The Defeat of Jesse James Days, one of Minnesota ’s biggest festivals, spans five days, but the highlight takes just seven minutes. The infamous raid and shoot-out is reenacted in front of the First National Bank six times on Saturday and Sunday.
The festival begins on Wednesday with a graveside service for Joseph Lee Heywood and Nicolaus Gustavson, the two innocent men killed during the robbery attempt, and is followed by an antique tractor pull, rodeo, arts and crafts show, and parade, among other things. It all takes place the weekend after Labor Day. The city of Madelia, 65 miles to the east, reenacts the capture of the Younger Brothers the following weekend.
The St. Olaf Christmas Festival, begun in 1912, draws thousands to Northfield  in early December and reaches a much larger audience with a national broadcast on PBS. Hymns, carols, and other choral works are performed by the acclaimed St. Olaf Choir and other vocal groups, with accompaniment from the St. Olaf Orchestra: over 500 student musicians in total. Another musical event is the Bridge Chamber Music Festival the first weekend in June.
The very active Northfield Arts Guild (304 Division St., 507/645-8877, www.northfieldartsguild.org ) produces six musical, comedic, and dramatic plays a year, including some for children, at the NAG Theater (411 W. 3rd St.) and hosts concerts, readings, and more.
There is usually something interesting going on at Carleton College (1 College St. N., 507/646-4000) and St. Olaf (1520 St. Olaf Ave., 507/646-3002), and the public is welcome.
Two wonderful basement pubs face each other across the river. While both the Contented Cow (302 Division St., 507/663-1351, 3 p.m.–midnight Mon.–Thurs. and Sat.–Sun., 3 p.m.–1 a.m. Fri.) and Froggy Bottoms (305 Water St. S., 507/664-0260, 10 a.m.–10 p.m. daily) have their own personal faunal theme, they have much in common, including riverside patios, live music, and smoke-free air.
Hogan Brothers’ Acoustic Café (415 Division St. S., 507/645-6653, 9 a.m.–9 p.m. daily) also has live music on weekends.