The summer concert season is only a sound check away. Here's a guide to the best shows of 2004.

Hanging at the beach. Backyard barbecues. A two-week, cross-country, kids-dog-Xanax drive to Grandma's. That's summer, right? Not if you're a musician. When the real world turns to leisure, musicians finally get a taste of what it's like to have a job - sort of. With CD sales in an interminable slouch, the traditional summer concert season has assumed importance as a major revenue stream for artists. While this hasn't yet led to a decrease in ticket prices - those reports you heard about $250 Simon & Garfunkel ducats last year were for real - it does mean a few thousand busloads of live music will be coming to stages near you throughout the summer of 2004. Here's the cream of the crop. (Key dates suggest approximate weeks and tours are often extended.)