Photo courtesy of Pia Catton.
For thrifty art-lovers, warmer weather brings the ultimate free event: summer concerts and performances by world-class artists in classical music, jazz, theater, and dance.
Arts organizations aggressively use the summer months to try to connect with new audiences by giving free performances, often outdoors. So if you say you don’t take in classical music because ticket prices are too high, or that you’re not sure you want to spend money on modern dance, you’ve got no excuse in the summer.
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Here are a few tips to help you take advantage of free summer concerts:
- Don’t delay your search
- Look for local events
- Get to the venue early
1. Don’t Procrastinate!
Start your search for free summer concerts early. Sometimes tickets are free, but you need to reserve them. So if you want to go, don’t procrastinate.
I recently attended the 2018 NEA Jazz Masters ceremony at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. I was lucky to land the tickets — they sold out within a day of being available.
2. Look Locally
Focus on local performing arts groups, but also try local colleges and city park websites. Colleges frequently host summer programs that culminate in free performances to show off what the emerging artists were working on.
City parks also often host a variety of concerts. And in cases when the concerts are taxpayer funded, you already paid for them. Might as well go see them, right?
Even if you can't find free summer concerts in your area, sites like SeatGeek can help you find cheap ones.
3. Arrive Early
If you really want to hear the music or see the show at an outdoor venue, you need to sit as close to the stage as possible. Some venues have seats, but at others, it’s a free-for-all.
The farther back you sit, the harder it is to hear — not only because of the way sound travels, but also because of latecomers, loud talkers, and free-roaming children.
Here’s to a summer full of art and savings!
The Biggest Free Summer Concerts
Below is a roundup of free performances in major cities during the summer of 2018 (though events happen in locations from coast to coast).
One of the most famous free concert programs is at the Stern Grove Festival. Within this wooded enclave at 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard, you can expect to see a huge variety of major artists. The festival line up will be announced on May 1.
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The Kennedy Center takes free concerts seriously: It hosts no-cost performances every day year-round on its Millennium Stage. If you plan to visit this landmark on a trip to D.C. but need flexibility or can’t book a ticket ahead, here’s a great option: Show up for the 6:00 p.m. free performance and take in the sites of the nation’s most recognized center for performing arts. Some highlights of this season include a tribute to Leonard Bernstein on April 25 and two weeks of Cuban and Cuban-American artists starting May 8.
New York City
Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival annually offers a few free performances by the same artists whose main-stage concerts start at $30. Plus, the festival commissioned a major new work, In the Name of the Earth, which will feature nearly 800 singers performing in Central Park’s Harlem Meer for a one-night-only concert on August 11.
At the southern tip of Manhattan, the Battery Dance Festival brings together artists from all over the world and gives them a stage overlooking New York Harbor. As New York City’s longest-running free dance festival, it emphasizes international work that you may not otherwise get a chance to see. Previous presentations include choreography by tap innovator Michelle Dorrance and modern dance pioneer Paul Taylor. The lineup for this year’s festival, which begins on August 12, is available on their website.
It’s my kind of town, especially with the roster of artists that take the stage at Millennium Park. The soulful jazz singer José James pays tribute to Bill Withers on June 18, and you can hear Anoushka Shankar on July 19 and Aimee Mann on July 30. For the full lineup — as well as shows in other Chicago parks — check out Millennium Park’s events calendar.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has a habit of popping up all over the place as part of its CSO in the Community program. You’ll hear the same orchestra, one of America’s best, that audiences pay top dollar for. Check out upcoming events on the CSO website. Tickets are free, but you'll need to reserve them.
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