Stage is alive with the sound of (free) music

You know what’s fun? Going to a concert.

If it’s an outdoor venue and the weather is nice, nothing’s better than sitting back and listening to some great music.

You know what’s not fun? Paying for it.

Thousands are expected to take advantage of the Florida Orchestra’s Pops in the Park series Oct. 18-19. (Courtesy of Florida Orchestra)

Thousands are expected to take advantage of the Florida Orchestra’s Pops in the Park series Oct. 18-19. (Courtesy of Florida Orchestra)

Concerts today are expensive. I mean, really expensive. A ticket where you’re close enough to actually see the musicians could cost $100 or more. That doesn’t count parking, either. Who wants to pay that kind of money to have a good time with friends or family?

Nobody reading this column, I hope. We’re not about spending a lot of money here. So how about an outdoor concert with experienced musicians playing great music for the low, low price of … nothing? That’s music to my ears.

If it also sounds good to you, make sure you catch the Florida Orchestra’s Pops in the Park on Oct. 19 at 7 p.m., at River Tower Park, 401 E. Bird St., in Tampa. It’s absolutely free, and a great way to see one of the state’s best professional symphony orchestras.

This isn’t some skeleton crew showing up to test some instruments. It’s a full 75-person ensemble performing a two-hour concert (with an intermission). That gives them time to play plenty of music, including Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Festival Overture” and Ferde Grofe’s “Mississippi Suite.”

You’ve heard of those, right? No? Me neither. But I looked them up, and they’re pretty famous. And there’s nothing wrong with being exposed to something you’ve never heard before. They’re classics for a reason, right?

But don’t think it’s an entire concert of music you don’t know. You’ll recognize a lot of their selections. They’ll play music from “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.” You’ll hear a special armed forces salute. And they’ll finish with Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture.”

And yes, you know that one. Even if you don’t know it by name, you’ll recognize it when you hear it. It’s a great closer.

All you have to do is bring a chair and a blanket and get there early enough to pick the spot you like. Coolers are allowed, too, so you can even pack food and drinks and have a picnic.

Bring a good friend, your romantic interest or the entire family. No matter whom you bring, it all costs the same — nothing.

Anyone who goes will think you’re being creative — dare I say, sophisticated? — for thinking of it. After all, they don’t get to see a symphony orchestra for free every day. This is the Florida Orchestra’s special free weekend, so this is really your only chance to see them in this format.

Well, maybe not your only chance. If Sunday is bad for you, they’re doing the same thing the night before. But on Saturday night, it’s at Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg. It’s a longer drive, but if you can’t go Sunday you might want to catch them there. It’s worth it.

Or you can spend a lot of money, including ridiculous service fees, to see some current band at a big theater. And then pay for food and drinks.

That doesn’t sound very good to me. Save your money and see the Florida Orchestra instead.

By the way, I’d advise you to get there at least an hour early. Thousands of people are expected at this event, so plan ahead to get a good space.

For more information, visit

If you have a good idea for On the Cheap (or want to share your experiences going to an event we mentioned), send me an e-mail at .

Published October 8, 2014

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