Free Music Options Abound in Lincoln Year Round

by Pamela S. Thompson

Much of the appeal of Lincoln’s free musical offerings is the wide range of sounds available at a host of different, mainly outdoor venues. The following is a brief list of some of the most fun and fashionable concerts offered at no charge year round.

The Lincoln Municipal Band is Nebraska’s only professional wind ensemble. Since 1911, the LMB has presented an annual series of free Sunday evening concerts during July and August in Antelope Park, making it Nebraska’s oldest professional music organization.

These free concerts are the most popular events of the Lincoln Parks and Recreation summer performance series and boast regular crowds of over 1,500 citizens from Lincoln and surrounding communities. The LMB presents its concerts in a traditional turn of the 20th century concert format that includes overtures, marches, pops music, instrumental soloists, and guest vocalists.

Thematic titles and corresponding music create added variety throughout the summer including themes such as tributes to veterans, law enforcement and teachers, as well as collaborative efforts with the Lincoln Children’s Museum, local car clubs and senior citizens’ groups.

Since 1993, the LMB has presented free indoor concerts at O’Donnell Auditorium on the campus of Nebraska Wesleyan University. One of these concerts features the John Shildneck Young Artist Competition Winner. John Shildneck, a past band conductor, began a tradition of inviting a high school student to solo with the band, to gain experience playing in front of a large audience and performing with professional musicians. Keeping with this spirit, a talented young musician from Nebraska is chosen by audition to perform as the instrumental soloist for this concert.

For over 20 years, great jazz and great outdoors have been the theme of Jazz in June, sponsored by the Sheldon Museum of Art. The concerts take place every Tuesday evening in June on the lawn west of the famed Philip Johnson-designed museum on the downtown campus of the University of Nebraska. Noted jazz musicians from around the country have played before huge crowds who come armed with blankets, lawn chairs and picnic baskets to enjoy a sublime summer Lincoln tradition.

In recent years, the horseshoe area in front of the Lied Center of Performing Arts and the Temple Theatre building has hosted an outdoor market featuring nearly 25 local food and drink vendors selling pre-performance treats. Fountain Frolics at the Nebraska Union are offered every Thursday from early June through early August, on the north side of the Nebraska Union at 14th and R Streets on the University of Nebraska’s downtown campus.

The concerts will feature free hour-long musical performances by local musicians, including Broad Appeal, Tupelo Springfield, The Resonators, Lightning Bugs, Jumpin Kate, Nebraska Jazz Combo, Upstairs Blues Band and Skylark, always offering some type of sound for every musical taste.

The UNL Dairy Store provides a lunch of hot dogs, chips, soda and their very own ice cream.

The University Program Council, who sponsor this event, is a student organization that provides diverse, educational and entertaining events that enhance the UNL community. Music & Mozzarella at the Lincoln Children’s Museum kicks off a free summer concert series at the Lincoln Children’s Museum located in downtown Lincoln at 1420 P Street.

Held every Thursday through July 19 (except July 5), families are invited to enjoy kid-oriented entertainment along with pizza provided by Sam & Louie’s. They begin serving at 5 p.m. and the concerts begin at 6 p.m. These include favorite children’s performance groups like Mr. Stinky Feet (aka Jim Cosgrove of Kansas City, Mo.); Dino O’Dell of Kansas City, Mo.; The Doo-Dads, a kid-cool rock ’n’ roll band composed of four Kansas City, Mo., fathers; The Littleague, a positive children’s hip-hop group from Denver; The String Beans, the popular Lincoln group; and Mike Mennard, Lincoln’s own wacky children’s poet, songwriter and musician.

The Lincoln Community Foundation Garden Performance Series (LCFGPS) is a free performance series Wednesdays from noon to 1 p.m. May through August. Located in the beautiful Lincoln Community Foundation Garden, the series has a 27-year history of bringing a variety of free performances by local bands and dance troupes to downtown Lincoln during the summer. This concert series lineup will again entertain audiences of all ages as they bask in the warmth and sun of summer over the lunch hour. The Lincoln Community Foundation Garden is located at 1415 N Street.

The Haymarket Historic Farmers’ Market offers free performances by local groups ranging from bluegrass to fusion and rock to classical in Iron Horse Park at 7th and Q Streets from 9 – 11 a.m. every Saturday morning from early May to the end of June. Shoppers sipping coffee and sampling baked treats, lugging bags of freshly grown produced enjoy a break in the park to hear the sounds of Sand Creek Bluegrass Gospel, LLC, Barger/Keefe & Piper, ZanZoa Jazz and Swing Fever as well as watch the aerobic antics of Club Kicks and the comic tricks of Calliope Clown Alley #40.

The Stransky Park Summer Concert Series held in a beautifully landscaped pocket park at S. 17th Street and Harrison Avenue in south Lincoln has grown in scope since it began five years ago. This past summer’s line up was impressive and included popular local bands such as PANgea—Steel Drum Orchestra; Darryl White’s jazz trumpet; rockabilly by the Mezcal Brothers; Mac McCune’s dance band jazz; the cool country sounds of Lloyd McCarter & The Honky Tonk Revival; bluegrass veterans Toasted Ponies; Blue Note jazz singer Jackie Allen; the Latin, Rumba, Flamenco, Fusion sounds of Jarana; local female songbird trio Baby Needs Shoes; and the multi-instrument Celtic Folk of Ellis Island.

Lincoln’s burgeoning music scene is proof that the Capitol City is truly on the verge of becoming the music capitol of Nebraska for music lovers of all ages.

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