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Crowds gather for live music in downtown Rapid City during Summer Nights 2014.
Crowds gather for live music in downtown Rapid City during Summer Nights 2014.
Summer Nights photo

Rapid City Summer Nights

Summer Nights is a street festival held every Thursday during the summer in downtown Rapid City. The free event features live music, arts, food, and a beer tent. There are also activities for children. On the best nights, an estimated 14,000 people will attend.

Although Art Alley is not officially included in the area of Summer Nights, musicians, performers, and other artists can often be found there during the festival.


The first Summer Nights was proposed in January 2008 by the Leadership Rapid City Class of 2007. The event, then called "Summer Nights on the Plaza", would be bounded by Sixth and Seventh Street, and Apolda and Saint Joseph Street. The name came from consultant Roger Brooks who wanted to create a brand name for Rapid City.

The name changed to Summer Nights on 7th as the actual space used was Seventh Street between Saint Joseph and Main Street.

By 2011, the event had outgrown that space. At the May 2nd City Council meeting (item 82), Summer Nights proposed expanding the area to include Main Street from 6th to 7th Street. Due to concerns about the impact of blocking off part of Main Street, the council approved this for a trial period of six weeks. When the council examined the issue again on July 18th, Police Chief Steve Allender reported that the police had not received any complaints from businesses.

In 2012, an Advisory Committee was formed to address concerns raised about the event. The Rapid City Council again approved the larger area used in 2011. At the end of the season, Summer Nights organizers looked at moving the event onto Saint Joseph Street. The move would have several benefits. Summer Nights would have more space away from Main Street Square, which had also started having musical performances. Moving away from Main Street would alleviate concerns of business owners who felt the blocked street kept customers away. It would also be easier to route traffic around Saint Joseph instead of Main.

The Rapid City Council approved the move in 2013; the new layout still included Seventh Street from Main to Saint Joseph, with the remainder of the area on Saint Joseph bounded by Sixth and Eighth Street.

A study was commissioned in 2013 to determine if Summer Nights should continue, and what changes should be made. The study was part of the large debate on the event at the March 3, 2014 Rapid City Council meeting. Consideration was given to the layout of the event. In the end, Mayor Sam Kooiker broke a tie vote to approve Summer Nights 2014.


Summer Nights has been a popular event since its founding, as shown by its growth in size and attendance. However, there have been disagreements with parts of the community.

During the 2012 approval of the event, concerns were raised about beer sales at a family event. Summer Nights responded that the beer sales are the main source of funding for the event; without the beer sales, they would have to cut amenities or charge admission. At the March 28th, 2012 Legal & Finance Committee meeting, Police Chief Allender reported that alcohol has not been a cause of concern, and only two and a half people had been arrested during all the Summer Nights.

The response of downtown businesses to Summer Nights has been mixed. Although no one wants to shut down the festival, some businesses have experienced a loss of income. Set up for each night requires streets to be closed by 2:30 pm or earlier, taking away parking and rerouting traffic. An advisory committee met in March 2012 to discuss issues raised, with the results shared with Summer Nights and the City Council. At the March 13, 2013 Legal & Finance Committee meeting, a suggestion was made to move the venue out of downtown, possibly to Memorial Park. Sandra Schwan, speaking for Summer Nights, said such a move would go against the event's mission of revitalizing downtown. However, such a move could be considered once the Memorial Park Promenade was completed.

Summer Nights Vs. Summer Concert Series

In October 2014, Summer Concert Series proposed the construction of a second stage in the parking lot east of Seventh Street. This proposal threatened to shut down Summer Nights, as the second stage would be too close to the stage Summer Nights used and the events ran concurrently. Both Summer Nights and Summer Concert Series put their permit requests through to the Legal and Finance committee on October 15, where the committee decided to wait 30 days before making a decision in hopes the groups would reach a compromise on their own.

Two weeks later, Summer Nights and Summer Concert Series rescinded their permit requests for 2015 in order to reach a compromise.

Downtown business made their own suggestions for the two festivals, namely in keeping the streets open until 5:30 whereas in previous years, the streets had closed at 3:30, costing any shops downtown two hours worth of business.

Summer Nights and Summer Concert Series reached a compromise in December and resubmitted their permits for approval. Summer Nights agreed to be moved south, to St. Joseph Street. Seventh Street would close at 3:00, but St. Joseph Street would remain open until 5:30. Both the police and fire chief approved of this compromise.

Summer Nights Continues

The Rapid City Council approved Summer Nights for a three year event permit, running from 2015 through 2017, instead of the yearly agreements. Sandy Schwan gave a status report midway through the agreement in 2016. In 2017, Summer Nights was approved for Vision Fund money for a new stage. The stage will be owned by the city but leased to Summer Nights. Through this agreement, the city will retain ownership if Summer Nights were to disband and can provide the stage to other organizations. 

With the previous agreement expiring, in late 2017 Summer Nights petitioned the council for a five year contract. Although the particulars of the event would be decided between the Summer Nights group and council each year, having the longer contract would allow Summer Nights to enter into long term agreements with vendors. The Rapid City Council approved the deal on December 18, 2017, covering operations from 2018-2022.

Other Resources

Rapid City Summer Nights- Website for Summer Nights

Summer Nights Schedule- List of bands and sponsors for the upcoming year.

Roger Brooks 2014 Summer Nights Recommendations

Archive- Articles and government meetings concerning Summer Nights


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