11 free music festivals (I know of)

It seems like the new way to attract people to your blog is to put a number in your title.  But it’s just so, well, hilarious that one person is going to somehow distill all knowledge on a subject to a definitive numerical list, post it on BuzzFeed, and become a guru. I’m not claiming to know every free music festival out there, but what I do offer you are the best 11 free musical festivals I know of around the world. I guess, alternatively, I could also create a “Which free music festival are you?” quiz and post it on Facebook.

Bogota knows how to throw a party.  (Source: Santiago Trujillo)

Bogota knows how to throw a party. (Source: Santiago Trujillo)

1. Rock Al Parque, Bogota, Colombia (usually first weekend in July)

We’re going to star off here with a bang, as this isn’t a laid-back jazz or blues festival.  This is a huge park teeming with concertgoers and they’re here for rock, ska, hardcore, metal and more genres involving fist-pumping.  Rock Al Parque is one of South America’s largest rock concerts, and it’s completely gratis.  With headliners from South America, as well as international icons (like the Dead Kennedys), it’s no wonder over 400,000 people come to soak in the craziness.

2. Chicago Blues Festival, Chicago, IL, USA (June 13 – 15, 2014)

Grant Park isn’t home to just Lollapalooza.  And better yet, the Chicago Blues Festival won’t set you back several hundred a person.  Announced musicians for 2014 include Bettye LaVette, Aaron Neville, and Dr. John.

3.  Przystanek Woodstock (aka Woodstock Poland), Kostrzyn nad Odrą, Poland (early August)

The sprawling Woodstock festival. (Source: http://woodstockfestival.pl)

The sprawling Woodstock festival. (Source: http://woodstockfestival.pl)

Modeled after the peace-loving rock festival that started it all, Woodstock Poland lines up international fan favorites for free.  Usually there is a rock theme, but the festival has many eclectic offerings. As a ticket-free festival, attendance varies so you never know what to expect (450k to 700k people have been seen in recent years).  And where is Kostrzyn nad Odrą? About 1.5 hours east of Berlin, in fact as close as you can get to Berlin without leaving Poland.

4. iTunes Festival, London, UK (generally the month of September)

What hasn’t Apple conquered?  Not only has iTunes created a music festival, but it has also completely re-imagined what a music festival should be.  This festival is completely unique, as you don’t just show up at a specific time or place and experience music.  You download an app.  You select the bands you are interested in seeing, and then you are entered into a draw.  If your name gets drawn, you go for free.  If your name isn’t drawn, you can still download the concert on iTunes later ($4.99 to $9.99 typically).  It’s really quite genius.  And if you’re lucky, you could see some of the world’s hottest artists for free.

5. Monmouth Festival, Monmouth, UK (July 25 – August 2, 2014)

Wales puts on quite a party starting in late July, with five different venues surrounding the town of Monmouth.  The free music fest runs for eight days., and attendees are encouraged to eat, drink, and have a fun time.  The festival attracts the best of UK artists, with genres ranging from classical to punk, and just about anything in between.

6.  Virgin Mobile FreeFest, Columbia, MD, USA (September)

Richard Branson kicks off the Virgin Mobile FreeFest, a music festival that gives back. (Source: http://daily-beat.com)

Richard Branson kicks off the Virgin Mobile FreeFest, a music festival that gives back. (Source: http://daily-beat.com)

It may be short, but it’s also sweet.  For one day each September, Virgin Mobile invades Maryland and stages a mind-blowing concert.  There are tickets involved, and there is a donation of at least $10 expected (going toward youth homelessness charities) or you can also volunteer your time if you don’t have the money.  Over a period of four years, the festival has donated about a million bucks in money and volunteer time.  Entertaining and inspiring.

7. Sound of Music Festival, Burlington, ON, Canada (June 7, 12-15, 2014)

Canada puts the cream of its musical crop on display each June in Burlington, Ontario.  Covering five days over two weekends, the festival sports Canadian favorites like 54-50, illScarlet, USS, and Big Wreck (to name a few).  Line-ups are announced in May each year.  The festival is also family friendly, and includes a parade, carnival and autograph sessions with kid-friendly stars.  A good way to introduce your brood to live music.

8. St. Kilda Festival, Melbourne, Australia (Early February)

While we’re on the subject of homegrown music showcases, the Australians are not to be outdone.  While the St. Kilda Festival is not solely a music festival, it is the largest free music showcase in Australia, so I’m including it.  St. Kilda runs in the height of the summer, well the Southern Hemisphere summer, at the beginning of February each year.  While music is offered each day during the eight-day festival, the weekend really swings into a typical music festival feel.  The grounds are truly fantastic, stretching along the beach, offering a relaxed vibe and a lovely view.

9. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, San Francisco, CA, USA (October 3 – 5, 2014)

Patti Smith at the HSBF in Golden Gate Park. (Source: sfgate.com)

Patti Smith at the HSBF in Golden Gate Park. (Source: sfgate.com)

Golden Gate Park is a world-class urban park.  So it is no surprise that it hosts a world-class free festival like the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.  As you can guess, bluegrass is one of the many offerings at this huge six-stage venue.  2013’s festival saw the likes of Chris Isaak, Bonnie Raitt, Billy Bragg, G. Love & Special Sauce, and Father John Misty (to name but a few of the acts).

10. Baybeats, Singapore, Singapore (June 27 – 29, 2014)

Singapore is one of the densest cities in the world (population, not intelligence), and with that kind of populace, you’re going to brew a music scene.  Baybeats takes advantage of the raw talent coming out of this cosmopolitan city by showcasing the best Singapore has to offer.  But it gives back, too.  The festival holds open auditions, judged by hand-picked mentors a la The Voice,  thereby providing real life experience and feedback to burgeoning musicians.  And that’s not all… the Baybeats Budding initiatives also mentors in the other fields related to festivals, including music journalism, gig photography, video arts and more.

11. French Quarter Music Festival, New Orleans, LA, USA (April 10 – 13, 2014)

Jackson Square transformed into concert venue. (Source: Zack Smith)

Jackson Square transformed into concert venue. (Source: Zack Smith)

In the French Quarter, every night is a live music night, but for three days in April, that musical party takes to the street (and parks and squares) to become the largest free music festival in the United States.  This is New Orleans, so the jazz, zydeco and blues artists are top notch.  But many other genres are also well-represented for eclectic tastes.

In addition to the dedicated music festivals listed above, also be sure to check out some of the larger, expensive festivals, as they often have free kick-off parties or other showcases for locals.  A great example are the free stage performances in Montreal during the Montreal Jazz Festival or the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival.  Or for large music festivals, try the free Thursday night kick off at the Hangout Festival in Ocean Shores.

Whatever the budget, there’s great music out there.  So make some plans to get out and enjoy your local offerings this year.


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