Winter is a trying time in St. Louis. December's gray, gloomy days turn into frigid, unforgiving nights as our collective Vitamin D deficiency threatens to turn us into a horde of pallid, paunchy zombies. We hole up in our homes, only occasionally risking the elements to trek out for the necessary provisions.
As April approaches, we wake from our slumber and reemerge to renewing spring rains. The vibrant, verdant city we'd all but forgotten comes back into focus, and we begin to reacquaint ourselves with the outside world.
By summer, those strong enough to have endured the Midwestern winter are rewarded with a packed roster of arts and entertainment events -- a schedule that can go toe-to-toe with just about any city in the country.
Here are our picks for the ten best free events in St. Louis this summer.
1. Whitaker Music Festival www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/things-to-do/events/signature-events/whitaker-music-festival.aspx
Now in its 22nd year, the Whitaker Music Festival brings St. Louisans free admission to the gorgeous grounds of the Missouri Botanical Garden along with performances from some of the city's most popular musical acts, including Tommy Halloran's Guerrilla Swing, the Erin Bode Group and Magnolia Summer. Beginning in late May and continuing through the end of July, admission to the garden is free every Wednesday from 5 until 9 p.m., and music starts at 7:30 p.m.
2. Shakespeare Festival St. Louis www.sfstl.com
In addition to the festival's centerpiece production in Forest Park -- this year, the genre-straddling Antony and Cleopatra, running now through June 14 -- Shakespeare Festival St. Louis presents a slew of free events all over the city. Among others, Camp Shakespeare provides several full-day workshops for students at Crossroads College Preparatory School, and the monthly Shakespeare Festival Reads is a collaborative reading group hosted by Left Bank Books.
3. Jungle Boogie Friday Night Concert Series www.stlzoo.org/events/calendarofevents/jungleboogie
In addition to being one of only a handful of zoos around the nation with free general admission year-round, the Saint Louis Zoo also also presents a free, family-friendly summer concert series every Friday from May 22 to August 28. The concerts take place from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Schnuck Family Plaza near the zoo's center. Along with the musical entertainment, the zoo's exhibits remain open for an additional two hours during the concerts, so you can visit your favorite animals until 7 p.m.
4. Wednesday Lunch Free Concert Series www.stlouis-mo.gov/events/eventdetails.cfm?Event_ID=9715
In contrast to the wealth of other free events held on evenings and weekends around town, the Wednesday Lunch Free Concert Series presents downtown residents and commuters a bit of midweek, daytime entertainment. Held from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. at Citygarden throughout June, July and August, the series' musical offerings will range from the electro-soul of DJ Nune to the old-time fiddle of Root Diggers, and Acoustik Element's Latin guitar and percussion.
5. Three Stooges Night at the Bottleworks schlafly.com/events/calendar/2015/11/09/three-stooges-night
On the second Monday of every month from 7 to 9 p.m., the Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood hosts Three Stooges Night, where you can get together with like-minded folks to watch the slapstickiest of comedies playing on a vintage 16mm projector while enjoying the Bottleworks' food and drink menus. Though the event itself is free, donations to benefit the National Children's Cancer Society are accepted.
6. PrideFest pridestl.org
Kicking off Friday, June 26, outside the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum downtown, PrideFest 2015 will feature dozens of entertainment acts, from local musicians Kim Massie and Middle Class Fashion to the standup comedy of Trish Busch to local contemporary-dance group Anti-Gravity. The festival culminates with the Wells Fargo Grand Pride Parade, which kicks off at noon on Sunday, June 28, and commemorates 1969's Stonewall Riots.
7. Fair Saint Louis www.fairsaintlouis.org
For the second year, this summer's Fair Saint Louis will be held in Forest Park rather than on the Arch grounds, which are currently being renovated. Held throughout the first weekend in July, the fair will feature entertainment from Blondie, Melissa Etheridge, and Morris Day & the Time. As always, fireworks will mark the end of each evening's festivities.
8. St. Louis World's Fare www.stlworldsfare.com
From August 21 to 23, the St. Louis World's Fare will take over Forest Park's World's Fair Pavilion, and the main stage will feature performances from a wide range of St. Louis musicians. In addition to the music, attendees can witness local artists create their work in person at the Artists Village, sample selections from more than twenty restaurants and fifteen food trucks, and soak up the history of the 1904 World's Fair at the festival's Historic Experience, presented by the 1904 World's Fair Society.
9. Festival of Nations www.festivalofnationsstl.org
Presented by St. Louis' International Institute along with more than 100 other community organizations, the Festival of Nations adds even more color and beauty to the already vibrant Victorian environs of Tower Grove Park during the final weekend in August. A celebration of the city's diverse population, the festival presents three days of programming, including four stages featuring nonstop traditional music and dance, as well as the International Bazaar, where you can experience food and art from cultures around the globe.
10. The Great Forest Park Balloon Race greatforestparkballoonrace.com
What's left to say about this St. Louis institution? Now in its 43rd year, the Great Forest Park Balloon Race is officially both the world's longest-running and best-attended free hot-air-balloon event. If you are one of the few who've never witnessed the spectacle, do yourself a solid and put a note on your calendar for Friday, September 18. Yes, this event marks the end of summer to many St. Louisans, but that's no reason to avoid attending. (Denial won't stave off the chill of autumn, you know.) The surreal sensory experience of the balloon glow is unlike anything else you'll find in the city. Bring a camera and try your hand at the race's annual photo contest.