Philadelphia Outdoor Music Guide

Roger Waters brings his stadium-scale version of rock theater known as "The Wall" to Citizens Bank Park on July 14.
Roger Waters brings his stadium-scale version of rock theater known as "The Wall" to Citizens Bank Park on July 14.
Posted: July 06, 2012

WHILE the outdoor summer concert season starts up in May, many of us aren't in the mood to get out and party till July — when school's out, the workload gets lighter and vacation time rolls around. And this summer, the concert pickings are so good and plentiful, we've been forced to boil down our "best-of" selection to a dozen shows and destinations, thereby allowing us to slide in some multiple night 'n' day entries.

Showgoers — start your engines!

Drive a little, groove a lot

When the concert setting's right — wide open and leafy green — you can't beat the superior sound and (otherwise) good vibrations of a show staged in the great outdoors. That's why we prefer the cheap outside seats at the Mann and Susquehanna Bank Center to those inside the "shed" and always relish the clear sound at the Philadelphia Folk Festival.

It's also why we recommend you cruise on down to Kennett Square to partake of a show or two on the Open Air Stage at Longwood Gardens — the most intimate and charming outdoor concert venue in the area. Some of the most intriguing events — like that with the brass-funked, North Indian Bhangra-style Red Baraat (July 14) and Hawaiian slack key guitar master Keola Beamer (Aug. 17) are free with garden admission (which runs from $11 for students to $25 for adults). More are ticketed events (most priced $35 to $75) and include Broadway music diva Barbara Cook on Saturday, the "straight ahead" jazz attack of the new Pat Metheny Unity Band (Aug. 9) and country crooner Vince Gill (Aug. 15), to name-drop just a few.

Longwood Gardens, Route 1, Kennett Square, 610-388-1000, longwoodgardens.com.

Dell-lites

What's not to love about the well-plotted Dell Music Center summer season? Start with a steady stream of shows happening on consecutive Thursday evenings at 7 p.m. — making Dell nights easy to remember and a fine way to jump-start the weekends. And how about the affordable ticket prices ranging from $25 to $40 a night, or $200-$300 for the entire eight-concert series (bundles available until next Wednesday). The season begins July 12 with a contemporary adult bill of "American Idol" winner Fantasia and special guests Raheem DeVaughn & Avant. We're also shouting hallelujah for the gospel night (Aug. 2) headed by The Clark Sisters, a classy jazz bill of George Benson, Boney James and Pamela "Saxtress" Williams (Aug. 9), pop soul crossover Robin Thicke with Chrisette Michele and Leah Smith (Aug. 16) and a big blast of rock 'n's funk excitement with War, George Clinton, Dazz Band, Ohio Players and Barkays on Aug. 30.

Dell Music Center, 33rd and Ridge Avenue, 215-685-9566., mydelleast.com.

Spirit Raiser

Matisyahu first made his mark with surprisingly apt spirit/tonal connections between Rastafarian reggae, Hassidic chanting, hip-hop and jam-band music. Now on his new "Spark Seeker" album, Mati's gone global (love the Indian raga beats) and electronic on us, too. How he pulls it off live remains a mystery fans can soon unravel, for free, as the artist delivers a Philly's Big Night Out show outside.

Xfinity Live!, 1100 Pattison Ave., 8 p.m. July 14. No tickets necessary, though you must be 21-plus to attend. xfinitylive.com.

Building ‘The Wall'

So you think you've seen Roger Waters' epic "The Wall"? Think again, says the veteran Pink Floyd and solo star. "The outdoor version which we developed for South America and which is so much bigger than the arena shows illuminates the piece in ways we can't and couldn't do indoors," he shared in a recent chat with the Los Angeles Times. "It's a new concept of how to produce rock 'n' theater on a great big football field. We have technology that's so profoundly superior to what we had 30 years ago. You can be 200 yards from the stage and still be completely engaged with what you're seeing." And while the 1980 version was largely a polemic about the angst of a solitary rock star, the new multimedia incarnation "developed into being much more an international polemic ... much more about everybody else and about what's going on in politics, communication and all the stuff I care so deeply about."

Citizens Bank Park, July 14, 8:45 p.m. $35-$249, 800-298-4200, www.comcastTIX.com.

Really big festival

The 2012 XPoNential Music Festival happening July 20-22 is "bigger and better than ever (before)" touts sponsors at noncommercial WXPN radio. We agree. Besides their usual two stages at the Camden waterfront's Wiggins Park, this year's fest is linked at the adult-rockin'-hip to evening shows Live Nation is staging downstream at the Susquehanna Bank Center. Buy a weekend pass for the Wiggins lineup — including Dawes, Rhett Miller & The Serial Lady Killers, J.D. Souther, John Wesley Harding's Cabinet of Wonders, War on Drugs and The Hold Steady. You then also gain a free lawn admission to the July 21 show at Susquehanna with Dr. Dog, Avett Brothers and Wilco and on Sunday with Field Report, Delta Spirit and show-topping Counting Crows. Another big difference with this year's XPoNential — the Wiggins Park stages only stay lit late on Friday (July 20) — capping the evening with the soul-sational JC Brooks and exotic Ozomatli. Buyer's alert — an early bird discounted deal on a three-day pass — $45 for XPN members, $90 for the general public — runs out Monday at midnight.

Wiggins Park, Camden waterfront, July 20-July 22, xpn.org.

Philly soultacular

Here's another not-to-be-missed urban adult package, heavy on local heroes. Frankie Beverly brings on the quiet storm vibes with Maze. Patti LaBelle turns up the heat. And The O'Jays ride the "Love Train." Also save some for Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, reasserting his local connection with memorable hits he wrote for Boyz II Men before they decided to be "songwriters," too.

Mann Center for the Performing Arts, 52nd and Parkside Avenue, July 27, 6 p.m. $39.75-$125.75, 215-893-1999, manncenter.org.

Soundtrack for a summer night

Almost everything that Iceland's haunting Sigur Ros plays and sings sounds like it could be the scoring for a classy art film. So we're expecting lots of tingling vibes and slow-motion pans as they pour on the atmosphere in a new and sure to sound good outdoor venue — the standing room only Skyline Stage. It's on a field above and overlooking the Mann Music Center.

Mann Music Center, 52nd and Parkside Avenue, 8 p.m. July 29 and July 30, $36, 215-893-1999, manncenter.org.

The Last Summer on Earth Tour

Funny title, don't you think? Hyperbolic, nonsensical and just a little scary, too. Sure fits the talent lineup for this never to be repeated (maybe) bill of Canadian clownabouts Barenaked Ladies, (partly) Princeton exports Blues Traveler, the oft doofy (when not seriously bluesy) Big Head Todd & The Monsters and ever wry Cracker.

River Stage at Great Plaza, Columbus Boulevard at foot of Chestnut Street, Aug. 15, 6 p.m., $55-$60, 800-745-3000, livenation.com.

Back to the farm

Fewer acts but bigger names, each performing longer sets. That's the evolutionary trend at this year's 51st annual Philadelphia Folk Festival, happening Aug. 17-19 on the Old Pool Farm in Upper Salford township. We're particularly impressed by the most rockin' ever (for this folk fest) Saturday bill of fare — a day-into-nighttime musical marathon starring Little Feat, John Hiatt and the Combo, Steve Earle and the Dukes, Lucinda Williams and rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson. Also making it out for the weekend are Mary Chapin Carpenter, Paul Thorn, Voices of the Wetlands All-Stars, Red Clay Ramblers, Lori McKenna, Mark Erelli, Mary Gauthier, the Holmes Brothers and recently added Sunday show-closer Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, who killed at the fest last year. Individual daily tickets start at $58.50 with that 10 percent advance pricing discount if you buy by Aug. 1.

Old Pool Farm, Upper Salford Township near Schwenksville, 800-556-FOLK, folkfest.org.

Budweiser Made in America

While most contemporary radio stations lock into one or two styles of music, this two-day outdoor mega-show curated by (and starring) Jay Z argues the point that music fans like all kinds of good stuff. That goes from the rumbling angst rock of co-stars Pearl Jam to the quavery, shivery soul of Janelle Monae to the buzz-bombing dance music of master mixer Skrillex. Also notable — Philly rap 'n' soul breakout Santigold, the ever creamy/progressive D'Angelo, hip-hop posse Maybach Music (featuring Rick Ross, Wale and Meek Mill), noted indie bands Dirty Projectors, Passion Pit and The Knocks and a seasoned role model X.

Benjamin Franklin Parkway, noon Sept. 1 and Sept. 2, $135 (two-day pass), 800-745-3000, BudweiserMadeInAmerica.com.

The Boss is back

Listening to Bruce Springsteen's latest, "Wrecking Ball," it's clear this anthemic, big picture, rock 'n' soul was built for stadium play. Nothing subtle and all super tight, with bold backup singers and a massed horn section — also suggesting no one player could possibly replace the late great Clarence Clemons. And lucky you for procrastinating about buying tickets. The promoter recently released a mess of down-front general-admission tickets to Springsteen's Philly stadium shows. Sure, you'll be standing (and proving it) all night. But so will all the reserved-seat ticket holders behind you.

Citizens Bank Park, Pattison Avenue at Broad Street, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 2, and Sept. 3, $68-$98, 800-298-4200, comcasttix.com.

Ed's turn

Every teen generation deserves a sensitive singer/songwriter talent like Ed Sheeran. A good soul who empathizes with insecurities and encourages discovery, who leads you through the darkness and into the light. We've been digging the British-born Sheeran via his aptly named breakthrough album "Songs of Life & Hope" and follow-up "+," both hinting some (never obviously) of role models like Cat Stevens and Paul Simon. The guy's blowing up so big his instantly sold out Sept. 23 show at TLA has now been moved outdoors.

River Stage on the Great Plaza at Penn's Landing, Columbus Boulevard, 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. $23, $20, 800-745-3000, livenation.com.

Contact Jonathan Takiff at 215-854-5960 or takiffj@phillynews.com. Read his blog at philly.com/gizmoguy.

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