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Discover music, art and good reads in downtown Columbia, Missouri

written by Jackie Tucker


My husband, Jake, and I are massive music fans. The 9th Street Summerfest in Columbia, Missouri, is one of our favorite music festivals of the year. We buy our tickets early, clear our calendars and drive two hours from St. Louis to enjoy warm summer nights filled with all our favorite music. Last year, we tried something new. Instead of just heading downtown for the concert in the evening, we had decided to make a day of it. As many times as we had been to Summerfest, we had never taken the time to explore the surrounding downtown area of Columbia—The District.

“Why have we not done this before?” I remembered Jake asking as we wandered down streets filled with sidewalk cafes, art studios and gorgeous old buildings.

Maybe it was the freedom of a summer day with no set agenda, or maybe it was the anticipation of the concert later, but the city seemed to be giving off a warm, energetic vibe that I was embracing wholeheartedly.

A good story

“Jake, look!” I pointed out a store window full of books.

I can’t pass up a good bookstore, and I could tell there was something special about Yellow Dog Bookshop. From the adorable name to the two children who were laughing as they walked out of the shop with their parents, I knew we had to go inside.

As Jake held the door open for me, he said (a little overdramatically), “All this happened, more or less.”

It was a running joke between us. I have this quirky knack for remembering the first lines of famous novels, and Jake always tries to one-up me. As I walked in, I responded with one of my favorites from Pride and Prejudice. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

Jake grinned as he browsed through a stack of books on a table by the door. He picked one up and cleared his throat.

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”

“All right, you win!” I laughed. It’s hard to compete with Dickens.

I made my way along the rows of shelves filled with everything from new releases to beloved childhood favorites. The smell of old books and the soft shuffling of pages took me back to afternoons spent at the library after school. And then, I saw my favorite book as a little girl—The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. It wasn’t new, but it was in excellent condition. On the inside cover an inscription read, “To Anna: I hope you enjoy this story as much as I did (and still do). Love, Aunt Sarah.”

And even though I already had three copies of the book, I bought this one, too.

Local art scene

A few blocks away we discovered the Columbia Art League, a gallery of work from talented national and local artists. The art was eclectic and vibrant, a reflection of The District itself. There seemed to be something for everyone—paintings, sculptures and even handcrafted items. It was a visual feast that ranged from contemporary art to funky folklore.

“I don’t understand it, but I like it.” Jake admired a rather psychedelic painting with a turtle in front of a cityscape on a bright blue background. “It looks like it should be an album cover.” Jake is a graphic designer, and I could see his mind spinning with ideas. It was fun to watch his creative process at work.

As we explored the rest of the art in the gallery, I began to appreciate the fact that local artists created all these pieces. While I am certainly no artist myself, I do enjoy it and admire organizations such as the Columbia Art League that involve national and local talent and give emerging and accomplished artists a place to showcase their work together.

Music and lyrics

We spent the rest of the afternoon strolling the streets of The District, delighted by the lovely shops and restaurants around every corner. After a quick bite to eat at Flat Branch Pub & Brewing, we made our way to The Blue Note. A crowd was filling the streets around the outdoor stage and the excitement was growing.

The Blue Note was the perfect spot for live music performances, small with a great bar. Jake and I discovered a couple of our favorite new bands there. It’s standing room only by the stage and the balcony seating is where it’s at if you want a great view. The intimate venue had amazing acoustics, but for 9th Street Summerfest, they took the party outside so more people could get in on the action.

Jake and I made our way to the stage, weaving in and out of the crowd. The energy was contagious. The band hit the stage and we joined in with all the other screaming fans. This may have been what we came for, but Columbia had delivered more than just a great concert and we certainly looked forward to returning in 2018.

Discover The District in Columbia.