Summer means a lot of things, but if you're finally thawing out from this year's apocalyptic winter, there's really only one thing on your mind: getting outside. Few things go better with summer air than a cold drink and live music - especially when it's free.
When most people think music festivals, there's a good chance they're thinking of one of the big three: Bonnaroo, Coachella, or Lollapalooza. While these fests have consistently stacked lineups and are set in iconic locations, they're also notoriously expensive. If you weren't lucky enough to buy a face-value ticket before they sold out, be prepared to pay $430 for Bonnaroo, $562 for Lollapalooza, and $825 for Coachella.
If you just cringed at those numbers, you're not alone. Thankfully, plenty of free alternatives exist. Here are our picks for the best free music festivals this summer.
Columbia, MD (September 20th)
Virgin Mobile FreeFrest is - you guessed it - a free one-day festival sponsored by Virgin Mobile and Samsung. This year's lineup is yet to be released, but last year's featured plenty of names familiar to any music fan: Robin Thicke, MGMT, Pretty Lights, Vampire Weekend, and others. While there's no cost of admission, there is a suggested donation of $10, which goes to fight youth homelessness. Over the past four years, FreeFest has raised nearly $800,000 for the cause.
Salt Lake City, Utah (throughout July & August)
Despite the name, this series of concerts in Salt Lake City isn't related to the Twilight novel series. It is, however, a star-studded set of indie music shows in SLC's Pioneer Park. Tickets to any of the Twilight Series shows costs $5, so while it isn't exactly free, it's a tremendous bargain to see the likes of Beck, Lauryn Hill, Local Natives, and the Wu-Tang Clan.
Columbus, OH (June 27-29th)
ComFest, short for Community Fest, is one part music festival, one part social movement. Each year's fest has its own mission statement, with this year's being "The basic necessities of life are a right, not a privilege." ComFest is decidedly anti-corporate, with many locally based bands and vendors supporting common goals of unity, acceptance, and human rights.
New York, NY (July 12th)
This fest is sponsored by the Village Voice and is held in New York City's historic South Street Seaport. This year's 4Knots Festival is the fourth iteration of the event and will be headlined by indie rock heroes Dinosaur Jr. In addition to free music, 4Knots is an opportunity to visit the South Street Seaport, which features some of the oldest architecture in Manhattan and centuries of nautical history. The name of the fest is actually a nautical reference - 4 knots is the speed of the waves as they meet at the Seaport in New York's East River.
San Francisco, CA (October 3-5, 2014)
This is my personal favorite. As the name implies, this Bay Area fest has grown from a bluegrass festival to incorporate other genres of music in recent years. It's held every year in Golden Gate Park, one of the most beautiful public parks in the U.S, and features a wide breadth of artists, both mainstream and indie. This year's lineup is yet to be released, but last year featured everything from Conor Oberst to Robert Ellis. Oh, and MC Hammer, too. There's a joke to be made about this festival being 2 Legit 2 Quit, but I don't think I could live with myself if I went there.
Chicago, IL (August 28-31)
Although Chicago's renowned Blues Fest just passed, there's still plenty of good, free music in the Windy City. Held in centrally located Millennium Park, Jazz Fest combines traditional jazz acts with modern, fusion-inspired performers. This year's iteration features the Ari Brown Quartert, Gary Burton, and jazz royalty Ravi Coltrane.
Bethlehem, PA (August 1-10)
Musikfest has the distinction of being the nation's largest non-gated free music fest. Musikfest is a ten-day monster that typically features over 400 bands on 13 stages. While general admission is free, each night of Musikfest has a headlining act that does cost money. This year's paid headliners are compelling - namely Weezer and Steely Dan - but a good time can still be had without paying to see the mainstream, main-stage acts.
Have a favorite summer music festival we left out? Tell us about it in the comments!