Photograph by J. Dennis Thomas, Corbis
Daily Kennedy Center Concerts
Every single day of the year, the renowned Kennedy Center offers a free performance on its Millennium Stage. Acts have included Egyptian jazz, Chinese string trios, and American classics. Performances take place every day at 6 p.m. at the Grand Foyer. No tickets are required.
Whether it's salsa or Soul Train that gets you moving, you'll need an extra pair of dancing shoes for Chicago SummerDance, the largest outdoor dance series in the U.S. Thursday through Sunday nights, from July to September, Grant Park is the scene of a free one-hour dance lesson followed by two hours of live tunes and dancing.
Detroit Jazz Festival
On Labor Day Weekend, downtown Detroit hosts one of the world's best jazz festivals with five stages and over a hundred acts. It's all free: performances and experiences like the Jazz Talk Tent, where musicians, historians, and other experts help you learn more about the music.
Bluegrass in the Park Festival
Under the 200-year-old trees of Audubon Mill Park, on the banks of the mighty Ohio River, fans gather to hear top bluegrass talent in the region where legends like Bill Monroe pioneered the genre. The August event includes a celebration of local folklife, featuring experts in everything from sheep shearing to storytelling.
Opera at Yerba Buena
San Francisco, California
The Merola Opera Program, which showcases rising young stars, puts on a July concert as part of San Francisco's Yerba Buena Festival—no tickets or tuxedos required. The Yerba Buena Gardens Festival also features a full and diverse slate of free arts and cultural performances from May to October.
Boston Landmarks Orchestra
This professional orchestra performs in some of Boston's most notable architectural, historical, and geographic settings, and the shows are always the same price—free. Most performances are at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade.
The Metropolitan Opera Summer Recital Series
New York, New York
The legendary New York opera company performs in all five city boroughs each summer. The free series kicks off with an opening recital at Central Park's SummerStage. The Met also screens some of its best Live in HD presentations from past years in Lincoln Center plaza.
Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival
This annual festival brings top musicians and dancers to Massachusetts's Berkshire Mountains each summer—as well as fans eager to attend one of its many free performances. Free outdoor dance events, with mountain views, take place in Becket on Wednesdays through Saturdays at 6:15 p.m.
CMA Music Festival's Riverfront Stage
Tickets are required for the biggest concerts at LP Field during this massive June celebration in the heart of country music's capital. But daytime shows at Nashville's Riverfront Stage are totally free and feature top artists. The atmosphere is free, too, and something no country fan should miss.
South by Southwest
This Austin music and film festival has become one of the nation's biggest names. It's easy to drop a lot of cash here, but SXSW also features a free three-night concert series and other cool events, like Gear Alley Expo—which is ground zero for music equipment. And the music doesn't stop when this March festival ends. The Texas Music Series presents great free bands from July to September.
Alpenglow Summer Concert Series
Crested Butte, Colorado
Music and mountain scenery are both free of charge in beautiful Crested Butte. The Alpenglow summer concert series sponsors free shows on Mondays at the Crested Butte Center for the Arts, and the Gunnison Arts Center offers free concerts on Sundays. During July and August, the Crested Butte Music Festival kicks into full swing with jazz, bluegrass, dance, chamber, opera, orchestral performances, and more. Most events are ticketed, but some select shows are free.
French Quarter Festival
New Orleans, Louisiana
The French Quarter Festival combines two favorite New Orleans pastimes—partying and playing great music. A three-day weekend each April sees the quarter hosting more than a dozen stages and swinging to the sounds of jazz, Cajun, zydeco, funk, rock, Latin, and many other performers—all free of charge.
Fremont Street Experience
Las Vegas, Nevada
There's no place quite like Las Vegas, and even in Vegas there's nothing quite like the Fremont Street Experience. The Viva Vision light, sound, and special-effect shows feature pounding soundtracks to get crowds rocking during favorites like “A Tribute to Queen” and “KISS Over Vegas.”
Idaho International Dance and Music Fest
Burley and Rexburg, Idaho
An annual celebration of traditional music and dance draws performers from around the world to the towns of Burley and Rexburg each July and August. Dressed in traditional costumes, artists sing, dance, parade, and teach attendees more about global music and dance.
Atlanta Jazz Festival
Piedmont Park is the scene of a massive Memorial Day weekend celebration of all things jazz. Veteran Atlanta attendees bring blankets, chairs, and even small tents, the better to host picnics set to the sounds of nationally known performers.
St. Paul/Minneapolis, Minnesota
The Minnesota Orchestra's Sommerfest features three July weeks of ticketed evening concerts—and each is preceded by a free outdoor show on Peavey Plaza, featuring an eclectic mix of Twin Cities musicians. On Friday and Saturday nights the free bands start up again after the orchestra performance, around 9:45 p.m. When the weather grows colder, head indoors for the Landmark Center's free Sunday afternoon shows in St. Paul.
There's no shortage of shows on tap in Branson, and while some tickets cost top dollar Branson Landing has a great lineup of free entertainment. Seek out the stage by the fountains in Town Square from April through October.
Los Angeles, California
In a town where showbiz is king, the Grand Performances have earned a reputation as one of Los Angeles's favorite hometown musical institutions. After 25 years this free series of outdoor shows still rocks out all summer long and features a lineup as diverse as the city itself.
Portland Festival Symphony
From July through September two Portland institutions—the city's symphony and its abundant green space—are linked in a series of enchanting evenings. The Portland Festival Symphony holds free concerts in parks around the city.
Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival
The blues were born on the Mississippi Delta, and they still live here. There's no better way to visit than by attending this annual August festival in Clarksdale, Mississippi—held not far from the infamous “crossroads” of blues legend.
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