There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but there is such a thing as a free concert. Sometimes it seems the music itself is the least important thing; what people tend to enjoy most is the picnic on the grass before or during the concert, the fresh air, the people-watching and the sense of community that can be hard to find.
This summer there's a tremendous variety of free concerts from Santa Barbara to San Diego. All are outdoors and most locations feature a series of concerts throughout the summer with several offering refreshments and entertainment, crafts booths and fireworks in addition to the music. Unless otherwise noted, dogs, alcohol and barbecues are not allowed in the concert areas.
Sunday Concerts in the Park, Alameda Park, Micheltorena and Santa Barbara streets, Santa Barbara, (805) 963-0611.
The 3-4 p.m. concerts will feature a wide variety of music: Sunday, Kim Robertson, Celtic harp; July 20, Kama'aina Serenaders, Hawaiian music; July 27, Michael Frey and Friends, guitarist and band; Aug. 3, Salt on the Rug, Irish traditional music, and Aug. 17, Jungle Payne and the Blue Sky Band. Come early and picnic in the park.
Mini-Concerts at De la Guerra Plaza, State and Santa Barbara streets in front of City Hall, Santa Barbara, (805) 963-0611, Ext. 331.
Visitors can take a break on the lawn of De la Guerra Plaza every fair-weather Friday from12:15 to 12:45 p.m. Scheduled concerts: Friday, Michael Frey; July 18, Stephen Liston and Robert Perales, and July 25, Phil Salazar Band.
Camarillo City Hall Park's Outdoor Pavilion, Carmen and Paseo drives, Camarillo, (805) 482-8138.
Sponsored by the Camarillo Arts Council, the 4 p.m. concert series includes: July 27, a community talent show; Aug. 16 and 17, a bluegrass and country festival, and Sept. 21, a Dixieland orchestra.
Conejo Community Center, Hendrix and Dover streets, Thousand Oaks, (805) 499-4355.
The 3 p.m. concerts will include: July 27, Blue Grass Banjoree, featuring the Good Old Persons; Aug. 17, Richie Cole and Alto Madness, and Sept. 1, the Conejo Pops Orchestra playing American music. Refreshments will be available. Barbecues OK.
Warner Park, 5800 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills, (818) 704-1358.
A weekly Sunday-evening series from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. sponsored by the Valley Cultural Center and Warner Park Corp. The concert schedule: Sunday, Don Christlieb and Friends and the Zena Bethune Ballet Theatredance; July 20, the Tommy Newsom Orchestra; July 27, Pedro Rey Y Su Mariachis Los Galleros, plus Ballet Mexicapan; Aug. 3, the Louie Bellson Big Band Explosion; Aug. 10, Murray Korda and the Monseigneur Strings, plus Kids of the Century; Aug. 17, the Prairie Nights and the Flatland Cloggers; Aug. 24, the Capp-Pierce Juggernauts with the Jitterbugs, and Aug. 31, the Pete Christlieb Jazz Quartet. Beer and wine OK.
The 10th Annual Simon Rodia Watts Towers Music and Arts Festival, 1727 East 107th St., Los Angeles, (213) 569-8181.
Sixteen jazz, gospel and blues groups will perform July 26 and 27 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on two stages. (Some chairs will be available to the audience.) Food (including beer), crafts and artwork will be for sale; free parking with shuttle at Markham Junior High School, a few blocks from the Watts Towers. Saturday: Etta James; Roger Hamilton Spotts Big Band; Billy Higgins Quintet and Jazz Giants featuring Harry (Sweets) Edison, Jimmy Rowles, Red Callender and Tootie Heats. Sunday: Etta James, Johnny Otis, Dorothy Donegan and Friends, Donald Byrd and Friends, Taj Mahal and Gospel Roots featuring Charles Williams and the Clara Ward Singers with guests Hank Ballard and the Midnighters. Dogs on leash OK.
Concerts in the Park, Polliwog Park, 1600 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Manhattan Beach, (213) 545-5621.
The 5:30-7 p.m. concerts will feature: Sunday, the DooWah Riders, country music; July 20, the Juggernaut 19-Piece Jazz Band; July 27, Hot Off the Press, bluegrass; Aug. 3, Horace Heidt Jr. Orchestra and His Musical Knights, with the Modernaires, and Aug. 10, the Air Force Show Band of the Golden West, playing popular patriotic music. Bring a picnic and blankets or beach chairs.
Concerts in the Park, Aldrich Park, University of California, Irvine campus, Irvine, (714) 720-3463 or (714) 856-5252.
A Thursday-evening "Concerts Under the Stars" series is sponsored by the Irvine Company in conjunction with the city of Irvine and UCI. Pre-concert entertainment by local groups begins at 6 p.m. with the main programs starting at 8 p.m. The bowl-shaped 28-acre park accommodates up to 10,000 people. The schedule includes: tonight, Tex Beneke and his Orchestra, and Diane Schuur; July 17, Woody Herman and his Young Thundering Herd, and the Ritz; July 24, Mel Torme; July 31, Sarah Vaughan; Aug. 7, Al Hirt, and Aug. 14, Ray Charles. Bring a picnic and enjoy the stars.
San Diego's Embarcadero Marina Park, behind Harbor House on Harbor Drive, adjacent to Seaport Village, San Diego Bay, (619) 699-4200.