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How I Made My Own Nearly-Costless Music Festival

Shel Horowitz's Monthly Frugal Fun Tip for August, 2005

Many summers, our family volunteers at a music festival--a wonderful three-day immersion in great music. But lately, our schedules haven't melded with the festivals we've been to in the past.

When I realized that again, this year, we wouldn't be able to go, I started consciously seeking out live music. In just over a month starting in late June, I saw 14 concerts--and paid admission only for two of them, both several hours away from my home. The other 12, all near my house, let me in, legitimately, without paying.

My five-week festival started by winning a pair of radio station tickets to Christine Lavin, one of the funniest folksinger-songwriters around, doing a lot of material I hadn't heard--fresh and funny enough that I purchased her latest CD. A few days later, a fabulous show by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, in an outdoor venue with tickets costing $65 for lawn seating or $75 in chairs at the front. But we ushered, and paid nothing.

Then, the first of our two vacation trips to Canada took us to beautiful Quebec City. It happened that our trip coincided with a fabulous ten-day festival of major acts and local talent. A full-festival pass was $20 Canadian (about $16 US). Unfortunately, our schedules only intersected with a single concert, and there was no single-event admission fee. But the event was a full-length production of the French hit musical Starmania--very popular at our house thanks to a French exchange student who stayed with us a couple of years ago--performed by world-class opera singers backed by a symphony orchestra, at an outdoor concert with a huge crowd and giant-screen video magnification. Since it was about 1/5 the price of a Broadway play, we decided it was worth it (and we were right).

Back at home for two weeks between trips, we packed it in. I ushered four more times: once for the same outdoor concert venue (this time a Crosby, Stills & Nash concert), once for a highly-regarded chamber music series in our area, and twice for the series of sunset concerts held in an 1840 mountaintop resort hotel less than a mile from my house (one of them, a Maine folk duo called Castlebay, good enough that again, I bought the CD). Usually I also usher for a local theater series, but the schedule didn't work out this time.

Also during that time, I won another pair of tickets on the radio, to see British acoustic guitarist John Renbourn and singer Jackie McShee of the 70s folk-rock group Pentangle, and saw three afternoon and one evening concerts (no-charge admission for all) put on by two local music camps.

Then we were off to Canada again. In Toronto, we happened to walk by a free outdoor reggae/African concert (I'm not counting street performers; this was a real concert, with an audience of probably a couple of thousand people at the Harbourview Center). And finally, August 4th, our journey crossed paths with the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival. Again, we could only take in a single concert, but this time, we could buy a single-event ticket for $18 Canadian with an AAA or CAA discount ($14.40 US)--and were treated to one of the most electrifying classical performances I've ever heard (and I've heard quite a few). The National Ensemble played two long pieces, by Suk and Brahms, with such passion and such exquisite musicality!

So...our total cost for this saturated summer of fabulous music was a mere $30.40 US, or an average of $2.17 per adult per show (kids paid less at both Canadian concerts).

And that's a good enough music festival for me!

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