After Hours Blog > Guides|Music|Nightlife
Free! That’s Music to Our Ears
Get the scoop on our favorite spots to hear free music this summer.
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Best Local Scene
For more than four decades, the Fort Reno concert series in DC’s Tenleytown neighborhood has nurtured local indie-rock and punk. At free shows, emerging local bands rock out on a charmingly ramshackle stage perched on DC’s highest point. Punk-rock teens, hipster parents, and neighbors sprawl on the grass with picnics, pups, and tots. Don’t miss the Night of 1,000 Cakes, an annual sugar-laced tradition. Mondays and Thursdays 7:15 to 9:30 pm, mid-June through late July; fortreno.com.
Best Date Spot
Friday evenings, follow the TGIF throngs to the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden’s free Jazz in the Garden concerts, featuring everything from Brazilian to zydeco to salsa. Bring your own spread and blanket or split a cheese-and-fruit plate and a carafe of sangría from the Pavilion Café (be prepared for lines). Fridays 5 to 8:30 through September 11; nga.gov.
Best Jazz and R&B
Dubbed the Wolf Trap of Southeast DC by its National Park Service organizers, Fort Dupont’s free Saturday shows draw impressive crowds—up to 20,000. Concertgoers at the wooden amphitheater appreciate top-tier jazz and R&B—performers have included Herbie Mann and Wynton Marsalis—as well as the leafy park setting. Saturdays, rain or shine, starting at 8, July 18 through August 22; nps.gov/fodu.
Within Rock Creek Park’s dense woods sits Carter Barron Amphitheatre, a 3,700-seat outdoor venue with excellent acoustics. Carter Barron hosts an eclectic lineup for its free concerts, including reggae, ska, neo-soul, and a children’s orchestra. Selected Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays starting at 7:30 pm (June 26; July 10, 24, 26; August 15, 16); nps.gov/rocr. Free tickets, required for the first two dates, can be picked up the day of performance at the box office or at the Washington Post building (1150 15th St., NW).
Best International Flair
Global musicians—ranging in style from American roots to Welsh folk to Afro-Cuban jazz—take to Strathmore’s outdoor pavilion to present free high-quality performances to the picnicking masses. Concertgoers tote their own refreshments or nosh on ribs from the on-site BBQ Shack. Bring a blanket or low-slung chair for the lawn seating. Wednesdays 7 to 8:30 pm, June 24 through August 5; strathmore.org.
Most Small-Town Charm
At Leesburg’s Acoustic on the Green, you may feel as if you’ve stumbled into an episode of The Andy Griffith Show—but with cameos by modern-day rockers such as Luke Brindley of Vienna’s Jammin’ Java. Now in its sixth year, the free concert series, held on the town green, attracts big-city acoustic acts and a convivial crowd that averages around 350 people. Also on this year’s lineup: Chelsea Lee, Naked Blue, Jennifer Daniels, and Lighthorse. Saturdays 7 to 9 pm through August 22; acousticonthegreen.com.