Summer is the time that music lovers in central Indiana look forward to all year long.

Beloved national acts such as Phish and Bob Dylan will grace the stages large and small around the area. Coldplay and Jimmy Buffett are back after skipping Indianapolis, and annual favorites such as Dave Matthews Band and Luke Bryan will again play their hits to thousands of adoring fans.

But while summer concert season is easy on the ears, it can be devastating on the wallet. Even the cheapest shows can cost $30 or $40, and the best seats at top attractions are going for more than $200.

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Luckily, music lovers can still get their fix in Johnson County without going broke. During the next three months, dozens of free concerts will take place at local parks, businesses and community events. Listen to rock, oldies, country, jazz, funk and bluegrass, some of them nationally known acts, all without shelling out a dime.

So dig out your favorite vintage concert T-shirt, grab your folding chair or blanket, and get ready as the Daily Journal walks you through the best free shows coming to the county.

Toy Factory

Details: 7 to 10 p.m. today, downtown Franklin; 5 to 9 p.m. July 16, Mallow Run Winery, 6964 W. Whiteland Road, Bargersville; 7 to 8:30 p.m. July 21, Greenwood Park Mall

If you like: Dancing, dancing and dancing some more.

Why: Toy Factory has become a staple at southside festivals and events throughout the year, and again will make a number of appearances in Johnson County. Boasting a wide range of instruments and styles, the band is just as comfortable ripping into Van Halen’s “Jump” as going off on Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.”

MLE Band

Details: 6 to 10 p.m. today, downtown Bargersville

If you like: Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves and Shania Twain.

Why: Emily Rittenberry leads this band bearing her name, bringing a warm singing voice along with a winning stage presence to her live performances. Singing and playing guitar, Rittenberry does both popular cover songs as well as original tracks from her debut album, “Songs from the Heart.”

The Sax Guy

Details: 6 to 8 p.m. June 30, July 12 and 21, and Aug. 18 and 23, Vina Villa, 200 N. Madison Ave., Greenwood; 6 to 9 p.m. July 8, Triple Play BBQ, 186 W. Jefferson St., Franklin; 8 to 11 p.m. Aug. 5, Hops & Fire, 1259 State Road 135, Greenwood

If you like: Jazzy riffs and hot horns

Why: Leave it to a little cool jazz to temper the hot summer nights around Johnson County. When Mark Armstrong, also known as the Sax Guy, isn’t performing with local mainstays Tastes Like Chicken, he’s bringing sax-ed up style to local stages. Armstrong has performed and/or recorded with the Temptations, the Drifters, Paul Shaffer and The David Letterman Show Band, and the Platters, among many renowned musicians.

The Doo!

Details: 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. July 2, Mallow Run Winery

If you like: Pretty much any pop song from the last 50 years

Why: Also known as Zanna Doo!, this Indianapolis group is known for their diverse and wide-ranging song list. With nearly 500 songs that they can perform, the band mixes a little bit of Frankie Valli and Marvin Gaye with some Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars.

Love and Theft

Details: 7 to 8:30 p.m. July 14, Greenwood Park Mall, 1251 US 31, at the outdoor pavilion on the north side of the mall.

If you like: Gospel-tinged roots with a modern country sheen.

Why: A contemporary country duo, Stephen Barker Liles and Eric Gunderson have carved out a niche performing fiery, poignant odes to country living. They reached the top of the country charts with their No. 1 hit “Angel Eyes,” and have been nominated for awards from the Academy of County Music and County Music Television.


Details: 7 to 10 p.m. July 15, downtown Franklin

If you like: Rush, Toto, Van Halen and the hard rock sounds of the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Why: This five-piece rock outfit formed in Brownsburg in 2013, and he evolved to canvas central Indiana throughout the year. Like the bands that it covers, JAMBOX relies on precise musicianship and unbridled energy on stage to capture the best classic rock sounds. The band will be the headliner of the Daily Journal’s Franklin Fest.

Blue River Band

Details: 7 p.m. July 20, Johnson County fairgrounds

If you like: Powerhouse country in the vein of Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw

Why: One of the county’s most ubiquitous acts, Greenwood’s Blue River Band has brought its traditional country-rock sound to most of the summer’s biggest events. This year, they’ll be playing the first night of Franklin’s Smoke on the Square celebration and a show at the Johnson County Fair.

The Big 80s

Details: 7 p.m. July 30, Greenwood Amphitheater, 100 Surina Square

If you like: Everything from the Decade of Decadence

Why: Think of your favorite song from the ‘80s. Chances are good that The Big 80s, an Indianapolis-based tribute band, has it in their repertoire. From Bon Jovi to Journey to Cyndi Lauper, the group has distilled the decade’s greatest hits into a one-stop shop of nostalgia. They’ll have you hankering for big hair and parachute pants once again.

Indianapolis Jazz Orchestra

Details: 7 p.m. Aug. 18, Garfield Park Sunken Gardens, 2505 Conservatory Drive, Indianapolis

If you like: Everything about the Big Band era

Why: As the region’s premier repertory large jazz ensemble, the orchestra helps bring alive the canon of the Great American Songbook. From Bobby Darin to Cole Porter to Glenn Miller, the orchestra connects audiences with the music that helped shape American in the early and mid 20th century and are still beloved.

Sounds of Summer

Details: 5 to 9 p.m. Aug. 20, Mallow Run Winery

If you like: The Beach Boys

Why: For generations of music lovers, the catalog of the Beach Boys is tailor-made to the warmer months. This southern Indiana tribute band has tapped into that love, performing a selection of more than 30 hits from the band’s ‘60s heyday of harmony and hangin’ ten.

Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2727.