/
KCUr 89.3
Kansas City area festivals offer many ways to interact with nature, like Powell Garden's Festival of the Butterflies.

Or perhaps you just want to find an excuse to spend some time outside (despite the sweltering heat). There are plenty of opportunities this summer to do fun, and perhaps even unusual activities outside.

For a fun, kid-friendly morning, bring a blanket and your favorite teddy bear to Swope Park on July 12 for the Teddy Bear Picnic. To celebrate National Teddy Bear Picnic Day, the event will enjoy story time courtesy of the Kansas City Public Library, music from children’s performer Janie Next Door, and even a teddy bear health clinic where you can bring stuffed animals for repair (how cute is that?). There will also be face painting, a photo booth, and an ice cream vendor. It goes from 11-12:30 at the Swope Park Bandstand. Tickets are free, but you have to reserve them ahead of time, which you can do here.

Zona Rosa Summer Fest on July 20 is another family-friendly event with a petting zoo, kids’ dance party, and foam party (for children). There is also entertainment for adults: The Strawberry Swing craft fair will bring an array of vendors selling jewelry, clothing, home goods, and art. There will also be food trucks, a beer garden, and yard games. It is at North Park and The Bridge in Zona Rosa, and it runs from 11-6.

Festival of the Butterflies is a celebration of summer’s natural beauty that runs from July 18 through August 4 at Powell Gardens. This event showcases pollinator plants alongside both native and non-native butterflies from different locales. Each week of the festival highlights butterflies in different regional cultures, focusing on Latin America the week of July 20, Polynesia the week of July 27, and Celtic culture the week of August 3.

While the festival occurs in the dog days of summer, Powell Gardens has a cooling station available if you need to take a break from the heat. The park is open from 9-5 and entrance costs $17 for adults, $15 for seniors ages 60 and up, and $10 for kids 5–12. Children 4 and under are free.

To further celebrate the cultures highlighted in the Festival of the Butterflies, Powell Gardens is holding Latin American Culture Night on July 20, Polynesian Culture Night on July 27, and Celtic Culture Night on August 4. These events run from 6-9 p.m. and each event features dinner and performances from each culture. Tickets are $35 for admission and two drinks, and for $65 you can also get dinner.

Summer is a time for yard parties, and Kansas City’s Lawn Party on July 23 might be the biggest one of the year. The city is shutting down Emanuel Cleaver II Blvd. between Oak Street and Rockhill, and the party will flow across both sides of the street in honor of National Parks and Recreation Month. There will be food trucks and live music at Theis Park, and the country band Cowtown Country Club is kicking things off 4 p.m.

There will also be a plein air quick paint contest where artists will come paint the party’s scenery, with the winner taking home a $500 prize. Of course there will be yard games, in addition to giant bubbles, a stilt walker, an interactive “musication station” hosted by Make Music KC, and so much more. The event goes from 4-8.

If you can’t make it to the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia on August 8–18, you can find carnival rides closer to home at Parkville Days on August 23–25. Unlike the State Fair, admission is free. If you don’t want to ride carnival rides, there will also be live music, guided walking tours of the town, and sidewalk sales at some of Parkville’s locally-owned shops. If you are there on Friday night from 6–8, you can even take a helicopter ride. Parkville Days hours are 6–10 on August 23, 10–10 on August 24, and 12–5 on August 25.

Don’t think we’ve forgotten about the quintessential summer celebration: Independence Day! There are plenty of places where you can see a fireworks show around Kansas City. Your options for a free pyrotechnics display on July 4 include the Stars and Stripes Picnic at the National World War I Museum and Memorial, the Overland Park Star Spangled Spectacular at Corporate Woods Founders’ Park, and Smithville Fireworks Show at Smith’s Fork Park.  

Corrected: July 1, 2024 at 4:11 PM CDT
A previous version of this story incorrectly identified where Food Fest Friday is being held. The event is in Raymore.
Hannah Bailey is a cultural studies scholar and a freelance writer for KCUR. You can email her at hannah@coneflower.org.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.