Summer Fun

The Best (and Free!) Live Music in August

You can beat the heat, but you can’t beat the price or the quality of these outrageously good summer concerts.

Photo courtesy of Bryant Park‎/Facebook

According to my now heavily marked-up calendar, I am 30 shows into New York’s summer concert festival season and, as far as I’m concerned, I’m still only warming up. If you’re like me and trying your best to squeeze all the juice out of this sweltering 2019, you and your wallet will appreciate this list of no-risk, high-return free concerts scheduled throughout August and featuring major artists from the fields of folk, pop, jazz, and rock. You’re cordially invited to save your spending cash for wine and bring a blanket and earplugs out to these dog-day blockbusters.

What’s Going On in Prospect Park

terri lyne carrington nyc summer concerts august 2019
Photo courtesy of Terri Lyne Carrington/Facebook

Over the course of an almost 30-year career before his tragic death, R&B singer-songwriter Marvin Gaye built a legacy that still resonates strongly today with artists across the musical spectrum. In honor of what would have been Gaye’s forthcoming 80th birthday in 2020, guitarist Felicia Collins (formerly of The Late Show With David Letterman house band) has assembled a female-forward collection of Gaye aficionadas that includes dynamic jazz drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, powerhouse soul singer and guitarist Toshi Reagon, and vocalist Catherine Russell to perform a live deconstruction of the immortal 1971 protest album What’s Going On. Vinyl specialist and self-styled “45 RPM Queen” Natasha Diggs opens the penultimate show of the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival with a DJ set of era-appropriate deep cuts.

What’s Going On
Bandshell at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival
9th Street and Prospect Park West, Prospect Park
Friday, August 9
6:30 p.m.

Americanafest at Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center Out of Doors traditionally winds down every year with a multiday Roots of American Music celebration, and this year’s headliners are particularly impressive. Alt-folk artist Patty Griffin is your favorite singer-songwriter’s favorite singer-songwriter, boasting 10 albums, a pair of Grammys, and a list of glittering cover artists that includes the Dixie Chicks, Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride, Joan Osborne, and Bette Midler. Griffin will be playing music from her 2019 self-titled album; British country-soul singer Yola opens. The immensely influential two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee (in 1991 as a member of the Byrds and in 1997 for Crosby, Stills and Nash) David Crosby requires little introduction to anyone over the age of 40; he’ll be preceded by a set from the newly Tony-winning composer and vocalist Anaïs Mitchell (Hadestown).

Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park
West 62nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue, Upper West Side
Saturday, August 10 and Sunday, August 11
6:30 p.m.

Selena for Sanctuary at SummerStage in Central Park

kali uchis nyc summer concerts august 2019
Photo courtesy of Kali Uchis/Facebook

Legendary Mexican-American Tejano musician Selena provides the inspiration for promoter Doris Muñoz’s Latinx-themed multiartist jam, with on-site donations and SummerStage fees going to support the progressive immigrant expansion not-for-profit Make the Road. The evening’s headliners include Colombian-American R&B crossover diva Kali Uchis; social media–fueled and socially active indie wunderkind Cuco; Ecuadorian-American avant-electronic artist and Pitchfork darling Helado Negro; and buzzy alt-indie teen songwriter Ambar Lucid.

Selena for Sanctuary
SummerStage in Central Park
Rumsey Playfield (enter at East 72nd Street and Fifth Avenue), Upper East Side
Sunday, August 18
7 p.m.

Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Harlem

summerstage nyc summer concerts august 2019
Photo courtesy of SummerStage NYC/Facebook

SummerStage begins winding down its free summer shows this year by winding up the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, a series of performances, conversations, and film screenings highlighting some of the most creative and influential voices in the modern jazz world. Two of the fest’s strongest nights will be back-to-back at the recently revamped Richard Rogers Ampitheater in SummerStage’s Harlem outpost at Marcus Garvey Park. Friday features a double dose of favorites: Michael Mwenso and the Shakes and Brianna Thomas. Saturday’s show includes an overstuffed lineup with sets from iconic jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater; post-bop saxophonist (and, not incidentally, the son of jazz giants Alice and John) Ravi Coltrane; newly emerging vocalist Quiana Lynell; and a promising trio of female, New York–born-and-based instrumentalists—saxophonist Camille Thurman, harpist Brandee Younger, and vibraphonist Nikara Warren—performing Reclamation, a newly-commissioned piece honoring Parker.

Charlie Parker Jazz Festival
SummerStage at Marcus Garvey Park
Marcus Garvey Park (West 122nd Street and Mt. Morris Park West), Harlem
Friday, August 23 and Saturday, August 24
7 p.m. on August 23; 3 p.m. on August 24

Emerging Music Festival in Bryant Park

For anyone who wants the indie-kid bragging rights of “I saw them before they were huge,” Bryant Park Picnic Performances’s two-day Emerging Music Festival may be just the thing to scratch your FOMO itch. With a lineup of eight locally based, next-big-thing in rock, electronic, and soul bands, EMF is one of the city’s largest free summer pop festivals. Artists currently slated to perform on August 23 include Trey Anastasio collaborator Celisse Henderson (now performing under the mononym Celisse); theatrical vocalist Sammy Rae; folk rockers Morningsiders; and disco-rocking Iranians the Muckers. The August 24 lineup will spotlight dreamy exotica from Argentine New Yorker Renata Zeiguer, lush pop from Tomberlin, horn-laden retro-soul with Ghost Funk Orchestra, and power pop from Remember Sports (née Sports).

Emerging Music Festival
Bryant Park
West 40th and 42nd Streets (between Fifth and Sixth Avenues), Midtown
Friday, August 23 and Saturday, August 24
6 p.m.

Here’s where else you should be for the rest of the summer season.