The summer calendar, which was pitifully empty the last two years because of COVID-19, is loaded with free fun.
Here are my picks of 22 free (and interesting) things to do — concerts, hikes, festivals, puppet shows, history offerings, water fun, movies, culture and more. And they’re all free!
• Musicians Corner is back this summer with free lawn parties on Friday nights and Saturday afternoons through June. These multi-genre kid- and dog-friendly concerts in Centennial Park, where attendees bring chairs or blankets to sit on, feature food trucks, Kidsville activities and lots and lots of music.
• June 11 is Free Fishing Day in Tennessee, and anyone can fish without a license for free in public waters in Tennessee. Children 15 and under can fish for free all week through June 17. Plus there are dozens of fishing day events for youth across the state.
Details: See www.tnwildlife.org for 2022 Kid’s Fishing Events or to find places to fish.
• Summer Shakespeare, the outdoor Nashville Shakespeare Festival, is set for Thursdays through Sundays, Aug. 18-Sept. 11, and Labor Day at OneCITY (at 8 City Blvd. off Charlotte Pike) and Sept. 15-18 at Academy Park (112 Everbright Ave. in Franklin).
This summer the festival will feature August Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean” and Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline” in collaboration with Kennie Playhouse Theatre, a company dedicated to offering professional performance opportunities for Black theater artists.
Patrons bring picnics, blankets and lawn chairs for these shows that usually kick off with a pre-show lecture and concert series. The shows are free, but the Shakespeare Festival suggests a $10 donation, and it offers higher-end packages as a way to support this local, professional theater.
• Metro Parks’ big band dances are returning, with Saturday dances 7-10 p.m. in Centennial Park’s event shelter in June, July and August. The bands hit the stage at 7:30 p.m. with a free dance lesson provided by Dynamic Ballroom and Performing Arts. Dates and bands: June 4, Rory Partin All Star Big Band (rhumba); June 11, Lynn Beal Big Band (rhumba); June 18, Jazz Alliance (cha- cha); June 25, Debbi Bailes Band (cha-cha); July 9, Music City Big Band (swing); July 16, South Jackson Street Band (swing); July 23, Music City Swing (foxtrot); July 30, Merchants of Cool; Aug. 6, Radio Daze (waltz); Aug. 13, Bill Sleeter Band (waltz); Aug. 20, Paul Ross Orchestra (two-step); Aug. 27, Moonlighters Big Band (two-step).
Details: https://www.nashville.gov/departments/parks or call 615-862-8424
• Metro Parks’ Tales at Twilight family programs will take place on the Cumberland Park amphitheater stage 7-8 p.m. on Fridays in July and will feature entertainment for young children. Cumberland Park is at 592 S. First St. on the East Bank. Dates include July 8, Brighter Light Brigade; July 15, Rachel Sumner; July 22, Gnu Tales; and July 29, Bill Crosby and the Bahama Llama Orchestra.
Details: https://www.nashville.gov/departments/parks/events or call 615-862-8424
• The Metro Parks’ Red Caboose Concert Series is a family-friendly entertainment offering from 7 to 9 p.m. on Fridays in June at Red Caboose Park at 684 Colice Jeanne Road in Bellevue. There will be a different band each week, plus a bubble machine for the kiddos. Patrons bring picnics, chairs and blankets. The lineup includes: June 3, San Rafael Band (Latin fusion); June 10, Bryan Cumming Swing Quartet (upbeat jazz and music from the American songbook); June 17, JB & Blue Masala Band (blues, rock and R&B); June 24, Les Kerr and his Bayou Boys (Louisiana-flavored Americana).
Details: https://www.nashville.gov/departments/parks/events or call 615-862-8424
• The City of Brentwood’s 33rd summer concert series at Crockett Park is back with a full musical lineup and a second round of Brentfest. The series includes: June 5, 7 p.m., Monsters of Yacht (with six high school students opening for the band); June 12, Brentwood Academy Singers opening at 6 p.m., followed by the Nashville Symphony at 7 p.m.; June 19, the Bicho Brothers; July 4, 7 p.m., Red White and Boom featuring the Smoking Section Band, followed by fireworks at 9 p.m.; July 23, Brentfest with Rubiks Groove at 7 p.m. and Cruizin Keys dueling pianos opening at 6 p.m. Plus Brentfest offers a beer garden, food trucks and a kids zone starting at 5 p.m.
• “String City: Nashville’s Tradition of Music and Puppetry,” which is a sophisticated puppet program presented by the Nashville Public Library’s Wishing Chair Productions along with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, chronicles the history of country music. It is an hourlong original show featuring more than 90 puppets and is designed for music lovers of all ages — definitely not just a children’s event. String City performances will take place in the Ford Theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame at 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. June 27-July 2 and July 4-9.
• The Nashville Public Library’s Wishing Chair Productions puppetry program also offers Friday and Saturday morning (10:30 and 11:30 a.m.) children’s puppet performances in the children’s theater at the main library at 615 Church St.
“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” based on the humorous Mark Twain story, will take place June 10, 11, 17 and 18. This is recommended for ages 3-10, and the run time is 35 minutes.
“The Stonecutter,” based on a traditional Asian folk tale and featuring Bunraku puppetry, is July 15, 16, 22 and 23. It is recommended for ages 4-10, and the run time is 30 minutes.
“The Tempest,” a kid-friendly adaptation of Shakespeare’s play and featuring Tom Tichenbor’s marionettes, is set for Aug. 12, 13, 19 and 20. It is recommended for ages 4-10. The run time is 30 minutes.
Details on these and other library programs: https://events.library.nashville.org
• The Nashville Symphony’s free community concert series is back, with five June concerts under the stars, all led by assistant conductor Nathan Aspinall. Patrons bring blankets or lawn chairs and enjoy a night of symphony music. Dates include: 7 p.m. June 7 at Antioch Southeast Greenspace; 7:30 p.m. June 8 at Key Park in Lafayette; 7:30 p.m. June 9 at Centennial Park’s Musicians Corner; 7 p.m. June 11 at Cumberland University in Lebanon; and 7 p.m. June 12 at Crockett Park in Brentwood.
• Hands on Nashville pairs volunteers of all ages with all kinds of charitable projects in the community — everything from cleanups to helping with senior programs, youth programs, disaster relief work, thrift store merchandising, food bank sorting, assisting in a community garden and more.
Details: 615-298-1108 or hon.org
• Metro Parks has several community pools (Cleveland, Looby and Rose) that have open swim times in summer and do not charge admission. The regional recreation centers, including Coleman, Hartman, Hadley and East, have indoor pools that are open year-round. See Nashville.gov/parks or call 615-862-8400. Or call individual centers for pool hours.
Plus there is free lake swimming with swim beaches at Montgomery Bell State Park, Rock Island State Park and Long Hunter State Park (Bryant’s Grove). And the fountains at Bicentennial State Capitol Mall State Park, which represent the 31 rivers in Tennessee, are up and running from 8:30 am. to 9 p.m. daily. It’s a great place to splash around.
• The Frist Art Museum, at 919 Broadway, is always free for anyone 18 years old or younger. Adults are $15. The museum and its Martin ArtQuest are open Thursdays through Sundays, offering changing exhibits and hands-on opportunities to create art. There are also free events such as a July showing of the beloved cult classic “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” The showing is in conjunction with the “Knights in Armor” exhibition, which opens July 1 and has lots of fun family activities as well as galleries full of armor for knights and their steeds.
Details: fristartmuseum.com or 615-244-3340
• The Tennessee State Museum, at 1000 Rosa L. Parks Blvd., offers a unique look at Tennessee history, taking visitors from prehistory to modern-day times. The museum, which offers programs like lunch and learns and lectures to storytimes and gallery tours, has a permanent collection, temporary exhibits (“Painting the Smokies: Art Community and the Making of a National Park”) and a children’s gallery that will reopen in late June. It is next to the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park. It is closed on Mondays.
Details: tnmuseum.org or 615-741-2692
• The Tennessee Agricultural Museum’s Farm Fun Days will take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 9 and July 16. The “fun days” include live music, farm animals, local vendors, crafts and demonstrations. The Nashville Puppet Truck will host performances at 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. on both of the “fun days.” The museum is at the Ellington Agricultural Center at 404 Hogan Road.
• Several Middle Tennessee wineries host free concerts through the summer, where patrons bring picnics and lawn chairs to enjoy a night of outdoor music. No reservations are needed, but be advised that the wineries do not allow outside alcoholic beverages.
Arrington Vineyards at 6211 Patton Road in Arrington has “Music in the Vines” outdoor jazz and bluegrass concerts 3-7 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday through November, as well as Food Truck Fridays, also with live music, through October.
Beachaven Winery at 1100 Dunlop Lane in Clarksville offers free live music and food trucks on Fridays at happy hour and Saturday during business hours. The winery also has a popular “Jazz on the Lawn” series, but it now charges $5 admission for adults. 2022 Jazz on the Lawn dates include June 18, Aug. 20 and Oct. 22.
Sumner Crest Winery, 5306 Old Highway 52 in Portland, has 6-9 p.m. Music on the Lawn concerts. Dates include June 25, July 30 and Aug. 27.
Details: sumnercrestwinery.com or 615-325-4086
• The Barnard Seyfert Astronomical Society hosts public star parties where all ages can explore the night sky and learn astronomy from amateur and professional astronomers who bring telescopes to share with newbies. Summer dates include 9-11 p.m. June 11 at Bowie Nature Park in Fairview and 9-11 p.m. Aug. 6 at Edwin Warner Park.
• The 28th annual Movies in the Park features outdoor movies on Thursday nights in June at Elmington Park, 3531 West End Ave. Food trucks, games and other fun start at 5 p.m., and movies start at sundown. The lineup is June 2, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife”; June 9, “The Princess Diaries”; June 16, “Black Widow”; June 23, “Encanto.”
Murfreesboro’s annual Movies Under the Stars, which has been going on since 1947, offers a full summer of outdoor movie fun at various Murfreesboro locations on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through July 25. Movies include “Ghostbusters,” “Sing 2,” “Annie,” “Luca,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “The Incredibles” and “Back to the Future.”
• Sign your children up for free summer bowling at https://www.kidsbowlfree.com. The national program, which features many Midstate alleys (https://www.kidsbowlfree.com/all_centers.php), provides vouchers via email for two free bowling games every day all summer for kids 18 and under. In addition, the Franklin Family Entertainment Center has a free deal for kids through its Incredabowl program. Youth who sign up get a free game of bowling every day through Aug. 31.
• The “Let Freedom Sing Music City” Fourth of July music and fireworks festival is in downtown Nashville. This event will feature a Family Fun Zone and the largest fireworks show in Nashville history, with the pyrotechnics synchronized to a live performance by the Grammy-winning Nashville Symphony. The event has regularly drawn more than 200,000 and a record-breaking 350,000 in 2021.
• Read Ms. Cheap! My column appears weekly in Main Street Nashville and in the Main Street Media newspapers in Middle Tennessee. You can also follow Ms. Cheap on Facebook and on Twitter.
5 free festivals
• The 2022 CMA Festival, which will take place June 9-12, is known for its big-name ticketed nighttime performances, but the fest also offers free daytime activities and live music on stages around downtown Nashville through the weekend. The outdoor stages include the Chevy Riverfront Stage, the Dr Pepper Amp Stage, the Chevy Vibes Stage and the Maui Jim Reverb Stage.
• The RC Moon Pie Festival, which celebrates the “South’s first fast food,” is set for 9 a.m.-5 p.m. June 18 in Bell Buckle, a quaint railroad village just 55 miles from Nashville. The festival includes Moon Pie themed games, crafts, live music, a Moon Pie RC Cola parade, “weird but fun contests” and plenty of samples of the festival namesake treats.
• The American Artisan Festival juried art show and fest in the bandshell area of Centennial Park is back June 17-19, with artist booths, live music, children’s art-making opportunities and food trucks. The festival is free, but festival organizers offer patron passes for special ticketed experiences that take place during the weekend.
• The 16th annual Music City Hot Chicken Festival kicks off at noon July 4 at East Park, 700 Woodland St. in East Nashville. The festival features a firetruck parade and lots of hot chicken samples, as well as live music, kids activities, Yazoo beer and a cooking competition. Proceeds benefit Friends of Shelby Park and Bottoms.
• The Tomato Art Festival is set for Aug. 13-24 in the Five Points area of East Nashville, with all things tomato — parade, art, food and other fun.