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The sun is just beginning to set when Jennifer Griggs and her crew pull into the parking lot outside Charlotte’s PNC Music Pavilion. She pops open the tailgate on her SUV and their parking spot quickly transforms into a picnic area surrounded by lawn chairs and coolers filled with cold drinks and snacks. Other show-goers set up camp, and music, laughter, and that friendly electric charge of anticipation and excitement — of being together again, of the return of live musics and events — permeates the scene.
“The whole experience — tailgating with your friends and seeing live music under the sky — is just fun,” Griggs says. “I love being able to be free in a way you can’t when you’re indoors.”
Charlotte’s outdoor music scene is thriving at a variety of venues that offer the opportunity to experience live music, hear diverse musicians — and enjoy it all with a warm breeze. Here’s where to catch a performance.
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Local musicians, DJs, and tacos are on tap, and picnic tables, high tops, and drive-in car slots are available for visitors to reserve at one of Charlotte’s newest outdoor venues, The Music Yard. Here, concert growers nosh on southern California Mexican food from SouthBound next door and sip signature margaritas. Under the cheerful string lights, artificial turf makes a great dance floor and, during the weekdays, serves as a cushy spot for an extensive fitness program featuring yoga, boxing, and dance classes.
“Our shows are amazing, and you get the full concert experience,” says director Preston Abernathy. “Our passionate team puts a lot of effort, love and, energy into the production builds. We love to showcase local talent and partner with collectives like Aurora, Groovy Bone, Girls Room, and MZTERMNDZ.”
Their line-up features all different types of music — electronic funk, reggae, jam, and cover bands — and theme nights like Backyard BBQ and Glitteryard, a Studio 54-inspired disco night.
Water views and music festivals await at scenic Symphony Park. Located near the South Park Mall, this serene park features a grassy field facing a small stage and bandshell that seem to float on the reflecting pond. Host to the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra’s beloved Summer Pops series, Symphony Park is a relaxed, family-friendly venue where concert-goers picnic beneath the sky on blankets and low beach chairs.
Don’t miss the free summer concert series and outdoor movies, which are first-come, first-served.
“The atmosphere is different — more social — when you hear music outside,” says Marie Berk, who lives outside of Charlotte and enjoys venturing to the park for shows in the summer. “We love going to concerts there because we can watch our young girls play while giving them space to run around. It’s always a great spot for my husband and I to enjoy live music and for us all to be together.”
Water views and music festivals await at scenic Symphony Park. photograph by Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority
The Square at Spirit Square Center for Arts and Education
The Square in Uptown is a great place to meet up with friends for free outdoor concerts, movie screenings, open mic nights, and poetry in the heart of the city. This small public plaza is part of the Spirit Square Center for Arts Education which houses the McGlohon Theater, Duke Energy Theater, classrooms, studios, and gallery space.
Grab a fancy takeout meal from nearby gastropub The Cellar at Duckworth’s and bring it to a Sounds on the Square concert. Tables and chairs are available, but you’ll want to arrive early to find a seat. Be sure to take it all in: Thoughtful landscaping and wind-powered, forged-steel sculptures by artist Lyman Whitaker line the square.
PNC Music Pavilion
PNC Music Pavilion in the University City neighborhood is Charlotte’s largest outdoor music venue, hosting large touring bands — Jimmy Buffet, Paul McCartney, Luke Bryan, Dave Matthews, and the Chicks to name a few — and plenty of fans through general admission lawn tickets and numbered seats under the pavilion.
“Normally we’re on the lawn,” Griggs says, who has been to at least half a dozen shows there. “You take your blanket and set up where you can make the space work for your group. And then the show starts and you drink, dance, and have fun with your friends.”
Folks who want to get a little closer can choose one of the ticketed seats under the pavilion. The vibe under the pavilion is still social, but you’ll find more fans who are mostly there for the music. All concerts come with a killer sunset, of course, which drops right behind the stage.
PNC Music Pavilion is Charlotte’s largest outdoor music venue and provides options for general admission lawn seats or ticketed seats under the pavilion. photograph by Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority
Charlotte Metro Credit Union Amphitheatre
The iconic Charlotte skyline acts as a backdrop for the stage at the Charlotte Metro Credit Union Amphitheatre. Formerly known as the Uptown Amphitheatre, this venue offers concert goers general admission lawn tickets, ticketed seats close to the stage, and premium box seats with food and beverage service.
“It’s a really cool space to see a show,” says Mary Carol Wagner, who has ventured to the Amphitheatre to see Snoop Dog, Alabama Shakes, and Rainbow Kitten Surprise, among others. “I like getting a ticketed seat to be near the stage where people really care about the music, but it’s a small venue, so a spot on the lawn still feels like you are really close.”
Concert attendees enjoy easy access to a bar and food on-site, and the amphitheater is part of The AvidXchange Music Factory, which houses other concert venues, a comedy club, bars, and restaurants worth checking out.
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