We're fast approaching the full solar strength of the middle months, that hot, happy and humid time in our corner of the hemisphere. Now that our red-brick metropolis is flush with green and fresh from the meteorological violence of spring, it's time to get ready for the sweaty tingle of summertime in St. Louis. Break free from your air-conditioned prisons and take to the streets. The city boasts a staggering array of things to do in the season of the blazing sun too many, in fact, for any guide to enumerate. So we've chosen a dozen delightful ways to embrace the heat. Off we go.
Face it, baseball is in our collective DNA, meaning any authentic St. Louis summer must include at least one Cardinals game at Busch Stadium. This year, though, tickets are going to be scarce at the new yard, and it'll be as tough as hitting for the cycle to catch a game on the fly. But Cardinals games aren't the only bat-'n'-ball show in the area. Consider taking in a game in Sauget, home of the Frontier League's Gateway Grizzlies. The cheap seats (which are still basically on the field) are five bucks flat, and the concession stand boasts a burger with a Krispy Kreme doughnut bun. If you're closer to the Missouri River, check out the River City Rascals in O'Fallon (but no doughnut burger). That Pujols guy doesn't play on either team, but the next great one may be there right now and it will be much easier to get his autograph. Tickets are $5 to $10 for both the Grizzlies and Rascals. Visit Web sites www.gatewaygrizzlies.com (or call 618-337-3000) and www.rivercityrascals.com (636-240-2287) for tickets, directions, and information.
Our national pastime accounted for, we can safely move on to the myriad outdoor cultural festivals that dot the next few months, like beads of condensation on a beer can in August. Every year sees too many to choose from. With all the neighborhood gatherings, concerts and shows, there's more than enough to keep us on the go every weekend.
The Rock 'n' Roll Craft Show is a two-day event presenting hand-made functional art (kitchen wares, pottery, clothing and so on) crafted by local artists and artisans, and, as the name implies, featuring a soundtrack by ten local rock bands. This is a new happening for St. Louis (the first RRCS was held last October) and it shows off the emergent hipster side of the city without that hipper-than-thou vibe. This is the only show of its kind in town, developed by dedicated crafters who wanted to offer affordable art to the masses in an atmosphere less formal and traditional than most art festivals. They succeeded; it rocks. The show is at 6933 Hampton Avenue, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on June 3 and 4. Photos and information are on www.bgb.org/rrcs.
Speaking of mainstay festivals, a perennial favorite is the Central West End Art Fair and Taste. The fair takes place on Euclid Avenue, between Maryland and McPherson avenues, on June 10 and 11, and features booths from 150 local and national artists, food from esteemed CWE eateries, and live music. The art fair runs from 10 a.m. to midnight on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday. Check www.thecwe.com for more information.
Music is a component of every art festival, but what of the outdoor concert? Concert series are omnipresent; most local parks have a few acts lined up, so check the one nearest you. There are a few you shouldn't miss, like the Whitaker Music Festival at the Missouri Botanical Garden (4344 Shaw Boulevard). "Jazz in the Garden" is a classic laid-back event every Wednesday from June 7 through August 9, beginning at 7 p.m. Bring a picnic basket, blankets, booze even the kids. The show's free and the garden is beautiful. Check www.mobot.org or call 314-577-9400 for a schedule and information.
Fair St. Louis, the Wal-Mart of Independence Day parties (because it's just that big), is much more than just a concert, what with the air shows and beer and the like. The music acts are the big draw, though, so we'll throw it in with them. Fair St. Louis is July 1st and July 4th from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and will feature Jason Mraz and Hootie and the Blowfish. Live on the Levee is a riverfront concert series that rolls along after the massive superparty. It picks up July 14 with Better Than Ezra and Sister Hazel, and continues every Friday and Saturday night through August 12. Both riverfront events have plenty of food and fireworks to go around. Like Fair St. Louis, Live on the Levee is directly below the Arch; it opens at 5 p.m., with the first band at 6 p.m. The shared Web site is www.fairstl.org.
Rounding out the trifecta of outdoor culture (after art and music, the play's the thing) is the Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis in Forest Park. This year the venerable troupe brings us the stunning prose and tragedy of the Bard's Julius Caesar. It takes place every night but Tuesday from May 26 to June 18, just east of the Saint Louis Art Museum. Shakespeare in the Park starts around 6:30 p.m. with the Green Show, a Renaissance-style collection of jugglers, dancers and madrigal-singing musicians. We've said it before, but it's worth repeating: Arrive early for a good seat, and bring food and drink. The play begins at 8 p.m. More information can be had at www.sfstl.com. Don't miss it, it's one of the best parts of Forest Park summer, and that's saying a lot, too, for every day is a good day to ride your bike or walk the wide, well-paved paths to the zoo, art museum or Muny. Check www.forestparkforever.org for a rundown on the "Jewel of St. Louis."
Tower Grove Park the "Victorian Gem" of St. Louis is the smaller, cooler sibling of Forest Park. Just as lush as Forest Park, Tower Grove reflects the diversity of its neighborhood as it is home to kickball, hurling and vintage baseball teams, and rests beside the cafés and shops at Grand Boulevard and Arsenal Street. And on July 22 and 23 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., the park is home to one of our favorite events, the Festival of Nations. Two reasons to go to the free festival are the traditional food and the traditional music of all the cultures that make up polyglot St. Louis. From Bosnian to Filipino to Ethiopian, German to Scottish, French to Mexican, you'll eat food new to your palate and groove to beats new to your soul.
Also in Tower Grove every Saturday morning through October 12 is the newest of St. Louis' many farmer's markets. Stocking up on produce at local markets is another great perk of living in this city; the food you buy didn't make a transcontinental flight to get to you it's likely grown and ripened 45 minutes away from your table. Farmer's markets are all over, so ask around; besides the new Tower Grove Market and the old standby Soulard Market, there are two others of note. The Clayton Market on Central Avenue between Forsyth Boulevard and Maryland Avenue opens every Saturday morning from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., and serves a relatively inexpensive organic breakfast. The Maplewood Market opens shop each Wednesday from 4 to 7 p.m. in the Schlafly Bottleworks (7260 Southwest Avenue) parking lot. Every second Wednesday is SLOWednesday, where farmers share their food and their knowledge.
Defining the summertime shutdown are two Labor Day parties: First is the Japanese Festival at the Missouri Botanical Garden, likely the only place you can see sumo wrestling in St. Louis. Stay for taiko drumming (it shakes the gods from the sky), green-tea ice cream, martial-arts demonstrations and Zen gardening. It will cost you $10, and it's open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday. Then head back downtown as the Big Muddy Blues Festival takes over Laclede's Landing. Besides the national blues acts, the five stages of soul-soothing music, the crowd of happy people, and the food and drink, the best part about this music festival is that it's free. This year's headliners are The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Shemekia Copeland, and you can also see guys with names like Jimmy "Duck" Holmes and Eddie Cotton and the Mississippi Cotton Club. September's still a long way from now, so the exact schedule remains to be seen, but the festival spreads out from September 1 through 3, pretty much all day; dial up www.lacledeslanding .org for updates.