Houston's Best Places to See Free Music This Summer

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Here, in post-boom Houston, we’re still waiting for the other shoe to fall, but odds are it’s a good time to start tucking away small bills. We can’t help you with your repossessed large-screen TVs or the interest rates on your super-truck, not in this forum, at least, but we can help your keep your head in the right place in good times or bad. Whether you are decidedly cheap, alcoholically bidden, down-at-heel, saving up for a new houseboat, or just haven’t decided whether or not you like live music enough to pay for it, this summer you have plenty of choices for music on the free and easy.


Bands and beer distributors use the same side door for loading in and loading out. There’s a crude ecosystem in place between spirit and the dispirited, rock 'n’ blues. The Raven Tower offers Ruckus (June 15), Brian Whelan (June 21) and Buenos Diaz (June 22).The Nightingale Room is almost always free, with early evening sets from local and regional indie rock, hip-hop, Americana, and electronica artists including B L A C K I E (June 16), Night Drive (June 23) and Giant Kitty (July 7), among many others. The Big Top Lounge hosts regular gigs by Nick Gaitan & the Umbrella Man, The Broken Spokes and Peter and James. The Big Easy Social & Pleasure Club has shows from John Egan every Monday night, The Big Easy Quartet every Tuesday night, Luther and the Healers every Thursday night, and so on every night except Fridays and Saturdays, which occasions require a modest admission fee.

Bluesman Tony Vega has a no-cover residency every Wednesday night at the Shakespeare Pub. Over on the East side, Bohemeo’s hosts free jazz (but not free jazz) with Bob Henschen, Keith Karnaky and friends every Monday night, and a Beatles Open Mike every Wednesday. Continental Club hosts regular no-cover happy-hour shows, often featuring cover bands like Beetle (The Beatles), Band On the Run (The Beatles/later McCartney projects), Picture Book (The Beatles, The Who, various classic-rock groups) and Von Hindenburg (Led Zeppelin), as well as periodic freebies from original groups and the popular dance monthly A Fistful of Soul the third Friday of each month (returns June 17). Additionally, bars like re:HAB Bar on the Bayou, MKT BAR and House of Blues' Crossroads room all offer regular no-cover shows, often around happy hour, featuring local and regional acts from all over the spectrum of Americana, blues, rock, country and the rest.

Just about sundown, bats emerge from their Internet caves and begin their nightly search for pleasure. Happily, all one needs to do is watch the Web and follow them to their darkened lairs, whether Notsuoh or AvantGarden, where winged creatures practice amplified echolocation on the free and cheap. This Friday, June 10, for example, Notsuoh hosts the Houston installment of the International Noise Conference, featuring noise legend Rat Bastard’s Laundry Room Squelchers, Concrete Violin, Cop Warmth, Peiiste and other harbingers of uneasy listening, with no cover. June 22, Nots has another notable free show from Brother Dege, whose Resonator-birthed roots music was featured in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. AvantGarden has a Sunday night karaoke party and a regular Tuesday night open-mike, if you’re feeling feisty.


Record stores have a hidden agenda. They want to keep music in circulation, and will stop at nothing to maintain their filthy-rich lifestyles. To this end, they’ll often lure in bands of all stripes — touring bands, local bands, bands with records to sell, bands with books to sign, bands with outstretched hands and dangerously empty gas tanks — to perform free shows on-site. Cactus Music keeps the busiest schedule of in-stores; this Saturday, June 11, is the acid garage-punk (as in hydrochloric) of The Wiggins, followed by indie-electro duo Catch Fever pushing recent EP You Are All You Need (3 p.m.). On June 18 they’ve got Latina blues sensation Evelyn Rubio (1 p.m.), immediately followed at 3 p.m. by indie-rockers Young Girls. Americana artist Libby Koch pops in on June 25 (1 p.m.). On June 27, Cactus hosts New Madrid (from Georgia, not Spain) at 5:30 p.m., and on July 30 is Henry Darragh’s jazz sextet (1 p.m.)  Also, be sure to check out Vinal Edge, Sound Exchange, Heights Vinyl, Deep End Records and the rest of our leading independent record stores. Instores, like a lot of free events, have a way of popping up almost unannounced.


Cultural organizations like Discovery Green, Miller Outdoor Theatre and Musiqa have a mission to present interesting music programs to the public, often free of charge. Additionally, museums are usually crawling with free events. There’s a lot to take in, from outsider music to big names in funk and jazz, to international programming or more traditional symphonic and orchestral fare. Upcoming summer highlights include Maceo Parker at Miller Outdoor’s Juneteenth Celebration (June 19), as well as Miller's July 4 celebration featuring the Houston Symphony; Discovery Green's entire Thursday-night concert series (listings here) and "As Essential As Dreams" with Lonnie Holley (June 24); and local post-punk paragons MyDolls at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (July 28).


AVANTGARDEN: 411 Westheimer, avantgardenhouston.com
THE BIG EASY SOCIAL & PLEASURE CLUB: 5731 Kirby, thebigeasyblues.com
BIG TOP LOUNGE: 3714 Main, continentalclub.com/bigtop
BOHEMEO'S: 708 Telephone, bohemeos.com
CACTUS MUSIC: 2110 Portsmouth, cactusmusictx.com
CONTINENTAL CLUB: 3700 Main, continentalclub.com/houston
DISCOVERY GREEN: 1515 McKinney, discoverygreen.com
HOUSE OF BLUES/CROSSROADS STAGE: 1204 Caroline, hob.com/houston
MILLER OUTDOOR THEATRE: 6000 Hermann Park Dr., milleroutdoortheatre.com
MKT Bar: 1001 Austin, mktbar.com
MUSIQA: musiqahouston.org
THE NIGHTINGALE ROOM: 308 Main, nightingaleroom.com
NOTSUOH: 314 Main, notsuoh.com
RE:HAB BAR ON THE BAYOU: 1658 Enid, rehabar.com
SHAKESPEARE PUB: 14129 Memorial, shakespearepub.net

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