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Hot and Cool: Free Summer Concerts in Washington

View Larger MapSummer is upon us, and that means oppressive heat, gaggles of tourists, hours of traffic on the Bay Bridge . . . and free outdoor concerts! Save your pennies for gas, sunscreen, and bug spray and check out our roundup of great spots for free music in the Washington area.

Have the scoop on other fun freebies? Let us know in the comments.

Carter Baron Amphitheatre (16th St. and Colorado Ave., NW). This 4,200-seat outdoor theater in Rock Creek Park hosts concerts, theater, and dance performances throughout the summer. It’s run by the National Park Service, which books an eclectic lineup of reggae, classical, gospel, pop, hip-hop, and more. Some performances are free, though tickets—distributed the day of the show at the theater’s box office and the Washington Post building (1150 15th St., NW)—are required. Other performances cost more than $20; tickets can be purchased through

Fort Reno Park Summer Music Series (3800 Donaldson Pl., NW). These twice-weekly concerts in Tenleytown are heavy on indie rock and hardcore talent. The shows are alcohol-free, so they draw crowds of under-21 rockers and hipsters. An arsenic scare at the park earlier this year caused planning delays—and hurt donations—but the annual series will return as planned and the schedule should be announced any day. Last year’s line-up included Georgie James, LeJeune, and the Boom Orangutans. June through August.

Jazz in the Garden (Constitution Ave. between Seventh and Ninth sts., NW). Friday nights, enjoy free jazz concerts in the National Gallery of Art’s sculpture garden. Bring a blanket and picnic dinner or enjoy a sushi platter and a cheese-and-fruit plate from the Pavilion Cafe in the garden from 5 to 8:30. Through October 3.

Live! on Woodrow Wilson Plaza (1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW). Head to Wilson Plaza during your lunch break for free concerts from noon to 1:30. The roster covers music from a variety of genres including rock, bluegrass, jazz, classical, Latin, African, folk—even classical Chinese. Want to show your coworkers your own chops? Grab an ax and hop onstage September 16 for the Gibson Guitar Contest. Concerts are every weekday through September 30.

Marine Corps Evening Parades (Eighth St. between G and I sts., SE). Friday nights at the US Marine Corps Barracks mean outdoor performances of the United States Drum and Bugle Corps and the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon. Performances start at 8:45, but they’re popular events, so plan on getting there an hour earlier. The Marines perform in light rain or shine; if a passing shower occurs, performances are delayed until it’s gone. Concerts continue through August.

Military Band Concerts. Maintaining the 1863 tradition, the bands of the US Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force perform on the west lawn of the Capitol and at the Air Force and Lincoln memorials. Performances start at 8 PM and run through August 29. Click here for the schedule.

Sounds in the Square (Connecticut Ave. and K St., NW). On Thursday evenings in May and June—and this year, on September 4—catch performances by local bands in Farragut Square. Bands on the bill this year include the Kelly Bell Band (June 12), Reflex (June 26), and No Second Troy (September 4). Shows run from 5 to 7 PM.

Sunset Serenades at the National Zoo (3001 Connecticut Ave., NW). Head to the zoo Thursday nights from 6:30 to 8 throughout the summer for family-friendly concerts. Musical acts from nearly every genre perform on a stage on the zoo’s Lion/Tiger Hill. Through August 21.

Fort Dupont Summer Concert Series: Starting July 19, the annual free concert event at Fort Dupont Park returns Saturdays at 8. This year's lineup features jazz and R&B acts like Brick, Dazz Band, Con Funk Shon, and more. Performances are held rain or shine. Through August 23.

Fever of Friends/Summer of Free: The U Street Ethiopian restaurant/venue Dahlak is hosting five free concerts through September 17. Bands on the bill include True Womanhood, The City Veins, Bop Beetle, and more. Concert-goers must be over 21. 

Acoustic on the Green (25 W. Market St., Leesburg). Saturday nights in downtown Leesburg mean free concerts on the front lawn of Town Hall. Bring lawn chairs or blankets and spend an evening listening to local performers. Concerts start at 7 and run through August 23.

Arts Al Fresco (various locations). This annual summer arts festival runs May through September and features free outdoor concerts and events at locations throughout Arlington. Strap on dancing shoes Wednesdays from 5:30 to 8 at Waterview Terrace in Rosslyn (1919 N. Lynn St.), where bands playing funk, reggae, ’80s tributes, and more perform for music and dance nights. Dance lessons are offered on July 16, July 30, and August 13 for the Motown, country, and swing nights. Check out the Web site for a full schedule.

Fairfax County Summer Entertainment Series (locations throughout Fairfax County). Fairfax presents a roster of free shows, concerts, and movies each year from May through September. Musical performances include woodwind and brass quartets, big band, blues, and jazz performances, and more. Check out the Web site for an easy-to-use search tool of all the entertainment this summer.

Friday Night Live! (777 Lynn St., Herndon). Now in its 14th year, Friday Night Live! in Herndon hosts local and regional bands every Friday night through August 22. On the bill are a few cover and tribute bands as well as reggae, rock, and funk performers, and more. On July 4, catch the band Hyjinx at 6:30 and stay for fireworks.

Potomac Overlook Regional Park (2845 N. Marcey Rd., Arlington). Local musical acts perform at the park every other Saturday evening during the summer. On June 21, catch the Summer Solstice Percussion Festival. Admission is free, but donations are accepted to help fund the series. Feel free to bring a picnic dinner, but leave the alcohol at home.

Rock at the Row (Pentagon Row at Army Navy Dr. and S. Joyce St., Arlington). Back for its sixth year, Rock at the Row features free concerts Thursday evenings at 7 through August 7. In addition to music by local bands and performers, you can sample food, snag giveaways, and participate in contests.

Bethesda Summer Concert Series (Bethesda Place Plaza at Old Georgetown Rd. and Woodmont Ave.; Veterans Park at Woodmont and Norfolk aves.). Wednesday afternoons and Thursday evenings, catch performances by folk, jazz, reggae, blues, and swing bands in Bethesda. The Wednesday shows at Bethesda Place Plaza run noon to 2, and the Thursday performances at Veterans Park are 6 to 8.

Live on the Lawn Concert Series (City Hall Concert Pavilion at 31 S. Summit Ave., Gaithersburg). Returning for its tenth year, Gaitherburg’s summer music series will feature family-friendly performances of everything from a Beatles tribute band and Irish folk music to zydeco and Latin dance. The Concert Pavilion hosts children’s concerts Monday and Thursday mornings at 10:30 AM; Saturdays at 7 PM at the same location, families can hear symphony music, variety bands, and more.

National Harbor Summer Concert Series (National Harbor in Prince George’s County). Head to the new National Harbor Friday nights this summer for free concerts along the Potomac River waterfront. Shows run through August from 7 to 9 PM. Local jazz/funk performer Stanley Cooper opened the series on June 6; others on the roster include saxophonist Paul Taylor (July 4), jazz vocalist Cherise Rosemond (August 15), and the southern-rock band Southern Persuasion (August 22).

Silver Spring Summer Concert Series (Silver Plaza on Ellsworth Dr. between Georgia Ave. and Fenton St.). Catch musical performances Thursday evenings at 6:30 in downtown Silver Spring. This year’s eclectic lineup includes zydeco, rockabilly, classic rock, jazz, reggae, and blues.

Strathmore Hall (5301 Tuckerman La., North Bethesda). Wednesday evenings through August, Strathmore holds free outdoor concerts at the Gudelsky Concert Pavilion Gazebo. The Olney Big Band, a local swing band, kicks it off on June 18 with the music of Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, and more. Pianist Jonathan Batiste makes a stop July 2, and a performance of Japanese music and dancing rounds out the free series August 13. Four ticketed performances, including a tribute to Joni Mitchell on August 14, are also on the roster this year.

Fun for Free in Washington, DC
Screen on the Green Schedule
Festivals to Kick Off Summer

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