Summer Fun

The Best (and Free!) Live Music in July

Dig the sounds of summer at our five favorite—and 100 percent free—concerts of the month.

Photo by Aric Thompson/Courtesy of Lincoln Center

As endlessly and occasionally absurdly pricey as New York entertainment can be, the summer festival season is refreshingly welcoming to all. If you can handle the heat, there’s a whole world of top-notch—and bottom-dollar—sounds awaiting you in July.

I’m With Her at Celebrate Brooklyn!

Given the limited mainstream appeal of bluegrass these days, it might be a bit of a reach to call I’m With Her a supergroup. Then again, given this troupe’s respective pedigrees, that might not be too much of a boast: Fiddler Sara Watkins hails from the NPR-friendly combo Nickel Creek; Aoife O’Donovan plays guitar for the popular band Crooked Still; and mandolinist Sarah Jarosz has scored a pair of Grammy wins as a solo artist. All three contribute their honeyed vocals and sharp songwriting chops to this exquisite (and un-Clinton affiliated) girl-power trio. Boston indie-folk quartet Darlingside opens.

Photo by David McClister/Courtesy of Celebrate Brooklyn!

I’m With Her and Darlingside
Bandshell at BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival
9th Street and Prospect Park West, Prospect Park
Thursday, July 18
Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Accordions in Midtown

Bryant Park presents an unexpectedly specific summer series focused exclusively on…accordions. Each Wednesday, July 24–August 24, a dozen accordionists will wander the grounds to display the breadth and capacity of the squeeze-box’s international range, with free-roaming soloists hailing from Ireland, Colombia, Brazil, Japan, New Orleans, and all points in between. The mini festival reaches a head on Friday, August 16, with a more traditionally staged five-hour marathon concert, including sets from the Latino conjunto Los Texmaniacs, Russian rocker Fedor Chistyakov, and Argentine tango combo Aces of Rhythm.

Accordions Around the World
Bryant Park
West 40th and 42nd Streets (between Fifth and Sixth Avenues), Midtown
Wednesdays in July and August beginning July 24
5:30 p.m.

Contemporary Classical at Lincoln Center

Acclaimed contemporary classical composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s work is as expansive, exhilarating, open, and breathlessly isolating as her Icelandic homeland. The very busy and extremely popular NYC chamber group International Contemporary Ensemble will interpret two of Thorvaldsdottir’s 2016 pieces—Illumine and Sequences—alongside a 2014 work by Thorvaldsdottir’s Icelandic compatriot Bergrun Snæbjörnsdottir at the indoor confines of Lincoln Center’s David Rubenstein Atrium, meaning that (perhaps appropriately) you’ll be able to hear them in an air-conditioned space. The group will also perform Ashley Fure’s darkly abstract “Something to Hunt.”

Photo courtesy of Lincoln Center/Facebook

International Contemporary Ensemble: Anna Thorvaldsdottir and Ashley Fure
Lincoln Center’s David Rubenstein Atrium
61 West 62nd Street (between Broadway and Columbus Avenue), Upper West Side
Thursday, July 25
7:30 p.m.

Texas Soul at Damrosch Park

Lincoln Center’s Out of Doors, the annual summertime series of free international and eclectic performances held in Damrosch Park, July 24–August 11, has always been one of my favorites. This year, the show I’m most interested in catching is a soul-centric extravaganza that draws from some of the lesser-considered waters of the rhythm-and-blues well. Headlining is Look at My Soul, a sizable collective of Texan and Tejano retro-fusion funk musicians—including vocalist Jonny Benafidez of Cold Diamond and Mink and Kam Franklin of the Suffers—paying tribute to those who made their bones over the past half century recording soul with a distinctly Latin flavor. The modern sound of Texas R&B will be given further voice by the contemporary Austin-based psych-soul combo Black Pumas. Rounding out the evening, legendary veteran vocalist and current Daptone Records mainstay Lee Fields will bring 50 years of experience with his band the Expressions.

Look at My Soul: Latin Shade of Texas Soul, Black Pumas, Lee Fields
Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park
West 62nd Street and Amsterdam Avenue, Upper West Side
Saturday, July 27
7 p.m.

Fela! at SummerStage in Central Park

When Fela!, the jukebox musical exploring the tumultuous life and phenomenally successful songs of Nigerian bandleader Fela Anikulapo Kuti, first emerged at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in 2009, it seemed an unlikely pick for a Broadway hit. Three Tonys and a 2012 revival later, Fela!’s giddy celebration of Afrobeat music and dance has proven a surprisingly lasting bridge for non-aficionados of musical theater to access the art. As we near the show’s 10th Broadway anniversary, SummerStage has invited members of the original cast to Central Park for a concert rendition of Fela!’s greatest hits. This evening’s performance will be preceded earlier in the afternoon by a youth matinee of the same show.

Photo by Aric Thompson/Courtesy of Lincoln Center

Fela! The Concert
SummerStage in Central Park
Rumsey Playfield (enter at East 72nd Street and Fifth Avenue), Upper East Side
Wednesday, July 31
Doors open at 7 p.m.

Welcome to summer! Here’s where else you should be this season.