By: Mike Barish and Liz Webber
You probably have your July 4th plans locked down already – the barbecue, the fireworks, maybe a community parade. But what about the rest of the summer? That’s where we come in. There are plenty of free festivals and events taking place across the country this July and August (and even into Labor Day weekend and beyond) that are well worth a spot on your busy social calendar. While we can’t include every event out there (here’s to you, Grainger County Tomato Festival), we’ve picked a mix of the coolest and most unique fests in popular summer destinations. From the country’s oldest free Shakespeare festival to a Jerry Garcia tribute day, from rock concerts on the beach to movies under the stars, mark your calendars for the best free summer entertainment the U.S. has to offer.
July 18–20, 2013: Market Days Festival, Concord, NH
Join more than 50,000 visitors who flock to the State House Lawn for three days of food, music, and family activities. Shop for crafts from local artists or simply enjoy the performances by homegrown entertainers.
August 12–16, 2013: Hampton Beach Children’s Festival, Hampton Beach, NH
Bring the whole family for this week of kid-centric activities that will help you get through the dog days of summer. With everything from mini-golf to sand castle building competitions and a costume parade, it’s the perfect place for kids of all ages.
July 6–August 17, 2013: Saturday Under the Stars Concert Series, Stratton, VT
Head on over to Stratton Mountain Resort for weekly Saturday night concerts for the whole family. Acts include a Phish tribute band and Jeff Tuohy, among other!
July 20–August 29, 2013: Art on Park, Stowe, VT
Don’t wait for ski season to head to northern Vermont. Instead, wander around Park Street and peruse booths from jewelers, artists, and other artisans. Enjoy live music and local food vendors as well!
June 8, July 13, August 10 and 24, 2013: WaterFire, Providence, RI
Have your mind blown at the sight of over 80 bonfires winding through the three rivers of downtown Providence. Paired with live music and costumed performers, WaterFire is a feast for the senses.
July 18-21, 2013: Black Ships Festival, Newport, RI
Learn about Japanese martial arts, crafts, and more at this festival celebrating more than 150 years of relations between the United States and Japan. Commodore Perry, a Newport native, negotiated the first treaty between the two countries in 1854, and Newport has celebrated Japanese culture with this festival for 30 years this year.
Through September 7, 2013 (dates vary): Free Summer Concerts, New York, NY
Enjoy free music in the Big Apple all summer long. From one-off events like The Kills performing at Hudson River Park to seasonal series like the Bronx Salsa Fest at Orchard Beach, there’s sure to be something that matches your tastes.
Through October 28, 2013 (dates vary): Free Outdoor Movies, New York, NY
You may have heard of the summer flicks at Bryant Park, but you can enjoy outdoor movies around the city through Labor Day and beyond. Favorite venues include the flight deck of the USS Intrepid, Brooklyn Bridge Park, and Central Park’s Sheep Meadow.
July 5–September 6, 2013 (Fridays only): Jazz on the Beach Concert Series, Atlantic City, NJ
Take a break from the casinos and enjoy some jazz on the beach. Listen to headliners and local performers as the waves crash along the shore and the sunset colors the sky.
June 26, 2013: Atlantic City Airshow, Atlantic City, NJ
Keep your eyes on the skies as “Thunder Over the Boardwalk” shows off some of the most talented pilots in the world. Hundreds of thousands of spectators attend the event each year, which features both military and civilian aircrafts.
July 13, 2013: The Stephen Foster Music and Heritage Festival, Pittsburgh, PA
Join in the celebration of Stephen Foster, one of the most influential songwriters in American history and a native of Pittsburgh. Listen as bands perform his songs (like “Oh! Susanna” and “Camptown Races”) or take a tour of the historic Allegheny Cemetery.
July 6–7, 2013: African American Festival, Baltimore, MD
Bring the entire family to this celebration of African American life, music, and culture. Along with children’s activities, crafts, and historical exhibits, there will be performances by many legends, including Patti Labelle!
July 19–21, 2013: Artscape, Baltimore, MD
Prepare for sensory overload at this event that claims to be “America’s largest free arts festival.” Over 350,000 people come for the dance, theater, opera, and symphony performances, along with artists, craftspeople, and fashion designers.
July 18–20, 2013: Virginia Lake Festival, Clarksville, VA
Enjoy this festival from land, water, and air as hot air balloons soar overhead, antique cars line up for viewing, and boaters position themselves for views of the fireworks. The 100,000+ attendees can also shop for crafts, try local foods, and take helicopter rides.
August 23–25, 2013: FunkFest, Virginia Beach, VA
Celebrate the music of George Clinton, James Brown, and more with DJs, musicians, and dance contests. The funky tunes of the ’70s provide the soundtrack to this weekend of food and music on the beach.
July 18–July 21, 2013 (dates vary): Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Lousiville, KY
Take in a performance of Twelfth Night at the oldest free Shakespeare festival in the United States. The audience is a mixed bag filled with young people who rode their bikes to the park, older guests dressed for a night at the theater, and even some dogs.
August 30–September 2, 2013: WorldFest, Louisville, KY
Learn about the diversity of Kentucky at the largest international festival in the Commonwealth. Musical and dance performances, ethnic foods, a parade, and a naturalization ceremony make this festival a fantastic celebration of America as a melting pot.
August 18, 2013: East Tennessee History Fair, Knoxville, TN
Travel back in time with a living history, trolley rides, vintage films, and a dog costume contest (period clothing only, of course). Children’s activities, crafts, and music round out this festival of local history.
September 1, 2013: Boomsday, Knoxville, TN
Look to the sky and cover your ears as Knoxville hosts the largest Labor Day fireworks event in the United States. There’s plenty of food, inflatable attractions for the kids, and a spectacular finish to mark the unofficial end of summer.
June 27–August 8, 2013 (Thursdays only): Town of Duck Summer Music Series, Duck, NC
Bring a lawn chair or just throw a blanket down on the grass so that you have a spot to listen to local musicians performing everything from blue to country and classic rock. Don’t forget to pack your cooler with drinks and snacks!
August 14–15, 2013: New World Festival of the Arts, Manteo, NC
Check out (and perhaps even buy) the works of artists from Vermont to Florida at this outdoor show that’s in its third decade. If you can manage to look away from the art, you’ll also enjoy the views of beautiful Shallowbag Bay.
August 25, 2013: 13th Annual Peachtree Latino Festival, Atlanta, GA
Discover another side of Southern culture at the largest family and multicultural event in the Southeast. Celebrating Latino culture, the festival features hundreds of exhibitions, family activities, sporting events, parades, arts and crafts, ethnic foods, and outdoor musical performances.
July 6, 13, 20, and 27, 2013: Lakeridge Winery Summer Music Series, Orlando, FL
Discover Central Florida’s wine region as you enjoy local musicians and winery tours. Beat the heat with wines produced on-site and various local food vendors.
July 26–28, 2013: Fishermen’s Village Pirate Fest, Punta Gorda, FL
Shiver me timbers! Prepare to walk the plank – literally, you can do that here – at this celebration of Punta Gorda’s pirate past that also includes a costume contest, boat show, kids’ activities, and “live” mermaids.
June 13–September 14, 2013: Movies in the Park, Chicago, IL
Enjoy Hollywood classics, last year’s blockbusters, and foreign films through Movies in the Park, which sponsors an impressive 195 screenings throughout the summer and early fall. Venues include Millennium Park and the Chicago History Museum.
June 27–September 15, 2013 (Thursday to Sunday only): Chicago SummerDance, Chicago, IL
Kicking off it’s 17th year, Chicago SummerDance returns as the largest annual outdoor dancing series in the U.S. offering an hour of dance lessons from professionals followed by a two-hour party to show off your newfound skills.
July 12–20, 2013: Minneapolis Aquatennial, Minneapolis, MN
Take part in events ranging from senior bowling tournaments to milk carton boat races. A celebration of all things Minneapolis, this civic-minded festival offers more events than any one person could possibly attend – but you should try!
August 2–4, 2013: Uptown Art Fair, Minneapolis, MN
Join in the 50th celebration of the annual Uptown Art Fair! Browse art in diverse mediums, speak to the artists, and maybe even purchase a piece of your own. This isn’t your everyday art event, as it’s the second-largest event in Minnesota after the state fair.
2013 dates TBA: SantaCaliGon Days, Independence, MO
Enter any of the old-fashioned contests, such as watermelon seed spitting, ice cream eating, or root beer chugging, or just enjoy the country western and gospel music concerts. Fuel up at one of the 100 food booths before checking out the carnival.
2013 dates TBA (Tuesdays only): Galveston Beach Band Concerts, Galveston, TX
Dance, enjoy some ice cream, jump on stage with maracas, or just tap your feet as this nearly 50-year-old tradition entertains people of all ages. Expect plenty of patriotic music, show tunes, big band classics, and jazz.
August 24, 2013: 9th Annual Night of the Bat Fest, Austin TX
Forget all of your fears of Dracula and head to the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge to see the nearly two million Mexican Free Tail Bats take flight around sunset. Arts and crafts vendors, food, live music, and a costume contest make this an event that more about fun than fear.
August 25, 2013: Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival, Austin, TX
Beat the heat by eating some heat this summer at the 22nd Annual Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival. Taste a variety of hot sauces on plenty of foods, check out the hot sauce competition, or pick up some bottles to use at home.
May 17–September 25, 2013: Miller Outdoor Theater, Houston, TX
Gather with the crowds eager to watch symphonies, children’s shows, concerts, and theatrical performances under the stars. A number of ethnic events give the schedule an international flair.
Memorial Day–Labor Day, 2013 (Monday to Saturday only): The Jackson Hole Shootout, Jackson Hole, WY
Leave your six-shooter at home and watch a lively reenactment of frontier justice on Jackson’s Town Square in the longest continuously running shootout in the country! Complete with cowboys and saloon girls, it’s a trip back in time to the Old West.
July 20–August 31, 2013 (Saturdays only): Saturday Summer Concert Series, Canyons Resort, UT
This ski resort outside Park City provides free entertainment with a concert series of contemporary rock musicians. Come early to reserve your spot.
July 11, 2013: Summer Spectacular ArtWalk, Scottsdale, AZ
Downtown galleries throw open their doors for artist demonstrations, exhibit openings, wine tastings, and live music. Though ArtWalk takes place monthly year-round, the Summer Spectacular is the premier event.
July 20–28, 2013: Tucson International Children’s Film Festival, Tucson, AZ
This fest avoids the mainstream blockbusters and isn’t afraid to throw in a foreign film or two. Your kids may miss Nemo but they’ll love the free popcorn and pre-show entertainment starting every morning at 10am.
July 30–September 31, 2013 (Tuesday to Saturday only): Prelude to Open Studios, Flagstaff, AZ
Catch a sneak peek of the artists who will appear in the Open Studios weekend later on in the season. Each participating artist shows one piece of work at the Coconino Center for the Arts.
Through August 18, 2013 (Sundays only): Stern Grove Festival, San Francisco, CA
For 75 years, this festival has brought music and arts – from jazz to opera to ballet – to Sigmund Stern Grove, making it the longest-running free outdoor music festival in the country. Kids concerts run most days before the main show, as well as fun activities like hands-on arts projects and singing and dancing lessons.
July 9–October 4, 2013 (weekdays only): People in Plazas, San Francisco, CA
Take a break from your sightseeing for these noontime concerts (170 in total!) all spotlighting local musicians. Hear musical styles from Peruvian to ’50s R&B to gypsy jazz at outdoor locations throughout the city.
August 4, 2013: Jerry Day, San Francisco, CA
Calling all Deadheads: San Francisco fetes native Jerry Garcia each August with performances from like-minded musicians. Aptly, the concert – now in its 10th year – takes place in the Jerry Garcia Amphitheater in McLaren Park.
Through August, 2013 (Mondays only): International Summer Organ Festival, San Diego, CA
We’ll have to take their word for it on whether the musicians are actually “world-renowned,” but listening to the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ certainly sounds cool. The August 20 concert accompanies a silent movie screening.
June 18–August 29, 2013 (Tuesday–Thursday only): Twilight in the Park, San Diego, CA
Pack a picnic and catch some tunes as the sun goes down in Balboa Park. From big band to Motown, Mexican to California rock, you’re sure to find a concert to match your musical tastes.
June 14–August 30, 2013 (Fridays only): Friday Night Bands on the Beach, Santa Cruz, CA
Relive the ’80s with concerts from your favorite artists of yesteryear on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. This year’s lineup includes Modern English, A Flock of Seagulls, and Eddie Money.
July 13, 2013: Central Coast Lavender Festival, Paso Robles, CA
Lavender’s blue, dilly dilly, lavender’s green…This lavender festival covers all the uses of the fragrant flower, from essential oils and soaps to ice cream. Learn everything there is to know about this versatile plant at free seminars.
June 27–September 1, 2013 (Thursdays–Sundays only): Independent Shakespeare Co.’s Griffth Park Free Shakespeare Festival
Spend the summer with Shakespeare and the Independent Shakespeare Co. as they perform some of the bard’s greatest plays. This year the cast takes the stage for Macbeth and As You Like It. Though performances are free, you will be presented with multiples opportunity to donate to the company. Performances begin at 7pm sharp.
May 24–September 6, 2013 (Thursdays and Fridays only): Summer Music at Farmers Market, Los Angeles, CA
Browse the produce selection at this L.A. institution that dates back to 1934, but stick around for the evening concerts. Thursday nights are all about jazz, while Fridays bring a mix of world music and local favorites.