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Western ski resorts have music in the key of free

Special to The Times

During the summer, ski resort towns don't close up shop. In fact, the warm-weather action can be more frenetic than the winter variety, what with golf, mountain biking, river rafting, hiking and more.

Nowadays, there's more to your favorite ski resort in summer than honing your golf swing or getting wet in a roaring river. Most resort towns also host a variety of summer cultural events, as varied as gallery openings, dance festivals and operas. Often, they are world class, but you also can catch top-notch talent without having to pay top dollar.

Best of all, most of the musicians play in intimate settings, where crowds are small and picnics and children rule the day. Herein, a sample.

California

Music in the Mountains, Big Bear Lake: This family-friendly free concert series, now in its second year, takes place in the afternoon and, unlike at many other events listed here, no alcohol is served. The series consists of only three shows. But the bands vary from country western to classic oldies, and the family emphasis (the town promotes picnicking) makes it a good outing for visitors of any age.

Time: 2 p.m.

Dates: July 14, Aug. 4, Sept. 15

Venue: Veterans Park

Don't miss: The Ravelers headline the Sept. 15 show. The band's set list of classic oldies should put a smile on your face, regardless of your age. It's an excellent time to enjoy the San Bernardino Mountains.

More info: www.citybigbearlake.com.

Sensational Sundays, Mammoth Village: Mammoth's Sensational Sundays provide the weekend's exclamation point. The packed schedule includes harmonica bluesman Curtis Salgado (July 3) and gospel artist James Galloway (Aug. 5).

Time: 5 p.m.

Dates: Sundays through Aug. 26

Venue: Resort Village

Don't miss: For fans of blues-tinged rock, the July 1 date with Shari Puorto is the opportunity to watch an artist with booming, powerful vocals and big guitar sounds. Puorto also plays Mammoth's Fourth of July celebration.

More info: www.mammothmountain.com

Colorado

Snowmass Summer of Free Music Series, Snowmass: Snowmass, just down the road from Aspen, has one of the best lineups of free summer concerts in North America. The venue, at the base of the Snowmass ski area's Fanny Hill, is spectacular. Shows start at 6 p.m. and include '70's funk superstars War (June 28), Bettye Lavette (July 26) and Salvador Santana, Carlos Santana's incredibly talented kid, who closes out the series on Aug. 23.

Time: 6 p.m.

Dates: June 28 to Aug. 23

Venue: Fanny Hill

Don't miss: Although not technically part of Snowmass' Summer of Free Music Series, John Hiatt's Aug. 4 date is free and promises to impress. Hiatt, nominated for several Grammy Awards, has released 18 studio albums and two live albums. His style ranges from blues and country to new wave.

More Info: www.snowmassvillage.com.

Bud Light Hot Summer Nights, Vail: Vail's Gerald Ford Amphitheater hosts a summer of free concerts at one of the state's most beautiful and intimate outdoor venues. The Hot Summer Nights series celebrates its 20th anniversary with some of the best free talent you'll see all summer including bluesman John Lee Hooker Jr. (July 10) and the all-female Led Zeppelin tribute band Lez Zeppelin on Aug. 21.

Time: 6:30 p.m.

Dates: Tuesdays through Aug. 21

Venue: Gerald Ford Amphitheater

Don't Miss: On July 3, Ivan Neville, one of the legendary Neville brothers, brings his own musical project, Dumpstaphunk, to town. This New Orleans-based group is quickly gaining a following for its stylish R&B-infused funk.

More info: www.vvf.org.

Idaho

Ketch'em Alive Summer Concert Series, Ketchum: This ski town hosts the series on Tuesdays throughout the summer in Forest Service Park. Each event starts with local Idaho talent at 7 p.m., followed by the main act. Highlights include July dates with African composer Lamine Sumano, Colorado jazz-funk masters the Motet and California's Kan'Nal, as well as an Aug. 7 appearance by reggae act Prezident Brown.

Time: 7 p.m.

Dates: Tuesday to Aug. 31

Venue: Forest Service Park

Don't miss: San Francisco's Albino!, a 12-piece Afrobeat adventure that mixes outrageous costumes, choreography and hypnotic beats. Catch them in Ketchum on Tuesday.

More info: www.visitsunvalley.com.

Montana

Music in the Mountains Summer Concert Series, Big Sky: An orchestra (the Bozeman Symphony), a bluegrass artist (Martha Scanlan) and a reggae-country band (Reggae Cowboys) all have one thing in common: They are playing gigs in Big Sky country. The artists may not be nationally known headliners, but the range of styles and the price — free! — means you can take a chance on an act you might not normally go see.

Time: 7 p.m.

Dates: July 19 to Aug. 30

Venue: Meadow Village Pavilion, Big Sky Community Park

Don't miss: New York's Left Ear Trio has made a name for itself in jazz circles by instilling its music with a blend of funk, rhythm-and-blues and jazz. Montana doesn't see bands like Left Ear too often, which is why its Aug. 16 date is particularly appealing.

More info: www.bozemanchamber.com.

New Mexico

Taos School of Music 45th Summer of Chamber Music, Taos: This series of free concerts revolves around students from the Taos School of Music. The school attracts talent — tomorrow's classical superstars — who study violin, viola, cello and piano, and the free concert series means you can see them before they play the Kennedy Center. Visiting artists perform at special seminars too, giving you the chance to see today's classical music superstars.

Time: 8 p.m.

Dates: June 23 and July 7, 12 and 26

Venue: St. Bernard Hotel

Don't miss: The Elliot Carter Piano Quintet with the Brentano String Quartet and pianist Thomas Sauer perform as part of the seminar sessions July 26. The concert is free, but if you want to have dinner at the hotel, reservations are recommended; call (505) 776-2251.

More info: www.skitaos.org.

Utah Saturday Concert Series, The Canyons: For the seventh year in a row, the Canyons hosts free concerts plus an artisan village and food and drinks in the main resort village at the ski area. This year, shows are an eclectic mix, including the Supersuckers and the Expendables.

Time: 6 p.m.

Dates: July 21 to Aug. 25

Venue: Main Stage, Resort Village, the Canyons

Don't miss: On July 21, Great American Taxi, which is described as "Americana without borders," takes the stage.

More info: www.thecanyons.com.

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