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Posted at 5:11 PM ET, 06/12/2007

A Guide to Free Summer Music

By David Malitz

There's plenty of free music to be had in the Washington area during the summer months, but quantity does not always equal quality. While D.C. can't be expected to match New York when it comes to free entertainment, you'd think that the nation's capital would at least be able to compete with, say, Pittsburgh. But there's nothing in D.C. that can compare to the Steel City's Three Rivers Arts Festival, which this year features free performances by the likes of Robert Randolph, Ozomatli, Grace Potter and more. Even the best free music event around here -- Artscape -- requires a trek up I-95.

But enough complaining. There's still plenty of great music to be heard at no cost in the coming months, so here are some highlights, including Wyclef Jean, the Avett Brothers and Hugh Masakela. Feel free to chime in with your favorite free picks.

Soldiers of Jah Army, June 15 @ Carter Barron
Our colleagues across the river did a fine job getting these local reggae titans to kick off the annual Weekend's Weekends series.

Smokin' Joe Kubek, June 17 @ Columbia Pike Blues Festival
The Texas guitar hotshot -- who will be joined by regular cohort, vocalist Bnois King -- headlines this 12th annual festival in Arlington.

Wyclef Jean, June 19 @ Kennedy Center
The Grammy-winning member of hip-hop group the Fugees is always quite the crowd pleaser. This blowout at the Kennedy Center also features performances by Shaggy, the Skatalites and Plunky & Oneness.

Peter Case, June 20 @ Strathmore
Record nerds love him for his work with power-pop relics the Nerves and the Plimsouls, but over the past few decades he's emerged as one of the stronger singer-songwriter troubadours on the circuit.

Erin McKeown, June 24 @ Millennium Stage
The quirky singer-songwriter refusees to be pigeonholed as she deftly jumps across genres.

Good Deale Bluegrass Band, June 27 @ Annapolis Harbour Center
Not many people can say they are the "world's best" at anything, but Good Deale's Mike Auldridge can legitimately make the claim when it comes to the dobro.

Railroad Earth, July 1 @ Baker Park Bandshell
This bluegrass band from the New Jersey (yes, New Jersey) channels the Grateful Dead at their most melodic and least annoying.

The Young Lions, July 6 @ National Gallery of Art
Usually you have head down to U Street's Cafe Nema or Bohemian Caverns to hear the experimental, hip-hop flavored jazz this up-and-coming trio offers up. On this evening you can hear the Lions for free at the National Gallery.

Bill Kirchen, July 11 @ Woodrow Wilson Plaza
The dieselbilly legend is always worth seeing; bring an aspiring guitarist along to pick up a pointer or three.

Mary Timony, July 12 @ Fort Reno
The local product has been on the cutting edge of the underground rock scene for the better part of the two decades and she sounds as vital as ever on the new "The Shapes We Make."

Love Seed Mama Jump, July 20 @ Herndon Town Green
Can't make it to the beach this summer? Don't worry, this popular Dewey Beach group will bring it to you when the sextet plays for free as part of Herndon's Friday Night Live series.

The Avett Brothers, July 21 @ Artscape
These youngsters from North Carolina might not have much competition when it comes to ragged, boisterous banjo-driven rock, but they'd likely blow away competitors regardless. The group is just one of many highlights at Baltimore's annual, three-day summer party. Also check out Lupe Fiasco, the Isley Brothers, Los Lonely Boys, Martin Sexton, the Greencards, Burning Spear and more.

"Dueling Vibes," with Chuck Redd and John Cocuzzi, with Big Joe Maher, Aug. 4 @ Reston Town Center
Vibist Redd always keeps good company and this performance is no different as he will be joined by fellow vibist Cocuzzi, powerhouse drummer Maher and more.

The Grandsons, Aug 9. @ National Zoo
Get funky at the zoo with these locals who whip up an intoxicating blend of rockabilly, blues and New Orleans R&B.

The Bar-Kays, Aug. 18 @ Fort Dupont
Cool enough to be namechecked by LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy in "Losing My Edge," these Stax originals and one-time backing band to Otis Redding are down to one original member (many died in the same plane crash that claimed Redding in 1967) but still deliver smooth soul sounds.

Hugh Masakela, Sept. 1 @ Marine Corps Memorial
The second annual Planet Arlington World Music Festival would be notable if the legendary South African trumpeter was the only performer. That he will be joined by Mexican singer-songwriter Lila Downs, Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista and the Skatalites means you should probably cancel those out-of-town Labor Day weekend plans.


By David Malitz  | June 12, 2007; 5:11 PM ET
Categories:  Music  
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DC has the best free concerts in the world. I look forward to the line-up each year. The variety of music is just wonderful from Carter Barron to Ft. Dupont.

Posted by: Debbie Gale | June 13, 2007 7:11 AM | Report abuse

What ever happened to the Live on Penn concerts of a few years ago? There were some awesome acts there - Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Better than Ezra, Violent Femmes. Before that, I think the stage was set up in Gallery Place...7th and G. That was a lot of fun.

Posted by: LV | June 13, 2007 11:36 AM | Report abuse

Used to be, when I was a kid, that the Park Service held free concerts on the monument grounds on 4th of July, etc.... I remember, James Gang, Tommy Bolin, Ohio Players and lots others? Too bad that is not done anymore.

Posted by: Cliff | June 13, 2007 1:57 PM | Report abuse

Best Free Concerts in the world !?! Please check out It used to be even better with the Comedy Wednesdays, Jazz Thursdays, and Soul Fridays at the World Trade Center . . . Memories . . .

Posted by: Tempo | June 13, 2007 3:24 PM | Report abuse

The plug was pulled on Live on Penn a few years ago, just three or so shows into its 2004 schedule. It wasn't free (unless you nabbed a spot right outside the fence, of course), but at just $5 per show it was a good deal since there were usually two pretty big national acts and some well-known locals on each bill. But it just wasn't making money, and it's all about the bottom line.

Posted by: David | June 13, 2007 5:44 PM | Report abuse

Thank You for posting these concerts. I have been waiting for the Fort Dupont line up!

Posted by: Wendy Hodges-Baugh | June 14, 2007 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Artscape isn't the only free festival worth traveling to Baltimore for. This year's African American Heritage Festival, held July 6th-8th in the parking lot of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, lists, among others, Patti Labelle, Musiq Soulchild, Patti Labelle, Dionne Farris, the Pharcyde, Chrisette Michelle, Anthony David, Julie Dexter, Bomani, and Fertile Ground on its schedule. Visit for more info. And, yes, it is a shame that there aren't more great events like those happening here in DC...

Posted by: BHE | June 14, 2007 3:49 PM | Report abuse

It would be really nice if the Post/CityGuide had an iCal feed of events.

RSS is fine, but iCal is what gets it on the Calendar.

Either that, or maybe adding it to Yahoo! Upcoming would be helpful, too.

10,966 days

Posted by: Tim | June 14, 2007 8:54 PM | Report abuse

What happen to the listing broken out by venue? I saw listing for VA and MD last week that I would like to know more about however, I no longer see the guide. Only the few venues listed above are shown.

Posted by: TMS | June 18, 2007 5:16 PM | Report abuse

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