While Fargo-Moorhead may be “fly-over country” to some, more and more stars are touching down here as the arts and culture scene has taken off throughout the last 20 years. Much of the buzz is generated by the Fargodome, which has been making noise not only as the home field for the champion North Dakota State University Bison football team, but also the largest indoor concert venue between Minneapolis and Seattle.
The 25-year-old facility set an attendance record in 2016 with 593,489 visitors coming for events, including shows by AC/DC and four by Garth Brooks, each of which drew more than 19,000 people. Other big shows in 2016 featured Justin Bieber, Blake Shelton and James Taylor.
Over the last five years the Fargodome has also hosted Taylor Swift (twice), Paul McCartney, Justin Timberlake, Katy Perry, Kid Rock, Pink, Luke Bryan, Carrie Underwood, Mötley Crüe, Lady Antebellum and more.
While the dome has held more than 27,000 for a concert (George Strait in 1997), it scales down to the Gate City Bank Theatre to host touring Broadway shows.
The upcoming season features stage versions of “Dirty Dancing,” “Elf: The Musical,” “Jersey Boys,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.”
While theater may be secondary at the Fargodome, it’s the heart of Bluestem Center for the Arts in south Moorhead. The outdoor amphitheater is home to the high school-aged Trollwood Performing Arts School and the mainstage musical every July.
The months before and after that, the amphitheater is used as a nearly 3,000-seat concert venue, hosting about a dozen shows from May into October. Built for sightlines and sound, Bluestem is a favorite for locals because of its intimate setting and scenic backdrop of the Red River. It made for a perfect night when legendary singer Tony Bennett performed there in May 2017.
More than 28,000 music fans took in concerts at the Bluestem in 2016, seeing the likes of Nelly, Weird Al Yankovic, Brandi Carlile, 3 Doors Down, Wilco, Weezer and more.
The Fargo Theatre remains the most visible attraction in Fargo. Its marquee has become a symbol for the community and the theater’s ties to the Coen brothers’ movie “Fargo.” While the art deco auditorium has shifted away from its roots as a vaudeville hall, it welcomes a robust mix of touring musical acts and comedians. Over the past year, the hall has hosted singers Dwight Yoakam, Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt and Sturgill Simpson, as well as comics Louie Anderson, Brian Regan, David Cross and Tig Notaro. Come the holidays, it hosts a number of festivities, including the annual homecoming show for the vocal group The Blenders.
The landmark’s bread and butter is still the silver screen. In addition to showing a number of arthouse and classic movies, the site is home to the annual Fargo Film Festival each March, bringing in more than a hundred indie flicks and filmmakers from around the world.
Downtown Fargo’s other big arts organization, the Plains Art Museum, is the largest such organization in North Dakota. Its five galleries focus on regional art and issues, and also makes room for touring national and international exhibits.
In July, the Plains and the Rourke Art Gallery + Museum in Moorhead went admission-free and the two creative spaces are teaming up for a number of joint ventures including dual shows on the works of the late American Indian painter, Fritz Scholder, born in nearby Breckenridge, Minn. Besides the two main visual art establishments, galleries such as Ecce, Gallery 4 and Revland Gallery give patrons a chance to support art by buying it. Patrons also enjoy partaking in the annual autumn Studio Crawl and the monthly Corks & Canvas art and wine walks. The annual Unglued: Craft Fest also gives creative types a two-day showcase of everything from handmade soaps and ties to handcrafted pens, prints and beard oil. The Unglued brick-and-mortar store is a year-round repository for some of the wares and a popular spot for emerging crafters to take a class or look for inspiration.
Heritage is important to the local arts scene. The Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra honored composer Peter Schickele by commissioning the Fargo-reared musician, also known as the comic character P.D.Q. Bach, for a piece during this year’s concert series.
With two main productions each year, the FargoMoorhead Opera makes the most of its time on stage, introducing memorable updates to classic works. This past season, the troupe staged a steampunk version of “The Magic Flute” and a “Mad Men” look to “Pirates of Penzance.” Fargo-Moorhead Ballet adds another lively step to the area arts scene with two shows every season.
The beating heart of the local scene are the three liberal arts universities/colleges, which provide the artists of today in the form of teachers and students, and also gives the community other venues to experience creative expression.
The North Dakota State University, Minnesota State University Moorhead and Concordia College theater departments all teamed up earlier this year to bring in Tony Award-winning author and playwright Mary Zimmerman, with each school staging one of her works.
NDSU’s Challey School of Music presents symposiums that benefit students and the community. A recent choral symposium featured renowned composer and conductor Eric Whitacre.
At Concordia, the music department gears up for the annual Christmas Concert that brings the bands, orchestras and choirs together for a joyous show that is the highlight of the school’s calendar and also a yearly tradition for many music patrons.