Picture this: a summer event with your choice of first-come/first-served seating. No parking lot shuttle queues or “parent daycare” zones. No turnstile patdowns. No confiscated cameras, water bottles, umbrellas or Pringles packs. And best of all, no platinum-club pricing levels or service charges. It’s all FREE, so you low-budget Lotharios and daddy-track Don Juans can do your cheap-night-out thing.


The fact that the talent on display would not be out of place at your local wings-and-brewskis watering hole, your cousin’s wedding — or, in at least one case, your grandparents’ first date — is immaterial. It’s Free Concert Season here in the greater Red Bank oRBit, and the keynote sounds of summer are wafting forth from our bucolic parks and seabreeze-kissed beaches to some of the region’s loveliest parking lots. This means that our local municipal governments, the people who normally incur your wrath for not filling in potholes on Waverly Place, are now endeavoring to fill your warm-weather evenings with music.

The slate of sights and sounds at Riverside Gardens Park previews on KaBoom night with a performance by Tim McLoone and kicks off in earnest on July 8 with the first in a series of free late-model movies (the Comcast Jazz in the Park and Songwriters Showcase offerings start up soon thereafter).

In the meantime, there’s plenty of free music in the days to come, at locations orbiting the Jersey Shore’s favorite beach-free destination — so grab the freshly-webbed lawn chairs and the broken-in blankets; enjoy the complimentary sunsets and the prime people-watching opportunities.

Still going strong after many bands-on-the-beach events have washed away, the Sandy Hook Wednesday evening concert series brings sand-in-yer-shorts authenticity and a solid lineup of locals to a setting that, when the elements line up, is pretty hard to beat.

Shore pubcrawl veterans The Cherubs start things off tomorrow at 6p, with Red Bank’s favorite bespectacled bluesman Chuck Lambert painting the Atlantic a deeper blue on June 25. There are two not-to-be-missed shows by Tim McLoone and the Shirleys (July 2 and August 6); plus appearances by Philadelphia Funk Authority (July 9), BethAnne Clayton (July 16), JoBonanno (July 23), Next Generation of Soul (July 30) and the ’60s sounds of the Robert Murdoch Band (August 13). Fave saloon singer Pat Guadagno goes blinking out into the late-summer sun (joined by the Candle Brothers) on August 20, and the Jazz Lobsters bring their bisque-band bop to the August 27 finale. It all goes down at beach area E every Wednesday; additional info (including possible rain dates) can be had right about here.

This Sunday, June 22, sees the return of the annual Sunday evening music series to the gazebo bandstand at the very pleasant municipal harbor in Atlantic Highlands, with a 7p appearance by the Bayshore’s own Highlands Community Singers. This long-running summertime series goes beyond the standard oldies fare — in several cases, even beyond what your grandparents may have considered oldies — becoming a fairly eclectic exploration of traditional music styles, performed by some of the region’s finest practitioners of their quirky craft.

Thus we get not one but two shows by the Happy Days String Band and Mummers (July 13 and August 24); lilting Celtic sounds from the Willie Lynch Band (July 20); old-school kicks by The Ragtimers (August 10) and the Firehouse Polka Band (August 31) and barbershop harmonies with the Chorus of the Atlantic (July 27). There’s a preview (on August 3) of vocal-group viscounts RB Express and their show that comes to Red Bank for a four-week stand in August‚ and, perhaps best of all, a rare local opportunity (on August 17) to see Old-Time Country Hall of Famer Jim Murphy and his Pine Barons, longtime fixtures at bluegrass mecca the Albert Music Hall. All performances happen at the foot of First Avenue and Simon Lake Drive; additional info can be had by calling (732)291-1444, extension 690.

Finally, Middletown Township’s Normandy Park is the scene for a high-profile series that starts June 26 with a concert by “premier show band” The Infernos, and continues every other Thursday through August 21, when The Duprees (featuring original lead vocalist Tommy Petillo) bring their smooth post-doowop harmonies; a sound so timeless they scored hits like “My Own True Love,” “You Belong to Me” and “Have You Heard” well into the mop-top era. Speaking of which, the long-running Beatles tribute act The Mahoney Brothers channels everyone from Elvis, Neil Diamond and Wllie Nelson to the Everly Brothers and the Beach Boys in their July 10 show — while Big Shot (July 24) concentrates on lizard king Billy Joel. The Somers Dream Orchestra, kingpin dance band of the wedding and banquet circuit, bring the party on August 7. All concerts are at 7:00p; park entrance is off Nut Swamp Road near Middletown High School South, and further facts can be found by calling (732)615-2260.

Watch this space for a roundup of events at Riverside Gardens in the days to come — and we’ll see you out there, in the Land of the Free.

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