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Summer Concert Guide: 31 can’t-miss shows, from Kendrick Lamar to U2

(Illustration by Joanne Lee/The Washington Post; iStock)

In the age of Spotify streams and surprise albums, it seems that the only reassuring constant in music is the summer concert season — three reliably glorious months of sprawling crowds and splashy pyrotechnics, all beckoning us back to outdoor pavilions and football stadiums for singalongs on a massive scale.

Proof: U2 returns as one of this summer’s most coveted tickets, filling FedEx Field to capacity to mark the 30th anniversary of its landmark album, “The Joshua Tree.” Hall & Oates, unironically beloved by a new generation of fans, is here, too, this time pairing with fellow 1980s hitmakers Tears for Fears at Verizon Center. Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie, better known as one-half of Fleetwood Mac, will belt out the favorites at Wolf Trap, while Jiffy Lube Live will lure crowds with country-music heavyweights Chris Stapleton and Lady Antebellum.

Not every big show, of course, takes place under the stars. Mark your calendars for Kendrick Lamar, who gave Coachella fans a captivating glimpse of the performance-art staging of his tour, soon arriving at Verizon Center; and the D.C. Jazz Festival, which spreads across the city this month, including the air-conditioned halls of the Kennedy Center.

Which performer will provide the soundtrack to your summer? Read on for our guide to the season’s most anticipated concerts.

Jump to: Rock/Pop | Hip hop/R&B | Country/Americana | Perennial favorites | Buzzy artists | Jazz/blues


On its current international stadium jaunt, U2 is looking back 30 years to its landmark 1987 album, “The Joshua Tree.” It’s no surprise at this point that shows on the tour, launched in May, feature a full reading of the record, which includes the chart-topping anthems “With or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” But Bono and company have been keeping it interesting with additional hits, intriguing visuals and special guests, such as Eddie Vedder in Seattle. The band has also been offering a glimpse of what’s on the horizon by including the new song “The Little Things That Give You Away” in recent set lists. — Jedd Ferris
See them: June 20 at FedEx Field. Sold out.

Damon Albarn, the leader of the Britpop band Blur, started Gorillaz as a fun side project. This cartoon band reimagined the Archies as angst-haunted adults, with Albarn’s partner, Jamie Hewlett, creating the spooky anime. “Humanz,” the first new album from Gorillaz in seven years, was released in April with multiple guest stars ranging from Vince Staples to Mavis Staples, all performing atop Albarn’s minimalist synth figures and looped beats. Some, but not all, of the guests showed up at the first few shows to support the record, and it was a different cast each time. The center of attention, though, was always Albarn, whose ringmaster role gave the shows more cohesion than the album, which resembles a typical mix tape, widely varying in styles and quality. — Geoffrey Himes
See them: July 17 at Merriweather Post Pavilion. $49-$199.

No one could have predicted that, after toiling in the indie-rock world for more than a decade, Leslie Feist would find global success thanks to an iPod commercial. That’s exactly what happened in 2007, when the addictive “1234” propelled Feist to new heights, but success wasn’t without its pitfalls — namely, emotional exhaustion that prompted her to abandon music for two years. When she returned, she ran away from the poppy, if accidental, commercialism and slowed her world down with the dour, muted “Metals.” On “Pleasure,” her first album in six years, the spirit of quiet introspection of “Metals” is intact, but rather than strictly subtle, Feist occasionally grabs a live wire of ragged rock energy, strumming and singing past any remaining expectations. — Chris Kelly
See her: June 7-8 at Lincoln Theatre. $45. June 7 show is sold out.

Fleet Foxes
Initially compared to Simon and Garfunkel for its tuneful harmonies, this Seattle-based modern folk group has developed an ethereal yet lush sound over the past decade that is completely its own. Fleet Foxes’ growing influence has reverberated throughout the ever-expanding genre, despite a six-year gap between albums and the 2012 departure of drummer Josh Tillman, who has remade himself as Father John Misty. The group’s new album, “Crack-Up,” scheduled to be released this month, is arguably its strongest to date. Expect a full unveiling when the band takes the stage at Merriweather alongside the restlessly inventive Animal Collective, which has recently been veering toward pop. — Christopher Kompanek
See them: July 29 at Merriweather Post Pavilion. $41-$56.

Belle and Sebastian, Spoon, Andrew Bird
This triple-headlining bill is the stuff of music-geek dreams. From Belle and Sebastian’s well-made melancholic songs to Spoon’s impossibly tight soulful grooves and Andrew Bird’s genre-defying brilliance, this mini-fest promises to be an epic day of indie rock. Expect Belle and Sebastian to play a couple of songs off their rumored upcoming album. Bird is as unpredictable live as he is consistently good; a recent Carnegie Hall show had him sharing the stage with Schoolhouse Rock composer Bob Dorough, mandolinist Chris Thile and avant classical pianist Gabriel Kahane. A jam with Britt Daniel and company of Spoon would be a fitting climax for this show.  — C.Ko.
See them: July 30 at Merriweather Post Pavilion. $45-$55.


Kendrick Lamar
On his previous two albums, Kendrick Lamar explored concepts political and personal, general and specific, recounting a day-in-the-life on the streets of Compton on “Good kid, m.A.A.d city” and paying tribute to the history of black music and the Black Lives Matter movement on the expansive “To Pimp a Butterfly.” From its title on down, his latest effort, “DAMN.,” is blunt and belligerent. Abandoning the embellishments of his last album, Lamar returned with a hit parade of songs with all-caps titles that announce themselves like Hollywood signs in the collective consciousness. His palpable anger is focused with a laser sight, and he’s as self-assured as ever. As he boasts on hit single “HUMBLE.,” “I’m the realest n***a after all.” — Chris Kelly
See him: July 21 at Verizon Center. Sold out.

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John Legend
John Legend begins his latest album, “Darkness and Light,” by singing, “Some folk do what they’re told, but, baby, this time I won’t.” Building on his track record as a progressive-soul singer-keyboardist in the lineage of Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway, Legend pushes the limits of his established persona by working with rock producer Blake Mills (Dawes, Alabama Shakes), recording with Who bassist Pino Palladino and jazz keyboardist Larry Goldings, and co-writing songs with Mills, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Zwan’s Matt Sweeney and One Direction producer John Ryan. These experiments don’t dramatically alter Legend’s sound so much as they open it up to more impressionistic lyrics and music. — Geoffrey Himes
See him: June 20 at Merriweather Post Pavilion. $59-$499.

Chance the Rapper
With last year’s “Coloring Book,” Chance the Rapper made the leap from “promising upstart” to “voice of his generation.” The Chicago talent took the gospel flirtations of “The Life of Pablo,” by his mentor Kanye West, and turned them into an album of full-on gospel-rap paeans. In February, Chance won the Grammy for best new artist, but in the same way that “rapper” doesn’t fully capture the extent of his musical gifts, “artist” doesn’t cover his pursuits. The 24-year-old has quickly become an able activist — meeting with the governor of Illinois, donating $1 million to Chicago public schools — so catch him onstage while you still can. — C.Ke.
See him: June 4 at Jiffy Lube Live, $59.50-$119.50. June 6 at Royal Farms Arena, $106.50-$116.50.

Summer Spirit Festival
For the 12th consecutive year, the Summer Spirit Festival returns to Merriweather Post Pavilion with a two-day adventure soundtracked by the best of R&B, neo-soul, hip-hop and everything in between. As ever, the festival is heavy on nostalgia, with the legendary Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, ’90s girl groups SWV and En Vogue, and influential rap trio De La Soul anchoring the bill. But the festival isn’t just a jaunt down memory lane: It also features Bronx hybrid Tish Hyman and neo-neo-soul band the Internet, which makes the kind of old-meets-new music that will soundtrack the Summer Spirit Festivals of the future. — C.Ke.
See them: August 5-6 at Merriweather Post Pavilion. $54-$1,170.

J. Cole
After teasing his retirement last summer, J. Cole returned in December with a documentary and a pair of songs, “False Prophets” and “Everybody Dies,” that immediately captured the rap zeitgeist. Largely read as diss tracks aimed at Kanye West and such newcomers as Lil Yachty and Lil Uzi Vert, respectively, the songs collectively served as a marker for where Cole sees his place in the rap game: as a wise-beyond-his-years protector of the genre. It’s a pose he assumed on his latest album, “4 Your Eyez Only,” an introspective and mature offering that burnished his credentials as a rap classicist with plenty of stories to tell before his (eventual) retirement.  — C.Ke.
See him: Aug. 8 at Verizon Center. $49.50-$125.50.


Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Following his Grammy-winning 2015 effort, “Something More Than Free,” country-rock tunesmith Jason Isbell decided it was time to crank up his guitar amp. On his new album, “The Nashville Sound,” which comes out June 16, Isbell rocks harder than he has since his days as a member of Drive-By Truckers. Standout “Cumberland Gap” is a fuzzy scorcher that still allows the songwriter’s usual vivid lyrics, full of blue-collar Southern imagery, to surface. The new material will be well served onstage in the hands of Isbell’s seasoned band, the 400 Unit. He’ll be supported this summer by the Mountain Goats, the long-standing, folk-punk cult heroes from North Carolina.  — Jedd Ferris
See them: June 30 at Merriweather Post Pavilion. $40-$55.

Lady Antebellum
Near the end of Lady Antebellum’s 2015 “Wheels Up Tour,” the country trio announced that it would be taking a 1 1/2-year hiatus. During that time off, Charles Kelley released a hot-country solo album, “The Driver,” and then Hillary Scott released a Christian-pop album, “Love Remains.” Each album rose to No. 2 on the country charts, although neither yielded a top-25 country single. Country radio clearly preferred the three-part harmonies of Kelley, Scott and Dave Haywood, and though the group’s reunion album, “Heart Break,” won’t be released till next week, the album’s first single, “You Look Good,” has already hit the country top-10. Kelsea Ballerini and Brett Young are also on the bill at Jiffy Lube Live. — G.H.
See them: June 24 at Jiffy Lube Live, $33-$66.25. Aug. 13 at Merriweather Post Pavilion. $56.75-$199.

Lucinda Williams, Mary Chapin Carpenter
When Lucinda Williams played Annapolis’s Rams Head On Stage in May, the singer-songwriter played songs from all phases of her career: from “Changed the Locks,” off her 1988 self-titled breakthrough album, to “The Ghosts of Highway 20,” the title track from last year’s late-career-triumph album. When she returns to Wolf Trap in August, she will headline the show with Mary Chapin Carpenter, who turned Williams’s “Passionate Kisses” into a top-five country hit in 1993. Carpenter, who got her start in Washington’s coffeehouses, had an even bigger country hit in 1991 with “Down at the Twist and Shout,” a song she wrote about the legendary nightclub in Bethesda. — Geoffrey Himes
See them: Aug. 12 at Wolf Trap. $28-$60.

Chris Stapleton
Chris Stapleton proved people were still willing to pay for an honest tune when he sold more than 2 million copies of his 2015 debut solo album, “Traveller.” Last month, the gritty troubadour with a revivalist spirit unveiled the highly anticipated follow-up, “From A Room: Volume 1,” which debuted at the top of the country charts. Delivering honest, dusty ruminations with a hearty, soulful voice, Stapleton — once an in-demand Music Row songwriter — is now a modern outlaw headlining the country’s big stages. This summer he’s fronting the All-American Roadshow, a package tour with a rotating cast of supporting Americana acts (Anderson East and Brent Cobb at this tour stop). — J.F.
See him: July 22 at Jiffy Lube Live. $30.75–$70.75.

Greensky Bluegrass
After a successful three-night stand at the 9:30 Club in the winter, jam-friendly string band Greensky Bluegrass is returning to the area to headline a new boutique amphitheater, Chrysalis, in Columbia. Nestled in the woods near the much-bigger Merriweather Post Pavilion, the venue features a bright green sculpturelike stage and an open lawn with standing room for 7,000 people. Greensky, which has built a loyal following across the country for its dynamic live shows, will be supported by fellow string expansionists Leftover Salmon, a band that blends bluegrass with Cajun rhythms and full-throttle rock grooves. — J.F.
See them: July 22 at Chrysalis-Merriweather Park. $40.


Paul Simon
When singer-songwriter Paul Simon played in Queens, his childhood home, last summer, he hinted that it might be his final tour. While he’s back at it this summer, the 75-year-old legend is donating all proceeds from this 17-show stint to the Half-Earth Project, scientist E.O. Wilson’s biodiversity preservation initiative. From the intimate early Simon and Garfunkel songs to the syncopated levity of “Graceland,” Simon has a talent for capturing a persistent human longing. A thread of elusive searching flows through his songs, from “Homeward Bound” to “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” Sarah McLachlan opens this show with her own brand of deeply emotional tunes. — Christopher Kompanek 
See them: June 9 at Merriweather Post Pavilion. $55-$175.

Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie
Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie aren’t the most famous members of Fleetwood Mac, but the songs they wrote for the band are certainly memorable. Buckingham penned the earworms “Go Your Own Way” and “Second Hand News,” while McVie wrote “Don’t Stop” and “Songbird,” a gorgeous ballad that features her lead vocals. The two recently teamed up outside of Fleetwood Mac to write and record a new album, “Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie,” due out early this summer. On this tour, the duo will perform songs from those new recordings as well as their old hits. — Catherine P. Lewis
See them: June 26 at Wolf Trap. $45-$95.

Hall & Oates
Hall & Oates weren’t about albums. They were about radio singles, but their hits were some of the most exquisitely crafted and emotionally satisfying songs of their era. They were incredibly prolific; while Bruce Springsteen was releasing eight albums in the ’70s and ’80s, Hall & Oates released 15. Anyone who listened to the radio in those two decades will experience a small flush of pleasure at the mere mention of such titles as “Sara Smile,” “Rich Girl,” “Kiss on My List,” “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” and “Did It in a Minute.” The duo scored 28 top-40 hits between 1976 and 1988, including six No. 1s. They’re joined on this tour by Tears for Fears. — Geoffrey Himes
See them: June 26 at Verizon Center. $35-$129.50.

Merriweather Post Pavilion’s 50th Anniversary Concert
It’s unusual for a live performance to become a hit single; it’s so difficult to control the sonic qualities of a concert recording compared to a studio session. One of the most famous exceptions to this rule was Jackson Browne’s 1977 live album, “Running on Empty,” which yielded not just one but two top-20 Billboard singles: the previously unreleased title track and the remake of Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs’ 1960 doo-wop classic “Stay.” The album was assembled from recordings at different stops on the 1977 tour, but both singles came from the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia. How better to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the venerable outdoor venue than with a return visit by Browne, joined by another Merriweather perennial, Willie Nelson, and two more recent regulars: Father John Misty and Grace Potter? — G.H.
See it: July 15 at Merriweather Post Pavilion. $55-$125.

Queen with Adam Lambert
Sometimes, coming in second place isn’t so bad. Adam Lambert, the “American Idol” runner-up (to Kris Allen in 2009), makes the perfect frontman for classic rock icons Queen. During time off from his solo career, Lambert has teamed with active Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor for several tours; his soaring range, theatrical delivery and flamboyant personality help him fill Freddie Mercury’s seemingly inimitable shoes. Even more perfect? Lambert used Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” as his initial American Idol audition song and performed alongside May and Taylor on the show. — C.P.L.
See them: July 31 at Verizon Center. $49.50-$175.

Gloria Trevi, Alejandra Guzmán
For decades, Mexican rock stars Gloria Trevi and Alejandra Guzmán have been cast as incorrigible bad girls rivaling for the spotlight. Audiences will finally have a chance to see who can out-growl the other when the equally raspy, tough-as-nails singers unite at EagleBank Arena. Trevi, the rebellious wild child who rose to fame with her ’90s anthem about unruly hair, has spent the latter half of her career moving past an infamous arrest in 2000 on charges of kidnapping, sexual abuse and corruption of minors. Guzmán has also had her slew of controversies, including drug addiction, airplane brawls and botched plastic surgery. Now, at age 49, the former scandal magnets have put their pasts behind them and focused on music, joining forces this year to release the duet “Cuando un hombre te enamora.” — Julyssa Lopez
See them: Aug. 13 at EagleBank Arena. $49-$153.


On her debut album, “SweetSexySavage,” Kehlani aimed to capture the three elements of its title, and the Oakland singer-songwriter succeeded — with flying colors. “SweetSexySavage” updates the crazy, sexy, cool R&B of TLC, Aaliyah and Brandy for millennial listeners and finds the 22-year-old equally adept at rap-fueled slow dances, guitar-strumming ballads and bubbly pop jams about learning from the hiccups and hookups of youthful relationships. Being a pop star in 2017 is tough — some of those relationships have made her a target of Internet bullies — but, as she sings on the album, “Live for the challenge, only make[s] me stronger.” — Chris Kelly
See her: July 13 at the Fillmore. Sold out.

St. Paul & the Broken Bones

St. Paul & the Broken Bones has increased in popularity pretty quickly for a group that formed in 2012; just four years ago, the Alabama soul band played the tiny Iota Club in Arlington. But headlining a show at Wolf Trap is a well-deserved step up for the young band: Its two albums boast catchy, well-orchestrated songs, which should translate beautifully to the big, open-air stage. Frontman Paul Janeway’s voice floats up to match the peppy horns behind him on “Call Me,” and he howls sorrowfully on “That Glow.” His vocal calisthenics add an engaging passion to these soulful songs. — Catherine P. Lewis
See them: June 16 at Wolf Trap. $30-$55.

Michael Kiwanuka
While trying to kick-start material to follow up his breakout folk-soul debut album, “Home Again,” Michael Kiwanuka found an ideal collaborator in Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton, the in-demand producer for the likes of Beck and the Black Keys. The partnership yielded Kiwanuka’s sophomore effort, last year’s “Love and Hate,” which finds the London-based singer and guitarist’s earthy croon enhanced by sweeping strings, haunting backing vocals and vintage organ swells. The album’s lead track, the icy, retro ballad “Cold Little Heart,” became a buzzy sensation this year when it accompanied the bizarre intro to HBO’s “Big Little Lies.” While mostly busy on the international festival circuit this summer, Kiwanuka will squeeze in a few club dates, including a stop at a sold-out 9:30 Club. — Jedd Ferris
See him: June 4 at 9:30 Club. Sold out.

At times on her album “Puberty 2,” Mitski sings lyrics — “Tell your baby that I’m your baby” or “You’re the one, you’re all I ever wanted,” for example — that would be at home at any time in pop music history. But those lovey-dovey pleadings belie the darkness and violence of her work: “I will go jogging routinely/calmly and rhythmically run,” she sings on “Fireworks,” “And when I find that a knife is sticking out of my side, I’ll pull it out without questioning why.” “Puberty 2” is full of knives in your side and unanswered questions as the 26-year-old bounds from Pixiesque loud-quiet-loud dynamics to narcotic ballads to trebly punk meltdowns, all the while exposing the sordid underbelly of 21st-century romance. — C.Ke.
See her: July 8 at 9:30 Club. $20.

Little Dragon
Since Sweden’s Little Dragon debuted 11 years ago, Yukimi Nagano’s soulful soprano has become a chic accessory for other people’s music. The halfJapanese singer has collaborated with Big Boi, Gorillaz, Flume and many more. Yet the band tends to go it alone on its own albums, including the recent “Season High.” It seems the four musicians don’t need any help to craft songs that meld ’80s-style synth-pop and slow-jam funk with contemporary touches. The vibe can be loungey, but the group channels Prince on such upbeat tunes as the new “Sweet” and “Strobe Light,” which party like it’s almost 1989. — Mark Jenkins
See them: Aug. 8 at 9:30 Club. $35.


Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock is the rare jazz artist to gain considerable recognition outside the jazz world. In 2008, his “River: The Joni Letters” became only the second jazz album to win the Grammy Award for album of the year, besting fellow nominees Kanye West, Foo Fighters, Amy Winehouse and Vince Gill. In 2013, Hancock joined Billy Joel, Shirley MacLaine, Martina Arroyo and Carlos Santana as recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors. In August, Hancock returns to the Kennedy Center with a quintet that features West African guitar virtuoso Lionel Loueke, Kendrick Lamar collaborator Terrace Martin, Joni Mitchell drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and “Saturday Night Live” bassist James Genus. — Geoffrey Himes
See him: Aug. 8 at the Kennedy Center. $39-$115.

Capital Jazz Fest
Talk about blurred lines: Singer Robin Thicke will help open this genre-blending jazz and soul music fete. Of course, the 25th-anniversary edition is crowded with longtime festival favorites, including contemporary jazz titans George Benson and Lee Ritenour, who’ve influenced generations of guitar players. When the focus isn’t shifting from, say, the Whispers to Stokley, women will command the stage, during performances by Corinne Bailey Rae, Maysa, Sheila E. and Candy Dulfer. Topping the Sunday finale: a special tribute to the late jazz and pop great Al Jarreau. — Mike Joyce
See it: June 2-4 at Merriweather Post Pavilion. $64.50-$104.50. Saturday is sold out.

DC Jazz Festival
This sprawling jazz summit offers an array of crosstown concerts — in venues large and small, indoors and out. Among the artists on tap are two veteran collaborators, guitarist Pat Metheny and drummer Roy Haynes, although they’ll perform at different sites. Ever engaging at 91, Haynes brings his Fountain of Youth Band to the Howard Theatre on June 10, while Metheny, fronting an intriguing new quartet, appears at the Kennedy Center on June 12. They’re festival highlights, no doubt, along with concerts featuring Gregory Porter, Jane Bunnett and numerous others. — M.Jo.
See it: June 9-18 at various venues in the District. Ticket prices vary.

Diana Krall
A multiple Grammy winner, Diana Krall has pitched her tent at the top of the jazz charts for two decades. Producer Tommy LiPuma, who died in March, at 80, helped get her there. So this show is likely to produce some bittersweet moments when the Canadian vocalist and pianist revisits the vintage pop and jazz tunes on her new LiPuma-produced album, “Turn Up the Quiet” — a now haunting reminder of their special chemistry. Count on guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist Robert Hurst, drummer Karriem Riggins and fiddler Stuart Duncan to provide inspired support. — M.Jo.
See her: June 24 at Wolf Trap. $43.75-$83.75.

‘La La Land’ in Concert
“La La Land” harks back to the achingly idealistic movie musicals of the ’50s and ’60s, when life’s troubles were carried away by a sweeping dance mob, and there was always a catchy song to articulate how you feel. This screening, accompanied by the National Symphony Orchestra and conductor Emil de Cou, seems like the model way to experience Damien Chazelle’s love letter to impossible dreams and the wonderfully rich culture of jazz. Justin Hurwitz’s Oscar-winning score (with a previously unheard overture), filled with frenzied flourishes of improvisation, should play particularly well in an open-air, live setting. — Christopher Kompanek
See it: Aug. 4 at Wolf Trap. $40-$60.


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