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Summer — when music is released from a caveman-like existence in so many dreary basement bars in order to bask in the fleeting New England sunlight. There are countless outdoor summer music events accessible to Boston-area residents, and some of them are even free.
Find our recommendations below.
All the Porchfests: June 4 (Brookline), June 11 (Arlington), July 9 (Jamaica Plain)
Porchfest—the free community festival where residents host music on their front porches—is a bona fide phenomenon at this point. The Boston area has seen a proliferation of Porchfests of late, and three of them happen in the summer: Arlington and Brookline for the first time, and Jamaica Plain for the third.
One Providence Experience: June 4, Providence National Bank, Providence, R.I.
The crumbling façade of the Providence National Bank will serve as a backdrop to a free outdoor concert featuring a phenomenal collection of bands from near and far, including Providence protest marching band What Cheer? Brigade, Boston-based Ethiopian funk outfit Debo Band, and indie rock phenomenon Screaming Females. Locals like folk-rockers The Low Anthem and one-man noise band Black Pus (aka Brian Chippendale of Lightning Bolt) get creative with special performances inspired by the nearby ruins, and the evening extends into a wee-hours dance party.
The Donna Summer Memorial Roller Disco Tribute Party: June 17, Boston City Hall Plaza
The Donna Summer Memorial Roller Disco Tribute Party (this year titled A Celebration of Summer III) makes its fabulous third return. Hosted by a group agitating to build a Donna Summer memorial in Boston (she grew up here), the event features music by Dorchester’s DJ Kon, free skate rental, food trucks, art exhibits and appearances by Boston Roller Derby and Summer’s nephew, the rapper O’Mega Red.
Grass Stains: June 19 at Boston's Brighton Square; July 9 at CityPOP Jamaica Plain; Sept. 17 at Roslindale Porchfest
Boston Hassle, the organization behind some of the city’s best underground and experimental happenings, hosts a free outdoor concert series. This season, Grass Stains features a plethora of bizarre and special local acts, including hardcore band Mail Thief, dramatic rock outfit Fur Purse and garage group Gravel.
Make Music Boston: June 21, various locations in Boston
Boston’s contribution to the worldwide music happening known as Make Music Day, Make Music Boston begins with an open call to city venues and local musicians and ends with a free, citywide music festival. This year will include appearances by the Beat Bus, a percussion workshop on wheels, underground rock presenter Boston Hassle, and classical ensemble Boston Public Quartet, among nearly 100 others.
Tito Puente Latin Music Series: Weekly July 7 – Aug. 11, various locations in Boston
Parks in neighborhoods from the South End to Roxbury will play host to a lively roundup of free music throughout the summer, from The Remedy’s reggaeton-inflected pop to Orquesta Homenaje’s salsa to the Afro-Latin fusion of Mango Blue.
Green River Festival: July 8 – 10, Greenfield
Now in its 30th year, Green River Festival boasts a fun, eclectic lineup, which features (among many, many others) rock ‘n’ roll stalwart Peter Wolf, up-and-coming soul powerhouse The Suffers, all-female mariachi outfit Mariachi Flor de Toloache and singer-songwriter Mal Devisa. Plus, a fleet of hot air balloons.
Outside the Box Festival: July 13 – 17, Boston Common
The massive performing arts festival returns for the third time. So far, headliners Smash Mouth and Daughtry have been announced, but the fun of Outside the Box has always been its plethora of homegrown acts. The musical roster this year was curated with the help of a panel of local music scene members and will be unveiled in the coming weeks.
Festival Betances: July 15 – 17, Boston’s South End
The popular festival is a celebration of all things Latino, but it always features a ton of music, including some of Latin music’s most beloved icons.
Summer DJ Nights: Fridays July 8 - Aug. 26 (except Aug. 6), Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston
The ICA presents a weekly outdoor dance party by the waterfront with DJ sets from big names, like Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs and Win Butler of Arcade Fire, as well as “deep dives” into genres like hip-hop and disco from local DJs.
Lowell Folk Festival: July 29 – 31, Lowell
The Lowell Folk Festival, now in its 30th year, takes seriously its mission to showcase a truly diverse collection of folk-adjacent artists, and the result is a marvelously eclectic lineup, including—but not limited to—Nigerian singer King Sunny Adé, Louisiana’s Savoy Family Cajun Band, Iraqi oud player Rahim AlHaj and bluegrass outfit the Gibson Brothers.
Foo Fest: Aug. 13, Providence, R.I.
The music roster for AS220’s annual street festival is invariably the area’s most refreshingly weird and musically original. This year’s fest is headlined by the funny, engaging Baltimore electronic musician Dan Deacon and includes support from a diverse collection of mostly local bands.
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