Free State Fest concerts bring week-long party to downtown

The arts may be struggling in Kansas, but that’s not the case in Lawrence. Over the course of just six days, nearly every block of downtown will erupt in colorful celebrations as artists and musicians hit up stages across the area for the Free State Festival.

Although it’s only in its second year, the festival is going big.

“I think that Lawrence is really in a position where we’re just starting to see the real value of the arts in a public space for economic development,” says festival organizer Sarah Bishop. “These big public events bring people from all walks of life together to experience something that’s really fun and inspiring.”

The intense, week-long event organized by the Lawrence Arts Center is more than just an arts festival — it’s a community celebration.

George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic are set to lead Lawrencians in one epic block party when they play a free show in front of the Arts Center from 7-10 p.m. June 24. Fans will also have a chance to listen in on a conversation with the man himself at a Q&A at 5:30 p.m. inside the Arts Center before the show. That Q&A session is also free, but reservations are required.

Other music events during the festival include local bluegrass ruckus rousers Split Lip Rayfield playing a free outdoor show at Eighth and Massachusetts streets downtown in conjunction with the Tour of Lawrence bike races.

The festival is also working with local musicians across several of the events, and scheduled The Phantastics to open for George Clinton. Showcasing various genres of music from both the touring and local musicians is something the Arts Center wanted to focus on.

Elle King

“I think we are really interested in names that we think people will recognize, but also trying to bring in diverse artists is important to us so we can give our community access to a wide array of artists” Bishop says. “Across the board, we’re striving for more diversity in terms of the artists we present. I think that there’s not enough diverse artists that are practicing, but one of the ways to generate move diverse artists and get their voices heard is to provide access to the diverse artists out there.”

Amidst all the fun and fanfare, organizers hope the festival inspires anyone interested in the arts.

“I think a lot of times, people don’t feel like they can be artists or a famous singer, but that’s something we work really hard on at the Arts Center,” Bishop says. “Everyone has creative potential in them. The way to create a more equitable society is to make sure that people from all walks of life have the ability to be creative.”

Find a full schedule and purchase tickets for all the music-related events at

Other notable music and music-related events taking place during the Free State Festival:

• Elle King, 7 p.m. June 22, The Granada, $13

Sound + Vision Studio Tour, 12:30-1 p.m. June 24, Lawrence Public Library, free

Spinning Now: Today’s DJs, 1:30 p.m.-2:45 p.m. June 24, Lawrence Arts Center, free

New Sounds of Lawrence, 1:30 p.m.-2:45 p.m. June 24, Lawrence Public Library, free

Art and Music: Mash-ups and Mix-ups, 3:15-4:30 p.m. June 24, Lawrence Arts Center, free

Musical Petting Zoo, 4-6 p.m. June 25, Lawrence Arts Center, free

Mike Watt + the missingmen, 9 p.m. June 26, Lawrence Arts Center, $12

Gospel and jazz at St. Luke AME, 7-8 p.m. and 8:30-9:30 p.m. June 26, St. Luke AME Church, free

Black Joe Lewis, 7 p.m. June 27, outside Lawrence Arts Center, free

— Fally Afani is a freelance writer and editor of