Guide to Free Summer Concerts Around Washington
Hear wallet-friendly music all summer long, in every genre imaginable.
July and August might be miserable in Washington, but locals can at least find consolation
in all the free live music happening around town. Here’s a roundup of what’s happening
where, from the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage to Fort Reno to the Folklife Festival.
The Kennedy Center stages countless performances each year, but the Millennium Stage hosts a show every day, always at 6 PM, and always free. The location can’t be beat, and you’ll see music of pretty much every culture and genre. Upcoming shows feature folk music from Hungary and China as well as jazz and improv from Chicago.
This annual Smithsonian festival on the Mall is a tribute to diversity and cultural heritage, and features probably the most intriguing folk and jazz music you’ll see all summer. Arrive between 11 and 5:30, and expect special performances after 6. The festival runs July 3 through 7. You can rely on your iPhone to keep track of the schedule—check out the festival’s website and download the app for free.
Beginning this month and running until September, this music series mixes music from deejays with local folk and acoustic. Got kids? Bring ’em—the series aims to please every generation. Performances are generally around noon on the Mall.
This free summer jazz series is held in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden and continues until the end of August. July shows feature Ernest “EC3” Coleman and Friends, with percussion and Latin jazz; Juanita Williams, a jazz vocalist; Euphonasia, euphonium jazz-rock fusion; and Incendio, Latin guitar world fusion jazz. It’s best to arrive a bit early, as the garden does have a maximum capacity, and while you can pack a picnic, bringing your own alcohol is prohibited.
Offers Monday and Thursday concerts for the rest of the summer. The Evens ring in the free outdoor music season with a performance July 8, followed by Thundermilk, the Obsessives, and Joy Buttons on July 15. The variety continues with Washington Bach Consort, Southern Problems, and Humble Fire, among others, with Quivered and Paint Branch playing the final show August 8. Concerts run from 7:15 to 9:30 PM and are a great place to bring dogs and babies—but not, as you might expect by now, alcohol.
Free concerts at 8 every weeknight on the west steps of the US Capitol building until August 30 (except July 3 through 5) offer a rotation of military branches, so you get a different show almost every time. Head to the steps Mondays to see the US Navy Band, Tuesdays for the US Air Force Band, Wednesdays for the US Marine Band, and Thursdays and Fridays for the US Army Band.
Beginning in July and lasting much longer than summer will, the Concerts on the Avenue series features the US Navy Band, an organization that really likes to provide Washington with free outdoor music. Performances start around 7:30 PM at the Navy Memorial, and in addition to patriotic staples, expect country, rock, and Broadway showtunes.
This summer series comes in two forms: Wednesday lunch shows at Canal Park and Friday evening shows at Yards Park. The former offers acoustic performances for the rest of the month, while the latter features a little more variety. The versatile reggae star Sam O, however, will be playing both the July 10 lunchtime show and the final evening show August 2.
With midday shows on Mondays and Tuesdays for the rest of the summer, Live! keeps it interesting with a mix of jazz, blues, salsa, reggae, soul—essentially every genre you’ve heard of alongside of a few you haven’t. Check out “energetic pianist” Matt Wiggler on July 22, or “Afro-Cuban stars” Cubano Groove on July 30. “Kings of doo-wop” the Orioles bring it home August 26.
This venue only hosts three shows this year. July 27 is your chance to see Cops Come Knockin/Be’la Dona; for Jazz Night, you can see the Boys and Girls Club at Fort Dupont on August 3. The last show is scheduled for August 10, featuring Secret Society/Sylver Logan Sharp. All shows start at 6 PM; gates open at 4:30.
The Carter Barron Amphitheatre in Rock Creek Park has just two concerts scheduled this year, beginning with Reggae Night on August 9. August 31, the 25th annual Blues Festival features Albert Castiglia, Big G, and Austin Walker, among others. Gates open at noon, and it’s best to be there early due to the event’s popularity.
North of Massachusetts Ave, this series is a two-parter. Lunchtime concerts run Fridays (11:30 AM to 1:30 PM), evening concerts on Thursdays (6 PM to 8 PM). The remaining evening concerts feature two reggae acts and one salsa; lunchtime concerts are a melting pot of soul, R&B, and Latin jazz. Look for vendors from Union Kitchen at the evening shows, and follow @NoMaBID for pre-performance updates.
The opening performances of this concert series are aimed at the younger set, while the jazz that follows is for the adults. Head to the Petworth Recreation Center lawn at 6 on July 27 to see Iya and the Kuumba Kids followed by Cheick Hamala Diabate; August 31 at 5:30 for Baba Ras D and then the Kenny Rittenhouse Quartet; and September 28 at 5 for Iya and the Kuumba Kids again, followed by a double header show with Nappy Riddem and Integriti Reeves.
Beginning in July and running every Wednesday through mid-August, Strathmore’s free summer concerts always draw a crowd. Futuristic Colombian group M.A.K.U. Soundsystem kicks off the series July 3. Not your scene? The classical jazz stylings of Jon Scales on July 31 make for an energetic and distinct sound. Shows begin at 7 PM. Food is provided, and dancing is encouraged.
Four Thursdays, four concerts. Silver Spring’s Summer Swings series brings you Bruce Ewan the Red Harmonica King on July 11 (blues), David Bach on July 18 (world jazz), Elliot Levine on July 25 (R&B, funk), and Second Wind on August 1 (rock-and-roll covers).
Hey, one you can drink at! The Friday Night Live concert series in Rockville runs until September 27 and, appropriately, favors rock. If you’ve been hitting the jazz shows but secretly have a love for country, head to Ruthie & the Wranglers on August 2. If you’ve found yourself scrolling through your playlists and thinking, “What I’m really missing here is a Beatles reggae tribute band,” Yellow Dubmarine plays July 5. Shows run from 6:30 to 9:30 on Fridays.
Eclectic to say the least. Free music here ranges from Bolivian folk (Tuesday and Thursday 6 to 9 at the Plaza) to Pops on the Potomac (Saturday from 7 to 9), where you’ll find the Chesapeake Orchestra playing “lighthearted orchestral classics.” Steel Pan Music by Victor Provost takes the stage Sunday from 4 to 8 each week until September 1.
Five shows remain in this outdoor concert series, which takes over Veterans Park every Thursday from 6 to 8. You can get your free music fix with the 19th Street Band (July 11), Too Many Daves & the Brass SOULution (July 18), Adrian Duke (July 25), Sahel (August 1), and the 8 Ohms Band (August 8). Looking for a livelier Bethesda series? Free dance concerts at Bethesda Metro Center are happening Fridays from 5:30 PM to 8:30 PM for the rest of the summer.
You’ll find free music here every Saturday for the rest of the month. BG and the Mojo Hands gets things started July 6, followed by (yep, again) the US Navy Band on July 13—they have a country twang this time. The Empresarios take the stage July 20, with the James Bazen Big Band closing out the season on July 27. You take in the usual food and blankets, but not the usual alcohol. All performances start at 7 PM.
If you’ve been rained out of a few shows this summer, the Glen Echo summer concert series may be the place for you. Rain or shine, there are shows every Thursday at 7:30 in the Bumper Car Pavilion (no performance July 4). Upcoming shows include performances by Songrise, Bitter Liberals, and Rockville Swing Band. Bonus: Family Jazz Day, July 21 at 3—an afternoon of blues for the kids to enjoy, too.
Another kid-friendly option, the Gaithersburg On Stage concert series hosts Thursday-morning kids’ shows featuring artists such as Mister G (July 11) and Now This! Improv (July 25). Parents can stick around for evening performances from Bluegrass Camp (July 11), Damon Foreman (July 18), and the Victor Litz Academy (July 19), among others.
The Workhouse Arts Center is a catchall for outdoor music-lovers. The acts lined up for the next two months include bluegrass, pop, rock, folk, blues, soul, Celtic, and tango. And be sure to catch the United Stated Air Force Strolling Strings, which describes its genre as “light classics,” on August 10. Concerts are held on the Quad from 7 to 8 PM every Saturday through the end of August.
The Rosslyn Lunchtime Concerts series hosts DC-based artists from 11:45 AM to 1:30 PM on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. All genres are represented, from blues to pop to funk, and it’s a great way to discover local talent as you relax in Freedom Park on your lunch break. The series runs until the end of August, but Thursday shows keep going through October.
These are your Saturday evening concerts. Leesburg’s tenth annual Acoustic on the Green runs, as you may have figured out, on the Town Hall Green (25 West Market St.). Shows go from 7 to 9 every Saturday until August 24. You can’t drink or smoke, but you can bring lawn chairs, blankets, and food. Don’t worry about the weather—in case of rain, the show moves into the Town Offices. Check out Naked Blue on July 27 or Todd Wright on August 17, among the many artists you can see on the green. No pets this time.
One of the more gorgeous settings you’re likely to find yourself in this summer, as least as far as free concerts go. The suggested $5 entry donation isn’t mandatory, but it is good karma. Proceeds help bring the series back next summer, so think of it as a very small down payment. Check out this week’s performer, Bob Martin (blues and folk), on July 6.
Arlington Lubber Run
Another eclectic series, and easy to schedule since shows run Friday through Sunday evenings until August 3. Introduce yourself to Andean music with the Mystic Warriors on July 6. Juniper Lane performs July 12. Head over July 27 for a show by the WAMMY-nominated Tone Rangers. Friday and Saturday shows begin at 8, Sunday shows at 6. Food is allowed in the Lubber Run Amphitheater, and donating to the Lubber Run Wishing Well is encouraged.
The National Park Service is pretty excellent when it comes to finding free outdoor music. You’ll find a show at Netherlands Carillon every Saturday at 6 until September 2. Celebrated carillonneur Edward Nassor makes multiple appearances, but can also relax to two-hour performances by Gerard de Waardt (July 20), Linda Dzuris (July 27), Margaret Pan (August 3), Julia Littleton (August 10), and Gordon Slater (August 24).
This year’s series happens between Pentagon Row and the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City while its normal venue gets an overhaul. Eight shows remain: funk, rock, zydeco, a Jimmy Buffett tribute band—the works. Thursday nights from 7 to 9.
For the next six weeks, Alexandria is a mecca for free concerts. The Alexandria Citizens Band Concerts play two shows July 5 and 19; Canal Center Plaza Concerts, which feature a variety of artists, run July 10 and 24, and August 7. In addition to performances by the US Navy band (yes, them again—August 16), the Jonathan Parker Quartet (July 31), and Anthony “Swamp Dog” Clark (July 24), you have multiple opportunities to see the Alexandria Harmonizers—who, if you didn’t know, are an international champion barbershop chorus.
Four shows remain in this Manassas series, all on Saturday evenings. Catch some bluegrass and traditional folk from Linda Lay & Springfield Exit (July 20), or head to the show by Andrew McKnight & Beyond Borders (August 3) for their take on Appalachian, blues, and folk. Next up is Dixie Power Trio, a Louisiana variety band (August 17), and finally Prince William Community band, which serve patriotic American tunes (August 31).
The U2 tribute band 2U play with Lloyd Dobler Effect on July 5, followed by the singular Drop Dead Sexy on July 12. This is the place to get your ’80s music- and tribute-band fix (Almost Journey plays August 23), though those genres are by no means the whole series. Shows generally run from 6:30 to 8:30 on the Herndon Town Green.