Freedom summer: The best free pop music

By David Malachowski

When it comes to music, summertime is when heavy hitters go on tour to perform at large venues for the masses.

You can drop a whopping $353 for Thursday’s Andrea Bocelli concert at Times Union Center. That is the top ticket price. But, hey, you also get Fantasia Barrino and even the hometown singing sensations, Albany Pro Musica. Tickets for mere mortals start at $58, by the way.
By comparison, the top price for next Wednesday’s Fleetwood Mac show (also at Times Union Center): $122 (plus fees, etc., etc.).

Some of the most expensive tickets this summer, though, are in the special VIP packages for the Sept. 5 Maroon 5 show at Saratoga Performing Arts Center. What does a VIP get? In addition to prime seating in the first 10 rows, the ticket-buyer gets goodies (such as a gift bag and T-shirt) and, on the upper end, a pre-show reception. Top ticket price? $500.

Summertime, however, is also when a spate of free shows fill public parks across the greater Capital Region. So here, for the budget-conscious rocker, are some recommendations of the best in music you can experience for the low, low price of free.

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Dukes (Times Union Archive photo)

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Dukes (Times Union Archive photo)

Southside Johnny
& The Asbury Jukes
If Bruce Springsteen is the conscience and Bon Jovi the look, then Southside Johnny is the heart of Jersey Shore music. The lesser known of the three, Neptune, N.J., native John Lyon is considered the grandfather of the New Jersey sound. Jon Bon Jovi has said that Southside is his reason for singing. Songs like “I Don’t Want To Go Home,” “Fever” “Hearts of Stone” and “Talk To Me” helped define the scene, and though the soulful horn-driven sound was eclipsed by his more famous brethren, it still has a sense of romance and mystery that is always a joy to hear. The Troy River Street Festival headliner performs after festivities start at 10:45 a.m. with funky Jacamo, reunited Troy rockers Emerald City and one-man band Rich Ortiz, while the local stage holds chanteuse Erin Harkes, blues duo Holly & Evan and intriguing songstress Molly Durin. 4 p.m. SaturdayJune 15, River Street Festival, River Street from Fulton to Congress Street, Troy, http:.//

The Tichy Boys

The Tichy Boys
Free music is always a beautiful thing, and this setting in Lake George overlooking the water is so gorgeous. You could just sit peacefully and look out at the water in silence and it would be wonderful, but add in fine rockin’ music, and you’ve won the pre-verbal jackpot. The Tichy Boys are the rare father-son musical team; dad John was a founding member of the legendary Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen of “Hot Rod Lincoln” fame. Son Graham was raised on rockabilly, and exposed to many of the greats via both the living room stereo and the elder’s visiting musical colleagues. So his guitar skills are superb, and play off his dad’s jangly guitar rhythms and passionate singing to absolute perfection. 7:30 p.m. July 17, Summer Concerts in Shepard’s Park, Shepard Park, Canada St., Lake George 668-2616;

Doug Deming &
 Dennis Gruenling
 with the Jewel Tones
This flashy duo will bring their old school blues to the riverside, and this is as pure as it gets. The style is what Honey Boy Edwards would call “Low down, dirty, cryin’ shame blues,” and we can attest to that. Deming plays a big, old Gibson hollow-body guitar with traditional, timeless technique and the amazing Gruenling — simply one of the best harmonica players in the country — who has played alongside peers like James Cotton and Kim Wilson, is certainly one of the best, if not the best harp player of his generation. The two are a match made in blues heaven that will be pure pleasure echoing across the Hudson. 7 p.m. July 26, Athens Summer Concert Series, Riverfront Park, Water Street, Athens. 947-9022

George Clinton
 & Parliament Funkadelic

George Clinton

George Clinton

The legendary George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic will give up the funk, and bring the mothership to the Corning Preserve stage. One of the architects of funk, the colorful and charismatic Clinton steered Parliament and Funkadelic and other offshoots to great, albeit freaky, heights (they are now members of the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame and have three platinum albums) at the same time serving as a career launching pad for members Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell and others. The 71-year-old Clinton started as a teen in New Jersey with the doo-wop group The Parliaments, which eventually evolved into Parliament Funkadelic, as they injected the rock influences of peers Jimi Hendrix and Cream. A rambling collective of over a dozen musicians (often including Woodstock’s Michael “Clip” Payne), Parliament Funkadelic is always in the mood for a loose, unpredictable jam. The live shows are a perfect blend of musical mayhem and controlled chaos, dozens of musicians coming and going, but the groove never ends. Albany’s own Funk Evolution, featuring saxman Stephen “Rocco” Christman, open the show, and you know what time that is … 5 p.m. July 27, Alive at 5, Corning Preserve, Albany. 434-2032;

Michael Benedict & Bopitude
If jazz is your thing, head to Jay Street in Schenectady where local heroes Michael Benedict & Bopitude will be making their magic. The band features leader Benedict on drums, Bruce Barth (piano), Chris Pasin (trumpet), Brian Patneaude (tenor sax) and Mike Lawrence (bass). Bopitude’s brand of swinging hard bop is world-class, as is the level of the musicians involved. The soloists are enticing and the grooves wondrous, but don’t take our word for it, check out the YouTube video for “Moanin.’” Noon, Aug. 22, Jazz on Jay, Jay Street, Schenectady (Rain site: Robb Alley at Proctor’s) 382-3884, Ext 114; https://www.

Also notable:

  • The beloved Hair of the Dog — always a fun time — at Freedom Park 7 p.m. June 19, Freedom Park, Scotia.
  • The always amazing Railbird featuring Sarah Pedinotti at the Skidmore College Upbeat on the Roof series, 7 p.m. July 5, Tang Museum, Skidmore College, 825 North Broadway, Saratoga Springs.
  • Two-step to country night at Alive at 5 featuring Skeeter Creek and Whiskey City, 5 p.m. Aug. 8 Corning Preserve, Albany.
  • Rockabilly time with Mark Gamsjager and the Lustre Kings, 7 p.m. Aug. 14, Green Island Concert Series, 20 Clinton St., Green Island.
  • The long-running, always-diverse Music Haven Concert series brings singer/guitarist Vieux Farka Toure from Mali, 7 p.m. July 7, Central Park, Schenectady.
  • Music in The Park brings Woodstock’s Professor Louie & The Crowmatix to the Stony Creek Town Park, 7 p.m. July 30, corner of Lanfear and Harrisburg Roads, Stony Creek.
  • See original British Invasion stars The Zombies at the Empire State Plaza, 5 p.m. June 26
  • You can go rock with the “Secret Agent Man” himself, Johnny Rivers at the Fourth of July Celebration at Empire State Plaza, Albany
  • Rockin’ The River in Troy feature local favorites Funk Evolution, 5 p.m. July 10, Riverfront Park Amphitheatre, Troy
  • Possibly saving the best for last, don’t miss the Tri-County Banjo Band (over a dozen banjo players in matching shirts! Google or YouTube them, please). 6 p.m. July 2, Schodack Town Park, Schodack.

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