For years I've made the trek from south St. Louis to Alton and the Great River Road in search of good times and adventure, from ziplining above the bluffs in Grafton to seeing some of the region's best drag shows at Bubby & Sissy's. But this summer the Riverbend is pulling out all the stops to encourage many more of you to discover what's long felt like a secret escape.
Every Thursday night from June through September, Alton and Grafton — bookending what I'd argue is the most gorgeous stretch of the Great Rivers National Scenic Byway — will be featuring dazzling fireworks on their respective waterfronts. The spectacular light shows will sparkle along the Mississippi in both towns simultaneously starting at 9 p.m. The Light Up the Great River Road 10-minute light show provides a brilliant backdrop to live music and evening events in both communities.
Some of the best regional musicians perform at Alton's Night Market on Broadway every Thursday evening. From 7 to 10 p.m., vendors and musicians entertain and sell their wares at this popular farmers' market spinoff. Located in the park adjacent to Jacoby Arts Center (627 East Broadway, Alton, Illinois; 618-462-5222) in downtown Alton, it's a great place to relax and listen to live music in an outdoor setting. Browse local artists' work, purchase handcrafted products, or pick up vintage and hip thrift items. The market is free to attend. Regional bands including HOOKiE, Tony & The Saints, the BuzzTones and more will take the stage at the market throughout the summer.
The Night Market on Broadway is an ideal spot to enjoy the Alton fireworks, which will shine in the night sky just a few blocks away.
For more live music options, head to Fast Eddie's Bon Air (1530 East Fourth Street, Alton, Illinois, 618-462-5532), the town's original dive bar, which features cold drinks, cheap food and live music. Or check out The Conservatory (554 East Broadway, Alton, Illinois, 618-433-1341), a newly opened live music venue which is filled with music-themed art and up-and-coming musicians.
Fifteen miles down the Great River Road, which skirts limestone bluffs right on the Mississippi River, honky-tonk country, pop, classic rock, bluegrass and even the sounds of Sinatra roll across downtown Grafton every Thursday night during the summer. Outdoor concerts are held at the Grove Memorial Park as part of Grafton Music in the Park. The annual summer concert program brings the sounds of Jake Weber and the Lonesome Drifters, the Trilogy Band, Rockabilly Revival and more to the city's riverfront. Immediately following each concert, the night skies will light up with the fireworks displays which will launch from Lighthouse Park on the river's edge.
Additional live music is available in Grafton every weekend. Check out the Hawg Pit, ride the gondola up the hill to Aerie's Resort, or watch the sailboats slip by at the Loading Dock for even more musical entertainment. Break up your week and your routine with a short excursion across the bridge. Once you develop a taste for the Riverbend, you'll find yourself pulled to it time and again.