Summer Fun

The Best of NYC’s Summer Music Festivals: The 19 Shows to See

Why sweat to the oldies when you can sweat to the best new music the city has to offer?

Photo by Kevin Yatarola/Courtesy of Lincoln Center

New York City has finally embraced summer with all its humid, wild energy and pleasures: flip-flops, the first sighting of the Coco Helado cart, and the long-awaited concert festival season in full bloom. With dozens of shows taking place across the city every week, it can be all too easy to miss out on a gem. No matter what sort of music tickles your eardrums, we’ve got you covered with this extravagant array of outdoor concert recommendations for June and July at five of NYC’s most exciting music festivals.

Central Park SummerStage

SummerStage’s many satellite park locations in Brooklyn, Bronx, and Queens aside, the biggest change that fans of the festival circuit will notice immediately is the vast $5 million renovation that’s taken place at its flagship Rumsey Playfield location. Notably better sound, lighting, and additional bleacher seating (plus a much-needed increase in the number of public bathrooms and changing stations) will make your experience at more than 40 Central Park shows that much better. The programmers’ decision to opt into the Keychange program’s 50/50 gender booking for all its free performances also means that you’ll get an even more balanced set of artists to choose from. Don’t miss these hot shows:

  • June 24: Japanese Breakfast and Hatchie—mighty indie stars on the rise.
  • June 26: Celebrate Canada Day with two female-fronted Canadian bands, Alvvays and the Courtneys.
  • July 10: The annual Latin Alternative Music Conference returns, featuring singer-songwriter Ximena Sariñana from Mexico, vocalist Ile from Puerto Rico, and Argentine rapper Nathy Peluso.
  • July 27: The Brasil Summerfest is always a blast, and this year it scored a headline performance by the immensely influential and prolific Brazilian rock star Alceu Valença.
Photo by Nick Childers/Courtesy of City Parks Foundations

BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival

Following an outrageous opening-night show with Patti LaBelle, BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival will be presenting Prospect Park crowds with a dozen quality concerts, most of them free.

  • June 27: Bring your yoga mat to roots reggae superstar Protoje’s show, as it will be preceded by an interactive Yoga on Dub class from Jah9.
  • June 29: If your tastes run more toward premillennium indie, the dream of the (late) ’90s remains alive with sets from early alt-rock powerhouses Liz Phair and Ted Leo and the Pharmacists.
  • July 5: Catch the next generation of hip hop with Brooklyn’s own masked MC Leikeli47 and Chicago’s Mick Jenkins.
  • July 6: Return to the Prospect Park Bandshell for a night of international hip hop with Sudanese rapper Oddisee and the high-velocity party music of Middle Eastern rockers 47Soul.
  • July 18: Folk-country stars Sarah Jarosz, Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek, and Aoife O’Donovan of Crooked Still will dazzle with their supergroup, I’m With Her.
Photo courtesy of BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn Festival

City Farm Presents Summer Series

The newest kid on the block in the outdoor summer music scene is this festival of thoughtfully curated and surprisingly diverse ticketed shows taking place at the Brooklyn waterfront boomtown that is Industry City. These concerts are flanked by any number of on-site bars and restaurants, providing pre- and postshow drinking and eating ops aplenty. The City Farm Summer Series continues out through September, but it opens June and July with a number of reasonably priced treats:

  • June 26: Psychedelic jam genius Marco Benevento takes the stage.
  • July 25: Say you saw electro-indie up-and-comer Gabriel Garzón-Montano before he blew up.
  • July 25: Malian guitar wizard Vieux Farka Touré visits.
  • June 30 and July 28: R&B daytime party Everyday People will host a pair of show-up-when-you-want, rain-or-shine disco jams on these two summer Sundays.
  • July 27: Ethiopian jazz-pop-funk keyboardist Hailu Mergia continues his exciting U.S. revival, with special guest harpist Brandee Younger and a DJ set from Sinkane. Don’t miss this one!
Photo by Julia Drummond/Courtesy of City Farm

BAM R&B Festival 

BAM’s venerable, soul-soaked series is celebrating its 25th year with artists who aim to show just how complex and elastic the term R&B can be. All of these free concerts take place at noon on Thursdays in downtown Brooklyn, so pack a lunch and recharge your workday in the best way possible. A few highlights from the festival:

  • June 27: The conscious rap collective from Crown Heights, Phony Ppl, stay local.
  • July 18: Best Contemporary Blues Grammy-winner Fantastic Negrito headlines with the local Brooklyn United Drumline Band opening.
  • July 25: The raucous New Orleans–based Mardi Gras Indian tribe Cha Wa brings its intense energy and elaborate costumes to Brooklyn.
Photo courtesy of Brooklyn United Music and Arts Program

Lincoln Center Out of Doors

The Shed may be the buzziest new venue in town, but when it comes to summer music programming, Lincoln Center remains the arts mega-organization to beat. Out of Doors starts the last week of July and hits the ground dancing:

  • July 24: The opening-night event honors the late broadcaster Ellis Hazlip and features the Illustrious Blacks, rap icons the Last Poets, and R&B singer Lalah Hathaway performing the hits of her legendary father, Donny Hathaway.
  • July 26: Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy will play music from his 2018 solo album, Warmer.
  • August 1: Indie-pop wunderkind Blood Orange headlines a sure-to-be-packed set.
Photo courtesy of Blood Orange/Facebook

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