As summer rolls around, many are feeling the financial pinch, and opting for the tent over the resort. We encourage you not to skimp on the music, though -- mainly because there's no need. The summer concert season offers loads of free, quality entertainment, and other ways to get a lot of bang for your buck.
First, try the freebies. The Three Rivers Arts Festival returns to the greener pastures of Point State Park this summer, starting with The Black Keys on June 5, and culminating with The Wailers on June 14. WYEP's free Summer Music Festival (June 26, Schenley Plaza) features Dar Williams, the Sam Roberts Band and several more; at summer's end, the Johnstown FolkFest offers three days of similarly free, family-friendly jams (Aug. 21-23). Hartwood Acres hosts Old 97's on June 28 and Son Volt Aug. 9; South Park hosts Steve Earle (July 17), Foghat (Aug. 7) and Samantha Crain (Aug. 14), among others. Many smaller parks also offer free concert series, including Mellon Park in Point Breeze, and Highland Park.
The Carnegie Library goes a step further, promoting both free music and free reading with its "Wizard Rock" concerts, featuring music inspired by the Harry Potter series (Schenley Plaza, starts June 5). Free, regularly scheduled concerts Downtown include the weekly JazzLive series at the Backstage Bar, starting June 2 with Roger Humphries and the RH Factor, and Deryck Tines hosts the Friday Lunchtime Gospel Hour at 937 Liberty, starting June 12. You can also cool off on the cheap at AVA on Monday jazz nights with piano man Howie Alexander and J. Malls.
Package tours can be a bargain, in a dollars-per-band sense anyway. The Vans Warped Tour, visiting the Post-Gazette Pavilion July 8, features NOFX, Less Than Jake and more punk and rock 'n' roll bands than you could possibly want, for a low price. Also at Post-Gazette, The Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival (Aug. 1) features Marilyn Manson, Slayer, Killswitch Engage and many more; CrüeFest2 is the summer's other big package (and no, we don't mean Tommy Lee's), with Crüe, Godsmack, Drowning Pool and doubtless an ocean of jagbags.
Heinz Field hosts an all-star June 6 country bash, featuring Kenny Chesney, Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Montgomery Gentry and Sugarland. Meanwhile, though it has only three bands, I suspect that the July 10 show at Post-Gazette, with Def Leppard, Cheap Trick and Poison, will offer considerable fist-pumps-per-dollar; when prog bands Yes and Asia team up, on July 21 at the Amphitheatre at Station Square, I predict a favorable chin-scratches-per-dollar rate.
You can also save some bucks by seeing a fake version of one of your favorite bands, instead of the real thing -- they're called tribute bands. You'll still hear your favorite songs, and will likely have better seats and more Spinal Tap moments. (It can be close, though: When No Doubt plays the Post-Gazette Pavilion on June 13, lawn tickets are only $10; No Doubt tribute band suNDay Morning plays June 27 at Altar Bar, for $5.)
The Altar Bar and Hard Rock Café host a number of classic-rock tributes over the summer. For a more down-home take on this idea, join local indie musicians for Unhappy Birthday: Morrissey 50th Birthday Tribute Show, on May 22, at Brillobox. For a fancied-up version, catch Pink Floyd tribute The Machine July 10 at Heinz Hall, accompanied by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh.
You could also tie in a show with some other activity, saving fuel and vacation time. For instance, hit the newly active Riverplex Amphitheatre at Sandcastle for Neko Case (July 31) or John Legend (Aug. 3), and likely work in a little waterpark action as well. Or you could just see a band and get a few frames in at Arsenal Lanes' Rock 'n' Bowl nights (Midge Cricket performs June 24). Though we've never been, we hear that many shows at the Pepsi-Cola Roadhouse include dinner, if that's your thing. Whether the June 5 show by Don McLean also includes a certain dessert, we can't say.
Another way to add value to your concert-going experience is by attending events that pull double-duty supporting a good cause. On May 25, there's the Fallen Not Forgotten Memorial Benefit, featuring a full measure of Pittsburgh's musical pride, at the Amphitheatre at Station Square. It includes everyone from Rusted Root to Wiz Khalifa, Punchline to Good Brother Earl -- even the Buzz Poets. And on June 21, Father's Day, Gator Country heads up another tribute to the officers at Hartwood Acres. The 15th Annual Pittsburgh Blues Festival (July 24-26, Hartwood Acres) features The Robert Cray Band, Los Lobos and many others, and benefits the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank.
If you've decided to save your pennies and splurge on just a couple of big concerts this year, the biggies at Post-Gazette Pavilion are likely Coldplay (May 30, with Pete Yorn); Jane's Addiction and Nine Inch Nails on June 10; and even New Kids On The Block (June 11). Dave Matthews teams with The Hold Steady for the traditional two-night run there June 19-20, with Aerosmith and ZZ Top playing June 24. Also worth considering: Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson together at the CONSOL Energy Park on July 13, in Washington, Pa., and Green Day at Mellon Arena on July 22.