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20 Free Concerts to Catch This Summer

Jefferson Starship, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra are just some of the shows you can catch for free.

Photos courtesy of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes


Last week, we previewed 20 classic flicks headed for Pittsburgh theaters (and other assorted movie screens) this summer. When planning this week’s entry, we reflected on a set of facts: We love summer. We love good times. We’re fond of the number 20.

Let’s keep it rolling.

This week, we’ll turn our attention to music. To up the challenge, though, we’re going to make things extra easy on your wallet. Every one of our picks is part of a free concert series. From Grammy winners to cover bands, plenty of amps will be turned on free of charge this summer, and in the wake of great lineups at Stage AE, Mr. Small’s and elsewhere, we want to keep you rockin’ without taking a hit in the wallet.

Why don’t we handle this by series? And where else to start but ...

Allegheny County Summer Concerts at Hartwood Acres

The long-running series never falters, and this year, they’ve topped themselves right off the bat. Punk pioneer Bob Mould takes the Hartwood stage on June 9, touring in support of his acclaimed solo album Silver Age. Mould is best known as the frontman of punk legends Hüsker Dü and underground alternative legends Sugar. (He’s also known to everyone in the country, whether they know it or not, as the creator of the iconic “Daily Show” theme.)

Rockin’ folk outfit Langhorne Slim and the Law play on June 23, fresh off of an appearance on “Conan.”

The annual Pittsburgh Blues Festival runs from July 19-21, and unfortunately for our tidy narrative, two of those three nights aren’t free — very much worth your time and cash, but not free. Friday’s festivities, however, are free with the donation of a bag of nonperishable food items. That premiere night stars Big Sam’s Funky Nation.

Legendary funk group Galactic comes to Hartwood on August 11. Anyone found not to be dancing at this concert will be given a confused, angry look.

On August 25, singer-songwriter Rickie Lee Jones will put in an appearance. While she’s best known as a rocker — VH1 named her the 30th-greatest woman in rock history in 1999 — her diverse career has included a number of styles, including some formidable renditions of jazz and blues standards.

Allegheny County Summer Concerts at South Park

Yes, our lovely county isn’t content to give us just one venue’s worth of free summer entertainment; there’s plenty of noteworthy shows across town on the South Park stage, too. On June 14, veteran blues guitarist Tommy Castro brings his band The Painkillers to town. Castro has been writing danceable blues tunes since his 1994 solo debut.

There have been a whole bunch of Wailers over the years, and we honestly can’t figure out how many (if any) of the current lineup played with Bob Marley. But that doesn’t mean that the current group’s June 21 appearance won’t be an excellent show of reggae classics.

It’s not a Pittsburgh summer without at least one instance of outdoor classical music. Head to South Park for an open-air set from the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on July 6.

If you’ve ever unearthed a stack of your mother’s old records, you’ve surely discovered a David Cassidy album. The former Partridge Family member brings the oldies on July 12.

A crossover pop hit from a Christian rock band is a rare thing — so it’s pretty remarkable that you remember all the words to “Kiss Me,” the ’90s mega-hit from Sixpence None the Richer. The trio plays South Park on July 26. In addition to their own tunes, the group is known for catchy covers of hits like “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and “There She Goes.”

Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival

The most buzzed about act at this year’s Arts Festival is probably indie darlings Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, best known for hipster anthem “Home.” The band has a loyal following thanks to constant touring and legendary live performances, so their free set on June 7 is likely to draw devotees from miles away.

86-year old bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley arrives at Point State Park on June 8. The lauded living legend released two albums of Old Songs & Ballads last year.

A one-night only Pittsburgh supergroup forms on June 9, as Cello Fury are joined by Joy Ike and Scott Blasey of the Clarks for a one-of-a-kind collaboration.

Grammy winners are par for the course at the Arts Festival; Oscar winners are considerably more rare. Glen Hansard won an Academy Award in 2007 for the tune “Falling Slowly,” from the indie hit Once (which he also starred in). He’s toured extensively with bands The Frames and The Swell Season (which also included Once co-star Markéta Irglová). Hansard will play the Arts Fest June 12 in support of a solo album, Rhythm and Repose.

In a better world, The Airborne Toxic Event would be selling out stadiums. The indie-rock outfit has gained an underground following over five years of work, but haven’t charted a hit in the US. Check out the near-perfect tune “Sometime around Midnight,” off their debut album, for a sample that will have you circling June 15 on your calendar.

Rivers Casino

Sometimes, you just want to rock out, publicly, to “Come Sail Away,” or “Bad Moon Rising,” or “Billie Jean.” And most of the time, the original artists are unavailable. (Okay, Styx are usually available, but still.) For those occasions, there are tribute bands — and Rivers Casino has made such acts the focus of their yearly Live from the River Summer Concert Series. We’re most pumped for Beatlemania Magic on July 3 and the coupling of Shining Star (Earth, Wind and Fire) and Beat It (Michael Jackson) on September 1.

EQT Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta

A bit of Woodstock turns up at this year’s Three Rivers Regatta, as Jefferson Starship — still featuring Jefferson Airplane founder Paul Kantner — performs at Point State Park on July 3. Get your Independence Day weekend started right with rock classics like “White Rabbit” and “Somebody to Love.”

Station Square

Details are still being finalized for this year’s installment of the free summer concert series at Station Square, but we can confirm two essential shows. Ska legends The English Beat will take over the South Shore on July 11. The legendary group played every hit in their repertoire for a ravenous Arts Festival crowd a few years back, and supported fellow Brits Squeeze at the Carnegie Music Hall last year. If you’ve ever found yourself bopping to a ska beat, don’t miss this one.

And it goes without saying, but Joe Gruschecky is one of Pittsburgh’s great treasures. His reputation for serious rock n’ roll has only grown over the years (thanks in part to now-legendary sets at Soldiers and Sailors with buddy Bruce Springsteen). He’ll make a Station Square appearance on July 25.

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