SINGING BY THE SEA Brandi Carlile, at the Sunset Music Series on June 14.
The lazy, the restless, the cheapskates, yuppies, ravers, snobs, and prudes: the magic of the outdoor summer concert ecosystem is that it offers very nearly everyone who doesn't care about exquisite sound quality a reason to get out of their house or state for a day, evening, or weekend.
Tennessee may have Bonnaroo — the country's largest and most expansive folk/pop/indie music festival — but it also has Tennessee, and its attendant heatstrokes, sludge puddles, and profound middle-American isolation. A New England summer — temporarily inoculated, by and large, from the crazy-making impacts of global warming — offers a cornucopia of more modest and inherently more pleasurable affairs. From municipal sunset concert series to a smattering of multi-day, campground affairs, this summer's outdoor music slate is diverse and busy enough that it seemsto be united by nothing but picturesque settings and a reasonable proximity to a refreshing body of water.
Whether three minutes or three hours from your doorstep, what follows is a sampling of some of the season's most promising offerings. Further details can be found in our listings and on festival websites.
The country's smallest state seems to boast its most massive density of impressive summer concerts, most of which occur in postcard-ready Newport. Leading the pack, of course, is the NEWPORT FOLK FEST, whose target demographic manages to get younger by the year without disrupting the event's storied tradition of excellence. The three-day (July 26-28) affair boasts sets by Feist, the Mountain Goats, the Avett Brothers, Andrew Bird, Beck, the Lumineers, the heroically deadpan Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Amanda Palmer, and the alternately chilling and rambunctious alt-folk group Phosphorescent. Tickets are available for the 26th, but you'll have to get creative to get into the Saturday and Sunday shows.
The Newport waterfront boasts plenty more festivals and concerts throughout the summer. The NANTUCKET NECTARS SUNSET MUSIC SERIES hosts the Brandi Carlile (June 14), Chris Isaak (July 10), B.B. King (July 12), and plenty more. July 20 brings the NEWPORT BLUES AND BBQ FESTIVAL, headlined by the James Cotton Blues Band, while the August 2-4 NEWPORT JAZZ FESTIVAL features Natalie Cole, Herbie Hancock, and Esperanza Spalding. Genre-hopping continues with an August 10 WATERFRONT REGGAE FESTIVAL and the August 24 CELTIC ROCK FESTIVAL, amped up by the Dropkick Murphys.
With an assist from WBRU, the city of Providence plays host to a free concert series Friday nights in WATERFRONT PARK for six weeks beginning in June. Teen-leaning pop-punk act New Politics begin the event on June 7, while the chipper 8-piece California rockers the Mowgli's arrive on July 5. The series closes out with a free night with indie rockers the Cold War Kids, who are likely either the bane or apex of your experiences listening to Pandora, pretending on your perspective.
Over in Charlestown, summer ends with the annual RHYTHM AND ROOTS FESTIVAL in Ninigret Park on Labor Day Weekend. Steve Earle, of The Wire and also-very-good-music fame, brings his Dukes and Duchesses to the event on Saturday, while Carolina Chocolate Drops handle the Sunday headlining duties with typical aplomb.
With its spacious Darling's Waterfront Pavilion, Bangor has become the unlikely hub for many of Maine's biggest annual outdoor events. The venue plays host to a series of ticketed evening shows this summer, beginning with Sting's "BACK TO BASS" tour on June 20. PHISH will clog the highways before creating a temporary township on the site July 3, two weeks before acclaimed filmmaker Rob Zombie brings his latest "MAYHEM FESTIVAL" to Maine, with Five Finger Death Punch and critic-favorite metal band Mastodon (among others) in tow. Later, Barenaked Ladies, Ben Folds Five, and Guster make an inevitably futile attempt to be funny or provocative as their "LAST SUMMER ON EARTH" tour arrives on July 21, just 48 hours before T.I. and Lil Wayne hit town. (Fans of cognitive dissonance may want to stick around for the next day's performance by Nickelodeon's prefab pop group BIG TIME RUSH.) Appealing late-summer engagements include a co-headlining tour by country-pop great MIRANDA LAMBERT and DIERKS BENTLEY on August 2 and an August 30 date with the irrepressible KE$HA. The venue is also home to a few multi-day affairs, the most longstanding of which is the AMERICAN FOLK FESTIVAL, which runs from August 23 to 25, and the fifth annual KAHBANG FESTIVAL (August 8-11), Maine's great white hope for a thriving hipster music festival. The lineups for both festivals will be announced soon.
Elsewhere around the state, blues, folk, and druggy campground affairs rule the calendar. The NORTH ATLANTIC BLUES FESTIVAL returns to the Public Landing in Rockland for the weekend of July 13-14, and features the unstoppable Mavis Staples, along with Sugar Ray (not that one) and the Bluetones, and the Holmes Brothers. Rockland also plays host to the MAINE LOBSTER FESTIVAL (July 31-August 4), which offers a rotating cast of local acts and an August 2 performance by the Spin Doctors. Bluegrass fans will hitch their trailers to the campgrounds at the OSSIPEE VALLEY MUSIC FESTIVAL in South Hiram from July 25 to 28; that event will feature Marty Stuart and His Band, along with Sarah Jarosz, Sara Watkins, and dozens of other bands (and the odd flatpicking competition). The town of Starks plays host to a few weekend music festivals explicitly aligned with marijuana legalization efforts; assuming no further details are needed, you can educate yourself about those events online at mainevocals.net. Lastly, a favorite stop for Maine musicians is one of the longest drives in New England. The AROOTSAKOOSTIK MUSIC FESTIVAL goes down in the county on July 13 with the Mallett Brothers, Jacob Augustine, Dead End Armory, and plenty more.