One of the great joys of living in the entertainment capital of the world is the seemingly endless summer music spilling out of parks, vibrating between skyscrapers, vibrating under bandstands and rocking on the streets. What’s even better, most of these world-class shows with musicians unknown and well-known alike are free and open to the public. Join the community of nighttime revelers for some dancing, picnicking and listening to musicians from all around the world, across Los Angeles.
California Plaza: Grand Performances
Ground zero for great summer music is a concrete plaza and water feature between a pair of office buildings and a few residential towers on Grand Avenue. The venue, California Plaza, is the domain of office workers and visitors to the nearby Omni Hotel during the day. But on weekend nights - and Fridays at lunch - all summer, the plaza turns into a bustling concert venue, where downtown denizens and hundreds of other Angelenos gather to hear Iranian folk music, South American samba, Ethiopian jazz and an abundant variety of other exciting music from across the world.
Bring a picnic, drink wine discreetly (it’s allowed, but responsibility is cautioned) or visit one of the restaurants on the plaza to complete your smorgasbord. A dance floor, between the stadium seating section and the pond that separates spectators from performers, fills early so mark your spot and start swaying.
MacArthur Park and Memorial Park: Levitt Pavilion
Levitt Pavilion, a community-building culture organization, presents many free concert series at venues across the nation, and Los Angeles is the lucky recipient of two separate series. Central-city MacArthur Park and Pasadena’s Memorial Park each host a summer filled with musical performances from up-and-coming pop acts from the U.S. and beyond. Although the series focuses mostly on music, live theater, dance and other performance art graces the stage too.
At both venues, picnics and participation are encouraged, admission is free and programs are skewed towards Latin and jazz music from the U.S. and Latin America, although international pop acts do sometimes perform.
Santa Monica Pier: Twilight Concerts
Santa Monica’s free concert series, located on the crowded boardwalk for which the city is famous, skews a little more toward hip and indie where the music is concerned, but the same unpretentious and inclusive atmosphere is a common thread. The Twilight Concert Series, programmed with progressive college public radio DJs from Santa Monica College station KCRW, usually features indie acts that are up-and-coming but already in the local zeitgeist; occasionally, legacy bands give a reunion performance. Breakthrough foreign acts are also sometimes scheduled, along with DJs from KCRW who open or close the night.
While not as conducive to picnicking, street food vendors and food trucks abound, making it easy to grab a quick bite.
KCRW Summer Nights: various locations
Programmed entirely by Santa Monica College’s indie-spirited radio station KCRW, the Summer Nights program is a city-wide series of free concerts that hop from venue to venue all over the spread-out city. Venues are usually in a pedestrian-only plaza and feature one or two live stages, craft fair stalls, food vendors, live DJ sets and a general festival-like atmosphere with free entry but plenty of opportunities to spend money.
While the bands are generally good quality, Summer Nights are less about the music and more about hanging out, walking around, enjoying the venue and being outside in the cooler hours of a hot summer evening.
Pershing Square: Downtown Stage
Finally, at the center of a mini-park in the center of downtown Los Angeles is the Pershing Square Downtown Stage, a summer series with lots to do. Wednesday brings a farmers market to the park and accompanying concerts, which usually feature bands you’ve heard of (as opposed to new or foreign acts). Thursday evenings bring tribute bands covering the classic rock hits of the greats. On Fridays, the stage takes a break from music and plays family-friendly films, usually 1980s and 1990s Hollywood classics.
Music’s main night on the Pershing Square stage is Saturday, with the greatest variety of mainstream acts and up-and-comers arriving from week to week. On Sundays, salsa music accompanies dancers, weekend revelers still in denial about what happens on Monday morning.
Los Angeles is a haven for excellent live music on the hottest nights of the year
Join thousands of spoiled-for-choice Angelenos who make their way to venues across the city each weekend in the summer to hear some of the most exotic acts in entertainment, all for free, all summer long. Your only danger here might be a crippling case of FOMO (fear of missing out).
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