If you love boats and you love live music, what could be better than combining the two? Easy answer: combining the two for free. And no matter where you live, you can. There are free concerts—or concerts those landlubbers will have to pay for—which you can hear for free from your boat or yacht. Taking place coast to coast, in harbors, marinas, and on lakefront bandstands, here are a few of the top concert venues by boat for you to consider.
Aquapalooza – Aquapalooza is, of course, the king of all on-the-water concerts. Sort of. Aquapalooza is really a loose collection of in-water parties which often include live music, sometimes in the form of multiple bands. They also include outrageous crowds—one event reportedly drew over 7,000 boats. Aquapaloozas average around 1,500 boats per palooza, so these things are big (really big).
The party series (let’s call a spade a spade) is sponsored by Sea Ray and MarineMax, but that doesn’t mean you need to own a Sea Ray to go. Where’s the next Aquapalooza close to you? Start Googling; there’s no master Aquapalooza website or schedule, so you’ll have to track down local events individually.
Gorge Amphitheatre – This 25,000 seat venue in The Gorge, WA, is set back a bit from the Columbia River, so truth be told, listening in by boat isn’t the best seat in the house. But there are near-by sand bars and calm stretches you can use to hang out and listen as the tunes drift in from afar. To find out who’s playing, check out Live Nation.
Humphrey’s – Humphrey’s By the Bay in San Diego is a favorite for west coast concert-going boaters, but the quality of your view depends on the tide. If it’s in you’re in luck, but if it’s out, you may not be able to see much at all. You’ll also need a very small boat—most waterborne concert-goers arrive in kayaks, dinghies, or small inflatables. You’ll have to weave through the marina and moored boats, and you aren’t allowed to anchor. But drifting around on a small boat is permitted, and you’ll be close enough to get a serious earful. Check out who’s playing: Humphrey’s On the Bay.
Jones Beach Theater – In Wantagh, NY, the Jones Beach Theater draws big bands and big crowds—crowds you won’t have to deal with, since you’ll be on your boat. True, you won’t really be able to see much of what’s going on from your seat on the water, but if you meander up into Zach's Bay your ears will be in for a treat. Plan ahead by visiting the Jones Beach website to find out who’s playing, and when.
Marina Del Rey – LA’s largest marina, which covers a whopping 807 acres and is the largest manmade marina in the United States, is home to over 5,000 boats and yachts. It’s also home to free seasonal weekly concerts on Saturday and Sunday evenings at Fisherman’s Village. The type of music ranges significantly; it may be reggae one evening and jazz the next.
For those who have a taste for the classics, there’s also a Marina Del Rey Summer Concert Series at Burton Chance Park, featuring “Symphonic Thursdays” with the Marina Del Rey Symphony. There are both overnight and four-hour guest docks at Burton Chance Park, available on a first come/first served basis. You can get all the info you need regarding fees and availability from the LA Department of Beaches & Harbors. Visit the Marina Del Rey website for more info on the concert series and to see a listing of all the events.
Newport Jazz & Folk Festivals – Fort Adams State Park, in Newport, RI, is the location for a couple of events that lure boaters in with sweet tunes. The Folk Fest comes first (late) and the Jazz Festival follows in early August. Anchor just off Fort Adams to join in the fun, and you'll have a front row seat of the stage(s) from the water, too. Here's your link to learn more about the Jazz Festival, and here's one to the Folk Festival.
Northerly Island – Chicago boaters can listen to the tunes coming from FirstMerit Bank Pavilion, on Northerly Island (formerly called Charter One Pavilion). This is a major-league venue with seating capacity for 30,000, so some big-name bands can be expected. Anchored in Lake Michigan you won’t get much of a view, but you can hear the music just fine. If you pull into the harbor you can see the bands better, but you’ll have to remain adrift as anchoring here isn’t permitted. And expect to stay at the wheel and pay attention, since there’s plenty of boat traffic. You can find out who’s playing and when by visiting FirstMerit Bank Pavilion.
Pensacola Gulfside Pavilion – Pensacola Beach has a slew of free concerts called Bands on the Beach, and while they are not usually headline acts, there is a great diversity in the type of music from week to week. You’re allowed to pull up, anchor or beach your boat (if the conditions are appropriate), and set out lawn chairs, so get in on the musical action from May through October. Info on upcoming concerts is at Visit Pensacola.
Seabreeze Boulevard, Ft. Lauderdale, FL – Located along the sands of South Florida, you won't find a party that rocks harder than the annual Tortuga Music Festival. This three-day event brings out some of the biggest names in country music—and thousands of their screaming fans who pack every inch of the Ft. Lauderdale beaches. You'll also find dozens of boats—and maybe even a few superyachts—anchored just off shore. We'd be doing a disservice if we failed to mention that the Festival works hand in hand with the Rock The Ocean Foundation to "increase public awareness about the issues impacting the world’s oceans and to support scientific research, education, and ocean conservation initiatives."
Vinoy Waterfront Park – Host to the Tampa Bay Blues Festival in St. Petersburg, FL, Vinoy Waterfront Park is adjacent to North Yacht Basin, which is sometimes called Vinoy Yacht Mooring Field on maps and charts. As we learned in our boats.com 2016 Guide to Concerts By Boat, the tucked-in, protected spot had a new mooring field put in a few years ago, and it’s now operated by the St. Petersburg Municipal Marina. Not to mention, yacht owners will be happy to learn that the nearby Vinoy Club Marina (located adjacent to the Renaissance Vinoy Resort) features an exclusive 74 slip marina, accommodating vessels up to 120 feet.
So, are you ready to rock the boat? With so many places to party, we may have missed your favorite concert venue by boat. Let us know your top spots to drop anchor and listen to the songs of the night on our boats.com Facebook page.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published July 2015 and updated in July 2017.