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Baltimore summer concert preview: U2, Phish, R. Kelly, Britney, Starscape and 20 other sure bets

The summer concert season is fully underway. The Stone Temple Pilots kicked it off into full gear with their Pier Six show on April 26. Two days later, rapper Wiz Khalifa took the stage. At 1st Mariner Arena that week, Rush performed.

And on the Sunday of that same week, a who's who of young acts - the Strokes, Ra Ra Riot, Girl Talk, a scorching Lupe Fiasco - performed at the second-ever Sweetlife Festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion.

The knee-jerk complaint that touring musicians skip Baltimore every year is a thing of the past, it seems. If anything, the only complaint this year might be that there's too many criminally difficult choices to make. How else to describe having to pick between Rihanna and the Starscape Music Festival, both scheduled for the same day in June? Or having to pick between Jason Aldean and going to the Preakness InField, which seems practically made for him?

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At least some shows had the good sense to squeeze two major acts into one night. In fact, double-billed tours are a mini-trend this summer: Rihanna and Cee Lo Green; Britney Spears and Nicki Minaj; Kesha and Baltimore's own Spank Rock.

Even if you get to miss some shows because of the overwhelming array of options, at least you'll get your money's worth with our top 25 picks for the summer.

May

May 21: After co-writing a string of hits for other artists, Bruno Mars has become a star in his own right. The baby faced singer with the squeaky high voice shares a bill with rockers Train May 21 at this year's Preakness Infield Fest in Pimlico Race Course, 5201 Park Heights Ave. After a couple hits in the '90s and early '00s (remember "Drops of Jupiter?"), Train took a hiatus and, starting in the fall of 2009, made a terrific comeback. $44.50. (Sam Sessa)

May 22: To get a sense of Sugarland's meteoric rise in the last few years, you have to look no further than their tours. For a while there, they were opening for major stars in country: Brad Paisley in 2005, Kenny Chesney the next year, Keith Urban in 2009. But since breaking out with 2008's "Love on the Inside," they've had their own merry band of hit-makers opening for them: Sara Bareilles, Danny Gokey, and Little Big Town. The latter will open again when the duo perform at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 10475 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. $41-76.

May 24: A master of vintage R&B, Raphael Saadiq's musical roots go back to his days in the group Tony! Toni! Tone! His fourth studio album, "Stone Rollin'," was released in late March puts a fresh spin on an ages-old sound. He comes to Rams Head Live, 20 Market Place in Power Plant Live. $35. (SS)

May 25: Paul Simon's new album, "So Beautiful or So What" is his best in years. Expect to hear songs from it, as well as a few of Simon's many hits, when he performs May 25 at DAR Constitution Hall, 1776 D St. NW in Washington. $53.50-123.50. (SS)

May 27 & 28: Already relentless at touring, J. Roddy Walston and the Business seem to want to overextend themselves this summer. They're not just doing one-off shows, but booking multi-day residencies across the country. Las Vegas gets them for four days in June. The Ottobar will have them for two nights. The band also has berths at the All Good Festival in West Virginia and Lollapalooza in Chicago in early August. J. Roddy Walston performs at the Ottobar, 2549 N. Howard St. $13.

May 29: Backstreet Boys and New Kids on the Block, the two titans of boy band world, are touring together, presumably because they couldn't each muster enough ticket sales individually. It'll provide an opportunity for moms and daughters of the 80s and 90s to see two bands that shaped each of their respective generations. Their June 3 show at Verizon Center is already sold out. The two bands perform at 1st Mariner Arena , 201 W. Baltimore St. $29.50-$89.50.

June

June 3: Sure, John Fogerty, the driving force behind Creedence Clearwater Revival, won't be there. But the guys in Creedence Clearwater Revisited can rip through all those familiar hits like nobody's business. June 3, they'll share a bill with Three Dog Night at Pier Six Pavilion, 731 Eastern Ave. $30-$70. (SS)

June 4 - 5: Now in its 13th year, this annual celebration of electronic music and DJ culture is more in-demand ever, organizers say. Over the years, Starscape has become one of the east coast's best events of its kind, drawing thousands to scenic Fort Armistead Park, 4000 Hawkins Point Road. This year's lineup includes, Bassnectar, Lotus and Infected Mushroom, among others. The marathon festival starts at 2 p.m. June 4 and stretches until 6 a.m. June 5. $75-$169.50. starscapefestival.com. (SS)

June 4: Half a decade after her first album, the hits just keep pouring out of Rihanna. Her latest monster, “Loud,” yielded not just “S&M,” but “What’s My Name?” her duet with Drake, and “Only Girl (in the World)” which actually won a Grammy for best dance recording. Her duet with Eminem, “Love the Way You Lie” cemented her dominance in the charts. Not one to take risks, she recruited Cee Lo Green, who had his own hit with “Forget You,” to open for her on the inevitable Loud Tour. She performs at 1st Mariner Arena. $ 21.75 - $71.75.

June 11 & 12: Since coming off hiatus in 2009, Phish has stopped at Merriweather Post Pavilion for a pair of shows. This year is no different – the King of All Jam Bands plays there for just $45-$60. (SS)

June 13: When the Decemberists perform at Merriweather, they'll have tough act to follow. Phish will have mellowed out the outdoor amphitheater following their two-night residency. But if anyone can follow the jam band, it's Colin Meloy and his 11-year-old, hyper-literary, hyper-upbeat five piece. $30-40.

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June 15: Can't think of the songs that have been stuck on your head so far this year? Chances are they belong to Katy Perry. The dominant streak that "California Gurls," the first single from her "Teenage Dream" album, began in May 2010 shows no sign of slowing down. Her latest single, "E.T.", continued a fifth straight week at No. 1 in the Billboard 100 as of May 5. And singles, "Teenage Dream" and "Firework," have already become karaoke favorites. Her tour, with Swedish dance queen Robyn, should be a pop music lover's wet dream. She performs at Merriweather Post Pavilion. $35-48.

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June 16: British R&B and soul singer Sade hasn't gone on tour in over a decade. One of the most beautiful voices of the late 80s and 90s, she's most well known for adult contemporary mainstays like "Smooth Operator." New material is rare, but when it does, people eat it up. " Soldier of Love," her newest album, has already gone platinum. To kick off her first global tour, she's picked Baltimore, where she'll perform June 16 at 1st Mariner Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St. 410-347-2020. $117-$171.

June 22: Without a doubt the biggest concert of the summer, U2's 360 tour is significant to Baltimore because it's the only stadium show scheduled so far this year. It's also a momentous occasion because we were this close to getting them last year only to miss out because of a scheduling conflict. Now in its third year, the 360 tour finds the band finally comfortable in the kind of over-the-top production that would intimidate even seasoned veterans. U2 performs at M&T Bank Stadium, 1101 Russell St. $43.80-$280.55.

June 22 - 26: The Roots Festival, which runs June 22 – 26, was convened this year to draw attention to the area in West Baltimore affected by the unsuccessful "Highway to Nowhere" project. But, organizers have put together an excellent line-up of R&B and soul to entertain attendees as they're educated: Talib Kweli, Chuck Brown, the father of go-go, and Grammy award-winner Anthony David. In addition to the concerts, which will take place April 25, there will be workshops and community meetings at churches, community centers in West Baltimore and the Maryland Institute College of Art. Talib Kweli performs June 25 on the corner of Franklin and N. Gilmor Streets. rootsfest2011.org. Admission is free.

July

July 1: Despite all the bad press, all the trials, the fights, R. Kelly remains a huge concert draw. The singer is now touring in support of "Love Letter," a soul-inspired album he released in December. When he performs at 1st Mariner Arena this summer, it will be his first time in the city since 2009, when 92Q regular Paula Campbell opened for him. This time, it will be Keyshia Cole, another tabloid-friendly singer. $117-$171.

July 9: Even two years after releasing "Merriweather Post Pavilion," arguably their breakout album, Animal Collective had not performed at the actual venue in Columbia. That changed in April, when the Maryland natives announced they would play there for a much anticipated show. If arena rock's biggest show of the summer in Baltimore is U2, this is indie rock's. Animal Collective performs at Merriweather Post Pavilion. $35-40.

July 15: The past year has been a good one for country music, which has been rejuvenated by a handful of young stars. There's Jason Aldean, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, and then there's Miranda Lambert, who despite her humble start on a TV singing competition has become a major force on her own. Her last album, "Revolution," won best album of the year at both the Academy of Country Music Awards and at the Country Music Association Awards last year. Miranda Lambert performs at Merriweather Post Pavilion, $40-$55

July 17: Peter Frampton Those long, golden locks may be gone, but Peter Frampton is a better guitarist than he was decades ago when "Frampton Comes Alive" ruled the charts. It's hard to believe, but that album turns 35 this year, and to mark the occasion, Frampton is playing it front to back at Pier Six Pavilion. $25-$75. (SS)

July 19: Categorically speaking, Gang Gang Dance is an experimental band. At some point or another, they've called upbeat noise, or art-rock. But, though their song titles - which sometimes consist of just symbols, might suggest inscrutability - that's only pretend. Dance music is in their DNA. Like TV on the Radio, these four New Yorkers make avant garde music that pop lovers can appreciate, and vice versa. Plus, front-woman Lizzi Bougatsos has more swagger on stage than Mick, Bono and Lil Wayne, a Bougatsos favorite, combined. They'll perform at the Ottobar. $13.

July 31: Who would have thought that after all this time we'd still have Britney to kick around? The teen pop sensation has now been in the limelight for over a decade. And unlike critics predicted, she's accumulated a nice little back catalog of pop-and-dance classics, including her latest, "Till the World Ends," which was made all the more cheesy-delicious when it was remixed with singles by Nicki Minaj, who will open for her on this tour, and Kesha. She performs at the Verizon Center, 601 F St. N.W., Washington, DC. $29.50 – $350.

August

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August 2: While they didn't tour much during their heyday in the '70s, jazz-rockers Steely Dan have made up for it with a series of tours in the past two decades, surrounding themselves with prodigious backing players. They'll perform at Merriweather Post Pavilion. $35-$75. (SS)

August 2 & 3: Despite being only 21, Taylor Swift already seems like a veteran of the business. She has three albums to her name, and scores of awards from every outfit that's physically able to give them out. Her awards have their own Wikipedia page, and they include everyone from the Nickelodeon Australian Kids' Choice Awards to the Grammy Awards, from where she has four. Her latest tour is already her second. She performs at the Verizon Center. $28-$82.50.

August 9: A longtime staple on the indie rock scene, Kings of Leon blew up three years ago with epic-sounding anthems like "Use Somebody." Since then, they've bid farewell to clubs and theaters and been staples on the amphitheater circuit, where those songs sound even bigger. They perform at Jiffy Lube Live, 7800 Cellar Door Drive, Bristow, Va. $30.50-$60.50. (SS)

August 21: There are few pop stars who would get away with a music video that features unicorns making out and James Van Der Beek, but we've come to expect the absurd from Kesha. The singer's videos are as outrageous as her live shows, and she won't disappoint when she plays the Patriot Center (4500 Patriot Circle, Fairfax City, VA) this summer. Her tour is appropriately called "Get Sleazy," the "s" spelled with a dollar sign. It should be a night of unapologetic dance music: LMFAO and Spank Rock, whose rapping half Naeem Juwan is from Baltimore, will open. $49.50.

Ticket information and starting times at available at ticketmaster, missiontix, ticketfly, or venues' own websites. 

Findlocal has a complete list of upcoming events and concerts

Photo: U2 performing in Mexico in April (AFP); Phish fans at Merriweather in 2009 (Baltimore Sun); Rihanna in Paris in May (Getty); Kings of Leon performing in 2009 (Reuters)

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