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South Dakota's 10 Best Festivals and Events in Summer 2014
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South Dakota's 10 Best Festivals and Events in Summer 2014

Picture of Patrick Norrie
Updated: 9 February 2017
South Dakota is celebrating 125 years of statehood this year. The state’s relatively short but eventful history has been shaped by the indigenous Sioux people, Wild West outlaws and the enterprising spirit of settlers. South Dakota’s contemporary culture shows the influences of this rich history, with music, art and performance drawing on traditional South Dakotan and immigrant elements. This list uncovers the memorable summer events that bolster the culture of this unique state.

Culture | Yankton Riverboat Days & Summer Arts Festival

15 – 17 August

Yankton pretty much owes its existence to the Missouri river. It was the first capital of the Dakota territory and was able to expand because of its port. Indeed Yankton is nicknamed the ‘river city’, as a recognition of how intertwined the Missouri river is with its identity. Yet nowadays, Yankton’s biggest influx of visitors annually is during mid-August, when this arts festival commences. The three days are packed with a wide array of activities and events, occurring mainly at the picturesque Yankton Riverside Park. Fireworks will be exploding over the Missouri river on the first night, while during the weekend Yankton will be saturated with arts and craft fairs, parades and live music. Lastly, this colourful artistic celebration is absolutely free.

Yankton Riverboat Days & Summer Arts Festival, Yankton, South Dakota, USA +1 605-665-1657

Red Cloud Indian Art Show | © Red Cloud Indian School

Art | Red Cloud Indian Art Show

Until 10 August

The Red Cloud Indian Art Show is a hugely important art show in the hills of the Pine Ridge Reservation. This is because it gives emerging Native American artists a chance for their work to be exhibited in a gallery for the first time. The gallery itself is based on the main campus of Red Cloud Indian School. In its 46th year, this Native American annual exhibition is the largest and longest running of its kind in the USA. Intriguingly, over the years there has been a noticeable evolution in the artworks on display: from the traditional forms such as beadwork and textiles to the more contemporary such as photography, mixed media and abstract painting. In fact, this year, the show has been given particular praise for exhibiting non-traditional art. It is a welcoming environment that has instilled confidence within artists to experiment with their ideas via different techniques. The exhibition is open seven days a week and is free admission.

The Heritage Center at Red Cloud Indian School, 100 Mission Dr, Pine Ridge, South Dakota, USA +1 605/867-8257


sioux city jazz blues
Evening at the Sioux City Jazz and Blues Festival | © Dan Thorson

Music | The Sioux Falls Jazz & Blues Festival

17 – 19 July

JazzFest, as it is commonly know as, is organised by The Sioux Falls Jazz & Blues Society. It is notable for being one of the largest free events in the Midwest. However, the name is slightly deceptive because there is actually a wide range of music on show here. Based at Yankton Trails Park in Sioux Falls, there will be two stages where the audience can listen to jazz, blues Latin, reggae, zydeco, rock, soul and funk. Headlining at JazzFest this year are George Thorogood and The Destroyers, Grammy award-winning guitarist Gary Clark Jr, Gov’t Mules and Blues Music Award winner Samantha Fish. Additionally, the event also caters for children with its designated area called Sanford Children’s JazzQuest, whereby a host of fun activities can be found.

JazzFest, Yankton Trail Park, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA +1 605-335-6101

Culture | Days of ’76

22 – 26 July

The Days of ’76 initially started in 1924 as a way to commemorate the first pioneers of Deadwood, a place that attracted many gold-miners and opportunistic prospectors. In fact, if you are interested in discovering more about its history, then you should watch the HBO drama Deadwood. In the series, David Milch dramatises Deadwood’s uneasy transition from an anarchic settlement to a land of law and order, owing to its initial resistance to being assimilated into the United States of America. Days of ’76 is a popular annual event consisting of historic parades, performances by local bands and award-winning rodeos. Additionally, the Day of ’76 museum plays a prominent role during this period, housing an abundance of historic archives, firearms and horse-drawn vehicles that all relate to Deadwood’s tumultuous history.

Days of ’76, 18 76 Dr Deadwood, South Dakota 57732 +1 605-578-1876


robert c jackson artist
Robert C. Jackson, Come One, Come All, 48″ x 60″, oil on linen | Courtesy South Dakota Art Museum

Art | Robert C. Jackson: Without a Net

Until 21 September

A highlight of South Dakota Art Museum‘s calendar this summer is undoubtedly a solo exhibition by self-taught painter Robert C. Jackson. His bold paintings bring ordinary aspects of Americana to life in vivacious fashion. Jackson’s still life paintings are identifiable for being immersed in rich and colourful pop-art sensibilities that are playful in tone. Prior to working in the arts, Jackson had a career in electrical engineering. In a relatively short period of time he has had major exhibitions in New York, Boston and Washington D.C. South Dakota Art Museum first opened in 1970, housing significant collections including Native American Art, painter Oscar Howe and local artist Harvey Dunn.

South Dakota Art Museum, 936 Medary Ave, Brookings, South Dakota, USA, +1 605-688-5423

Culture | Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

4 – 10 August

Since its inauguration in 1938, the Motorcycle Rally has become a real phenomenon in Sturgis. This small town can lay claim to hosting one of the largest motorcycle rallies in the world. Every August, motorcyclist enthusiasts from around the world congregate and revel in this unique experience. There are many highlights such as bike shows, the Annual Mayor’s Ride and the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame. It is also common for visitors to embark on day-trips through the beautiful Black Hills, with many of South Dakota’s finest monuments handily placed nearby Sturgis.

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, 1040 2nd Street, Suite 201, Sturgis, South Dakota, USA +1 605-720-0800


Music | Rapid City Summer Nights

July – August

Every Thursday evening in Rapid City during the Summer, there is a live band playing on the street. This sense of spontaneity has helped to make Summer Nights a popular event, with the community coming together to indulge in food and fun activities while listening to live music. There is also a special section just for the young where they can get to grips with bouncy castles, games and face paintings. Fundamentally, Summer Nights is a great free family event that is an integral part of Rapid City’s calendar.

Rapid City Summer Nights, 7th Street Rapid City South Dakota USA +1 605-343-1823


Culture | Sioux Empire Fair

1 – 10 August

To mark the Sioux Empire Fair’s diamond jubilee, the organisers are striving to throw its biggest party yet. It is the largest fair in South Dakota, which managed to attract near to half a million visitors last year. On the grounds of W.H. Lyon Fairgrounds, there will be a giddy amount of activities to enjoy. A brief glance at the schedule reveals attractions such as a flea market, petting zoo, carnival rides, rodeo, magic shows, and exhibitions. This is a great family event that guarantees that there is something for everyone here. It is paid admission to the fair but included in the deal is free entry to their live concerts.

Sioux Empire Fair, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA +1 605-367-7178


South Dakota Festival of Books
South Dakota Festival of Books Visitors | Courtesy South Dakota Festival of Books

Literature | South Dakota Festival of Books

26 – 28 September

Bibliophiles will be eagerly anticipating the arrival of this exciting free festival in South Dakota. During a weekend in late September, Sioux Falls will become the epicentre of literature with more than 50 esteemed authors coming to the South Dakota Festival of Books. The theme this year will be the history of South Dakota, in light of its 125th anniversary as a state. Therefore Kathleen Norris, author of Dakota: A Spiritual Geography will be featuring along with Newbery Award-winning children’s author Avi and best-selling crime writer Karin Slaughter. This is a feast of literature with book signings, panel discussions and readings all on offer. Furthermore, on the 25 September, the organisers are launching for the first time the Young Readers Festival of Books. Appropriately, Kate DiCamillo, recently bestowed the honour of being National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature by the Library of Congress for 2014-15, will be leading this event that seeks to nurture children’s love for reading.

South Dakota Festival of Books, 1215 Trail Ridge Rd, Suite A, Brookings, South Dakota, USA +1 605-688-6113



Film | South Dakota Film Festival

25-28 September

The historic Capitol theatre, built in 1929, provides a charming and quaint setting for this intentional film festival. It has attracted some luminaries over the years such as Kevin Costner, Graham Greene, Irene Bedard and composer Kyle Eastwood. The jury has demonstrated a good track record of selecting engaging films that have gone on to receive national acclaim, such as Oscar nominated Australian short film Miracle Fish. Also last year’s documentary Wild Bill’s Run won awards at both South Dakota and Seattle Film Festival. Supplementing the films there will be Q&As, educational workshops and after-parties. Ultimately, the organisers exert a lot of effort to ensure there is a welcoming environment that promotes the best of filmmaking in South Dakota.

South Dakota Film Festival, 417 S. Main Street,. Aberdeen, South Dakota, USA + 1 605-725-2697


By Patrick Norrie