If you're not headed to Woodstock this summer, you can always pack your picnic basket and try any one of the dozens of outdoor concerts held in the area. You'll get just about the same experience: lots of friendly people sitting on blankets, eating fried chicken and snowballs, grooving to the sounds of Bach, bluegrass or rockabilly.
Centennial Park, Gwynn Oak Park, Lurman Woodland Theatre and Oregon Ridge Park, among others, open their gates to music lovers many summer evenings. Each concert series has its own culture. In Howard County, honking geese from a nearby pond accompany the music. In Baltimore County, the stage at Lurman is set deep in the woods, and the music is almost hushed by the rustling of the trees.
Settings like that are quite romantic. Many a couple has been drawn to the flame of love at an outdoor concert, and many parents have rekindled their romance as their kids run around.
"One of our first dates was to an outdoor concert. That night, Peter cooked and brought the food. The next night, it was my turn, but since his food was so good, we just ate the leftovers," says Melissa Zieve of Cedarcroft. "Two kids later, we still love the music of a summer night."
In addition to their romantic ambience, most summer concerts are free and offer a variety of talent.
Emery Knode, owner of the Appalachian Shoppe in Catonsville, has been booking talent for the Lurman Woodland Theatre for the past two years.
"The talent ranges from family bands to comedians to people trying out new material for their professionals acts," Mr. Knode says. "I think most people come to see what's going on. Especially with the open-mike segment."
But like anything else, there are drawbacks to enjoying music in the great outdoors. Insect repellent is an essential part of the evening. And, in the event of rain or a thunderstorm advisory, most concerts are canceled. But some events are merely postponed, so it's wise to call ahead.
Following is a list of some of the free concert series in the area. Please note, however, that at other times many of these venues do charge for concerts.
Lurman Woodland Theatre, Bloomsbury Avenue and Rolling Road; (410) 887-0959. Just reopened last year, this is one of the most accessible free amphitheaters for those in wheelchairs. It's settled in the woods next to Catonsville High School, and its sound quality is very intimate. There are only a few benches to use, so take blankets. All concerts begin at 6 p.m.
* Big Bertha's Rhythm Kings, June 26
* Windy Ridge, Frontier Justice, July 10
* Trinidad & Tobago, Aug. 7
* McFadden Garcia, Billy Kemp, Aug. 21
Cromwell Valley Park, E. Cromwell Bridge Road; (410) 887-5372; call for free tickets. Located near a grassy field in front of an old stone house beyond a wood bridge, the setting is pure country and just a mile off Interstate 695. All concerts begin at 7 p.m.
* Bob Barrett (big band), July 14
* Jazz Street Station, Aug. 4
* Brassworks, Aug. 18
Heritage Park, Dundalk Avenue to Dunmanway Street; (410) 887-7155. It's Tuesday night, and there's nothing to do. Forget about another night of reruns -- go to Heritage Park, where each Tuesday night brings a variety of music. There's plenty of shade on these 11 acres, and behind the stage, at Dundalk Elementary School, there's a great playground for the children. All concerts begin at 7 p.m.
* The Gospel Lights, July 12
* Pride, July 19
* Nancy Carroll Band, July 26
* McFadden Garcia, Aug. 2
* 229th Army Band, Aug. 9
* Charm City Jazz Giants, Aug. 16
* The Townsmen, Aug. 23
* Chorus of the Chesapeake, Sweet Adelines, Aug. 30
Gwynn Oak Park, 6010 Gwynn Oak Avenue and Park Drive; (410) 887-1354. It doesn't matter how hot it is in the city; at Gwynn Oak Park it's always cool because of the oak trees in this small park. And since these concerts are on Wednesdays, this is a true hump-day buster. All concerts begin at 7:30 p.m.
* Gene Walker (big band), July 13
* Woodlawn High School Band, July 27
* Mickey the Clown, the Kindertwin, Aug. 10
* Trinidad & Tobago, Aug. 24
Oregon Ridge Park, Shawan Road, off Interstate 83; (410) 887-1818. Truly the grandmama and best of all outdoor concert places. Most of the time you need pricey tickets to hear the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra play, but every so often Oregon Ridge is free, and that's a great opportunity. The sound system is excellent. All concerts begin at 7 p.m.
* Baltimore County high school bands, June 30
* Jazz Street Station, July 8
* The George Hipp Band, July 22
* Powerhouse, Night Train, July 29
McDonogh School, Tagart Memorial Chapel, Reisterstown Road to McDonogh Road; (410) 363-0600. Stretch your legs on the lush lawn in front of Tagart Chapel as bells ring out popular tunes and classical music. For the children, there's an excellent playground behind the chapel. Afterward, the small audience is invited to climb up the steeple for a look at those musical bells. All concerts begin at 7 p.m. They take place July 8, July 15, July 22, July 29 and Aug. 5.
Centennial Park, off Route 108, Columbia; (410) 313-4451. You might think with the Olive Garden restaurant as sponsor of this concert series you would have some extraordinary food for sustenance. This is true, although the Olive Garden is not the caterer. Instead other local restaurants will do the honors, cooking barbecue beef, ribs and chicken. All concerts begin at 6 p.m.
* Family night with circus clowns, June 29
* Commodores U.S. Navy Band, July 6
* Columbia Concert Band, July 15
* Rick Farfas & Soul Providers, July 20
* Country Currents, July 27
* Jazz Ambassadors, Aug. 3
* Mama Jama Reggae, Aug. 10
* Renaissance Night, Aug. 17
Harborplace Amphitheater, Harborplace; (410) 332-4191. While there are concerts nearly every day at the harbor, there is one concert series that's out of the ordinary -- progressive, you might say. Called Baltimore Unplugged and set up by WHFS, each Thursday evening it features an alternative rock band with a national reputation. Concerts are from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
* The Greenberry Woods, June 30
* Emmet Swimming, July 7
* Tsunami, July 14
* Lisa Cerbone, July 21
* Burst of Silence, July 28
Westview Neighborhood Park, Chesworth and Gilston Park roads; (410) 887-0962). Near a basketball court, a baseball field, a walking trail and a playground, this is a good park to exercise in and then relax with a summer concert. Concerts begin at 7 p.m., except where noted.
* Night Train, June 23
* Trinidad & Tobago, July 21
* Heart of Maryland Chorus, Aug. 4
C7 * The Kinderman, Storyteller, Aug. 18, at 6:30 p.m.