Live music was one of the most notable things missing during the summer of 2020. There wasn’t a shortage of music itself — there was plenty streaming through our headphones and living room speakers, sent speeding into the universe by cooped-up DJs and virtual performances by go-go bands and singer-songwriters. But free outdoor concerts are normally an intrinsic soundtrack of the city: enjoying salsa grooves with a picnic in a public park, or stumbling across a cover band performing along the waterfront on the way to dinner, and being pulled in to listen to a few songs.

As with outdoor movies, alfresco concerts are finally returning to the cultural landscape. This is not a complete list of options — Fairfax County alone is sponsoring more than 100 concerts at 10 parks in July and August — but it will help you find the right outdoor groove.

Note: Some popular programs, including Fort Dupont’s Summer Concert Series and the Fairwood Community Park concerts in Prince George’s County, are choosing to host virtual performances in 2021.

Also, this list does not include outdoor events at live music venues, such as Jammin’ Java and the State Theatre, which also host bands indoors. Both began holding outdoor concerts during the pandemic, but are now winding down the series and transitioning toward traditional indoor concerts. Jammin’ Java will continue to regularly host shows in its Vienna parking lot — usually Wednesday through Sunday or Thursday through Sunday — through Aug. 8, and then a few more in early September. The State Theatre is phasing out its free outdoor shows, though its current schedule is pretty evenly split between indoor and outdoor events through the end of August.

This list will be updated.


When: Monday through Friday from 1 to 2 p.m., through Sept. 3

Where: The Ronald Reagan Building, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW.

As office workers slowly begin to make their way back downtown this summer, the Ronald Reagan Building is trying to make sure they have a reason to go outside on their lunch breaks. The Live Concert Series on Wilson Plaza, which runs through the week before Labor Day, features entertainers every weekday at noon. A different Army ensemble is featured each Tuesday, and the schedule includes go-go band Proper Utensils with Jas. Funk (July 23); saxophonist Elijah Jamal Balbed’s JoGo Project (July 28); DC Mariachi (Aug. 4); and reggae band the Archives (Aug. 6).


When: 7:30 to 9 p.m., Monday and Thursday from Aug. 2-19

Where: Fort Reno Park, 4000 Chesapeake St. NW.

Free summer concerts have been held in Fort Reno Park since 1968, and during the 1990s, the series became famous for annual appearances by some of the area’s biggest rock acts, including Fugazi and the Dismemberment Plan. A scaled-back schedule includes three weeks of shows on Mondays and Thursdays, with appearances by danceable post-punk quartet Clear Channel (Aug. 2); blues guitarist Linwood Taylor (Aug. 9); and reunited post-hardcore trio Branch Manager, who released a pair of albums on Dischord Records in the 1990s (Aug. 12).


When: 7 to 9 p.m. through Sept. 9

Where: The Wharf’s Transit Pier (next to Cantina Bambina), 970 Wharf St. SW.

The combination of a breeze coming off the Washington Channel and the sunset over the water make for an outstanding after-work atmosphere. Cover bands, brass bands and soul outfits perform on a floating stage while the audience watches from bleacher-like seats. Arrive early to claim one of the bistro-style tables. Bring food from any restaurant at the Wharf, but adult beverages, including beers and margaritas, must be purchased from Cantina Bambina’s outdoor bars.

When: 6 p.m. through Sept. 1.

Where: Color Burst Park, 6275 Mango Tree Rd., Columbia.

The park at the heart of Columbia’s Merriweather District — adjacent to Merriweather Post Pavilion — is home to yoga classes, exercise boot camps and open mic poetry. Wednesdays, though, are for live music and dancing, with Latin, hip-hop and jazz performers. Amped in the Park is held every Wednesday in July; Stompin’ the Blues is every other Wednesday — Aug. 4 and 18, and Sept. 1 — plus a special free screening of “An American in Paris” with live music at Merriweather Post Pavilion on Aug. 14.


When: 6 to 8:30 p.m., every other Thursday from July 29 to Sept. 9

Where: National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, Constitution Avenue NW between Seventh and Ninth streets.

In the latest sign of going Back to Normal, the Gallery is bringing back live music to its sculpture garden, although it won’t quite be Jazz in the Garden, which was canceled early in the pandemic. Concerts in the Sculpture Garden, four concerts held every other Thursday between July 29 and Sept. 9, will be capped at 1,700 attendees — which is half the sculpture garden’s capacity. Free advance tickets are required, and there will be no standby list. While this ruins any chance of spontaneously deciding to go to a concert on a beautiful summer night, it also means the lines for sangria and other drinks at the cafe will be much shorter, and there’s a much better chance of getting a seat next to the fountain. Tickets will become available on the National Gallery’s website two weeks before each concert, with a maximum group size of six. (For example, passes for the Baltimore Jazz Collective’s Aug. 12 performance will go live on July 29.)

When: 7:30 p.m. through Sept. 9.

Where: Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo.

The former amusement park's bumper car pavilion has taken on new life as the setting for weekly outdoor dances — especially important while the historic Spanish Ballroom is closed. Big band swing, Latin and Russian music are all on the schedule. Covered bench seating is available, but attendees can bring their own chairs. Kids who need a break from the music can find it at a coloring table.

When: 7 p.m. through Aug. 19.

Where: The Annapolis Maritime Museum, 723 Second St., Annapolis.

The Annapolis Maritime Museum has a wonderful setting on the Eastport peninsula just south of downtown, and makes the most of it with these weekly outdoor concerts, featuring rock, soul and R&B bands. Margaritas and food are available, and blankets and chairs are encouraged.


When: 7 to 9 p.m., through Aug. 13

Where: Yards Park, 355 Water St. SE.

The weekly summer concert series at Yards Park has one of the best settings in D.C.: Bands perform on the boardwalk with the Anacostia River as a scenic backdrop, while crowds spread out on the terraced lawn. Beer, wine and hard seltzer are available for sale, along with tacos and empanadas from Agua 301, though food can be carried in from any restaurant in the neighborhood.

When: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. through Aug. 27

Where: Q Street Park, 20th and Q streets NW.

Musicians perform in Q Street Park — the sliver of grass between Connecticut Avenue NW and 20th Street across from the Dupont Circle Metro Station — every Friday evening. With 20th Street pedestrianized and turned into a streatery, you can get food from Zorba’s Cafe or Mission and settle in for dinner and a show.

When: 6:30 to 10 p.m. through Sept. 24

Where: Herndon Town Green, 777 Lynn St., Herndon.

For 26 years, Herndon has been rocking with some of the region’s best-known cover bands. Dewey Beach, Del., fixtures, such as Junkfood and Kristen and the Noise, join local party bands, including Turtle Recall and ’80s tribute act the Reflex, at these comfortable gigs. Jimmy’s Old Town Tavern and other local businesses provide food and drinks, and there’s plenty of grass on which to picnic.

When: 5 to 8 p.m., through Oct. 29.

Where: Crystal City Water Park, 1601 Crystal Dr., Arlington.

Fountains, shaded lawns and flowers make National Landing's Crystal City Water Park an enticing place to wind down the week. Rock, R&B and cover bands perform while the Peruvian Brothers sell food, beer, wine and hard seltzer. (Picnics with takeout from nearby restaurants are allowed; outside alcohol is not.) Organizers give away free picnic blankets each week on a first-come, first-served basis.

When: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Aug. 15.

Where: Lubber Run Amphitheater, North Second and North Columbus streets, Arlington.

Lubber Run has hosted live music since 1969, when the first stage was erected in a glen of this Arlington park. Each weekend finds two shows geared toward adults, with a wide range of jazz, soul, Latin and classical music, and a family show on Sunday mornings (see below).

When: Fridays at 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. through Oct. 2

Where: The Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW.

The Kennedy Center officially begins its 50th anniversary season in September, but you don’t have to wait that long to enjoy free music and performing arts along the Potomac River. Themed three-day mini-festivals are taking over the Reach’s outdoor plaza and the Victura Park pop-up wine garden every Thursday, Friday and Saturday through Oct. 2. Thursday is focused on movie screenings or DJs, while featured performances are on Friday and Saturday evenings. Each weekend has a different theme, such as “D.C. Legendary Musicians” (July 29-31) and the go-go led “Don’t Mute D.C.” (Aug. 19-21), so check the Kennedy Center’s website for a music schedule before heading to Foggy Bottom.


When: 7 to 8:30 p.m. through Aug. 28

Where: Leesburg Town Green, 25 West Market St., Leesburg.

One of the more laid-back concert series finds singer-songwriters and duos playing acoustic guitars on the lawn in front of Leesburg's Town Hall. Lawn chairs and picnic blankets are welcome.

When: 10 a.m. through Aug. 14.

Where: Four Fairfax County parks: Burke Lake Park Amphitheater, 7315 Ox Rd., Fairfax Station; E.C. Lawrence Park Amphitheater, 5040 Walney Rd., Chantilly; Mason District Park Amphitheater, 6621 Columbia Pike, Annandale; Wakefield Park, 8100 Braddock Rd., Annandale.

If you need to get the kids out of the house on Saturday mornings, the Fairfax County Park Authority has the solution: Arts in the Parks brings the Great Zucchini, Rocknoceros, Marsha and the Positrons, the Blue Sky Puppet Theatre and other well-known children’s entertainers to four local parks on Saturday mornings. Pick a different destination each week based on the performers. (The same series also offers similar performers Wednesdays at 10 a.m. in Frying Pan Park in Herndon.)

When: 5 to 7 p.m. through Sept. 18

Where: 800 block of Upshur Street NW

The 800 block of Upshur Street is the heart of Petworth’s shopping and dining district, home to Timber Pizza, Taqueria del Barrio and Loyalty Books, among others. The Petworth Summer Saturdays feature groups playing indie-folk, reggae and other styles on the sidewalk outside Willow, a clothing and gift store.

When: 6 to 8 p.m. through Aug. 14, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Aug. 21 to Sept. 4.

Where: Quiet Waters Park, 600 Quiet Waters Park Rd., Annapolis.

A large, sloping lawn offers views of the performance stage at this long-running concert series, held just off the South River. Bluegrass, classic rock and Caribbean music are among the highlights. Bring a picnic blanket or chairs, and food and drink are sold on-site. The Friends of Quiet Waters Park offers activities for kids, including bubbles. (Entrance fees to the park are waived on evenings when concerts are scheduled.)

When: 7 p.m. through Aug. 28, plus Sept. 25.

Where: National Harbor’s National Plaza, 165 Waterfront St., National Harbor.

National Harbor brings military bands — primarily jazz and concert ensembles representing the U.S. Air Force — to its waterfront plaza every Saturday night through August, with the U.S. Army Concert Band closing out the series on Sept. 25. Military bands are also featured on select Wednesday evenings.


When: 11 a.m. through August 15.

Where: Lubber Run Amphitheater, North Second and North Columbus streets, Arlington.

In contrast to Friday and Saturday concerts (see above), Sunday mornings at Lubber Run are for children. In addition to silly singers and bands, the schedule includes musical theater, with the interactive “Big Bad Musical” on July 25.

This story originally published on July 23, 2021. It has been updated.

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