So you enjoy hearing live music by top musicians playing jazz, country, soul, folk, blues, and other popular styles? But you’re not big on attending massive stadium concerts? Or cramming yourself into crowded late-night music club engagements?
Fortunately, if you’re looking for the sounds of summer, around the Puget Sound there are excellent alternatives: stellar musical acts in the great outdoors, graced with fresh air and (usually) sunshine. These concerts take place throughout our area, and they range in cost from free to fairly pricey for the biggest-name talent. For most, you are invited to bring a blanket and a picnic basket to enjoy an alfresco repast while you’re soaking up the rays and listening to hitmakers and up-and-coming musical artists.
Some (though not all) of these shows are ticketed, and appearances by the most renowned artists tend to sell out, so be sure to reserve in advance whenever possible. In every case, it’s a good idea to arrive early: to park if you’re driving, and to get a choice spot to see and hear well.
Here is an assortment of some of the prime outdoor concert series of summer 2018:
Zoo Tunes (Seattle) For more than 30 years, the Woodland Park Zoo has hosted family-friendly concerts on its spacious back lawn—no lions, tigers, or bears in sight. The shows benefit the zoo’s operations budget and the programming emphasizes indie-folk and pop artists. Zoo Tunes is a mostly bring-your-own (low back) seating affair with a few premiere reserved seats available and some seating for the disabled. Food and drinks are available for purchase, but you can tote in your own munchables and (only) non-alcoholic beverages. Kids are welcome, and each ticket-holding adult can bring in a child under 12 for free. (Visiting the animal exhibits requires a separate ticket.)
Among the bright spots on this year’s lineup: soulful folkie Amos Lee (Aug. 5); Portland’s petite pop orchestra Pink Martini (Aug. 22-23); and a New Orleans extravaganza with Trombone Shorty, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and other Big Easy favorites (Sept. 9).
Details: 206-548-2500 or zoo.org/zootunes
Chateau Ste. Michelle Summer Concerts (Woodinville) Another longtime favorite is this adults-only, Baby Boomer-favorites series, held on the beautiful grounds of Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery.
Patrons arrive early to purchase wine and cheese at the Chateau’s well-stocked on-site retail store, and stake out a good general-admission spot on the lawn. Some bring elegant spreads of gourmet treats, but you can also buy vittles and drinks from a row of vendors. (Reserved chair seating is also available, though pricier.)
This year’s schedule boasts concerts ranging from the still-rockin’ John Fogerty, founding member of Credence Clearwater Revival (July 19; his July 20 show is sold out) to the Wine Country Blues Festival with ace bluesmen Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ (July 29), guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela (Sept. 7), and the twangy singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett and his Large Band (Sept. 15).
Details: 425-488-1133 or ste-michelle.com
Centrum Summer Concerts (Port Townsend) Every summer Centrum arts center in the charming Olympic Peninsula burg of Port Townsend sponsors intensive musical workshops, ending with public concerts by the nationally-respected artists who are teaching them.
Some of those tuneful affairs are held in the semi-enclosed McCurdy Pavilion on the bucolic grounds of Centrum, a former military base. But others take place in an array of restaurants and cozy music clubs in the walkable center of this Victorian seaside town. For the club crawl, you just buy a wristband that serves as a ticket to any of the shows—and get roaming.
Jazz Port Townsend concerts take place July 26-28 this summer. The Port Townsend Acoustic Blues and Gospel performances are August 3-4. And the annual Port Townsend Ukulele Festival occurs Sept 13-14.
Details: 800-746-1982 or centrum.org
Marymoor Park Concert Series (Redmond) Over on the Eastside, the sprawling Marymoor Park hosts its own annual outdoor concerts in the evenings. Highlights this year include country music legend Willie Nelson and Family, with Grammy-honored fiddle player and singer Alison Krauss (Aug. 1) and a bill featuring the charmingly upbeat “good vibes” singer-songwriters Jason Mraz and Brett Dennen (Sept. 9).
Details: 888-929-7849 or marymoorconcerts.com
FREEBIES If you are hankering for more casual, free, drop-in-style outdoor concerts featuring mostly local musicians, here are a few of the no-admission pop series to consider:
Out to Lunch Concerts Series: This long-running summer program from Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture includes music events of many types (in 2017 there were 47 of them), offered for free at midday in the heart of downtown. For the 2018 line-up, go to downtownseattle.org/events
University Village Sounds of Summers Concert Series: This series caters to adults and youths alike. It takes place Wednesday evenings, July 11 through Aug. 22, at the University Village shopping center in Laurelhurst. Seating starts at 6, and the music begins at 7. Check out this summer’s schedule at uvillage.com
Kirkland Summer Concerts: The City of Kirkland sponsors children’s concerts at Juanita Beach Park (Tuesday mornings at 10 a.m., July 10-Aug. 21) and evening events, including Beatles and Tom Petty cover bands and a ukulele group (Thursday evenings at 7 p.m., July 5-Aug. 17) at Marina Park. More info at kirklandsummerconcerts.weebly.com
Misha Berson writes about the arts for The Seattle Times and many other publications, and is the author of four books, including Something’s Coming, Something Good: West Side Story and the American Imagination (Applause/Hal Leonard).