Summer Fun

This Summer’s Best Big Music Fests

Our music guru, John Seroff, shows you how to handle NYC’s summer music festival season like a pro.

Photo courtesy of Panorama Music Festival

For me, a New York summer starts with music. From the first lilting tinkle of the Mister Softee jingle to the last oom-pah-pah of Oktoberfest, New York’s warmer days are a nonstop cavalcade of amazing outdoor concerts. As a musical omnivore, I’m happy to pack my schedule with a few months of two-a-night shows, leaping from borough to borough and genre to genre wherever my wandering ear takes me.

That said, I can understand where the depth of riches might overwhelm many. It takes a lot of planning and consideration to get the most out of a city this packed to the gills with song. Allow me to help: I’ve picked one of NYC’s many weekend gargantu-festivals to anchor each of the summer months. Mark these down in ink in your calendar and work the other musical happenings around them. Are you ready to expand your auditory palate? See my schedule below and get in touch with our experience advisers for tickets and more musical ideas.

JUNE

The Governors Ball
Friday, June 2–Sunday, June 4
Randall’s Island Park, Randall’s Island
This fest is June’s undisputed heavyweight big ticket. The lineup is a mix of A-list rap (the reformed Wu Tang Clan, Wiz Khalifa, Childish Gambino, Rae Sremmurd), DJs (Marshmello, Air, The Avalanches), and rock bands (Phoenix, Tool, Cage the Elephant, Franz Ferdinand). While single-day tickets run $100, three-day VIP tix go for $700 and up. The strongest festival day, IMHO, is Friday, June 2, with a diverse lineup of top-of-the-line hip hop (Chance The Rapper, Schoolboy Q, and Danny Brown), pop (Lorde, Tove Lo, Charli XCX), indie rock (Bleachers, Beach House), and several on-the-rise artists (Kehlani, Michael Kiwanuka, Tkay Maidza). I’m personally most excited to catch the sure-to-be awesome performance from soul legend Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires on the same day.

Brooklyn’s Northside Festival
Thursday, June 8–Sunday, June 11
Various venues, Williamsburg
The names may not be quite as uniformly boldface as at Randall’s Island, but with headliners like Dirty Projectors, Kamasi Washington, and Miguel at the big shows in McCarren Park and smaller sets with electronic pioneer William Basinski, indie rockers Girlpool and Lower Dens, singer-songwriter Mirah, and footwork DJ Jlin, your $75 festival ticket is worth its weight in hipster cred.

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Photo by James Ravenell

JULY

Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival
Monday, July 10–Sunday, July 16
Various venues, Brooklyn
This one is for my fellow oldsters with a taste for ’90s-era hip hop. Hip hop being hip hop, the lineup is still in motion, but confirmed shows with The Lox, Rakim, and Stretch & Bobbito make this one to keep an eye on. Ticket prices run as low as $10 a pop for any of the festival’s many lectures or films; an all-show pass is available for $180.

The Classic
Saturday, July 29 and Sunday, July 30
Citi Field, 123-01 Roosevelt Avenue, Flushing
The Classic is the East Coast’s answer to California’s Desert Trip music festival (aka Oldchella). The two-day fest presents a veritable who’s who of ’70s and ’80s FM radio, including the Eagles, Steely Dan, the Doobie Brothers, Fleetwood Mac, Journey, and Earth, Wind & Fire. It’s a lineup unlikely to ever be repeated. Bear in mind that an expected mature audience means old-money prices; tickets for the weekend start at $250 and jump to four figures before you get near the stage.

Panorama
Friday, July 28–Sunday, July 30
Randall’s Island Park, Randall’s Island
Would you rather see Frank Ocean than Don Henley? You’ll prefer—like me—Panorama. Headliners for the $100-a-night festival include Alt-J, MGMT, Tame Impala, Belle and Sebastian, Future Islands, Vince Staples, and DJ Shadow. Only got enough steam in the engine for a single day? Ocean and Solange on July 28 are the popular choices, plus you get the benefit of seeing the new Jagjaguwar signee Jamila Woods. Her 2016 album, Heavn, was one of the unsung greats of that year, and I expect 2017 is when she’ll go big. Still, when forced to choose, I’d have to show my age and vote for the Gen-X lineup on Sunday, July 30, with Nine Inch Nails and A Tribe Called Quest.

summer-music-festivals-nyc-2017
Photo courtesy of Panorama Music Festival

AUGUST

Afropunk Fest
Saturday, August 26 and Sunday, August 27
Commodore Barry Park, Nassau Street and Park Avenue (between Navy Street and North Elliot Place), Downtown Brooklyn
Afropunk’s curatorial emphasis is on Afrocentric, cutting-edge artists interspersed with classic, established names. Youngsters like SZA, Sampha, and Willow Smith (yep, the daughter of Will and Jada) will play alongside Macy Gray on the 26th; Kaytranada, Nao, guitar god Gary Clark Jr., and grime legend Dizzee Rascal will be looking sharp on the 27th. Afropunk started as a free festival—and was consistently a must-attend for me—until audience size hit critical mass a few years ago; these days, even with a reasonably hefty ticket price, the park is jammed shoulder to shoulder. Your $55 general entry ticket comes with a considerable wait to get in; I’d splurge on the $250 EZ-Pass VIP to skip the lines and get closer to the stage. I always bring a little extra cash for the massive and next-level food court; it’s probably the best selection of food I’ve found at any of these festivals. Finally, fix up and look sharp: Next-level fashion is the norm in this crowd, so plan to dress like you’ll be in the Times Style section…and you just might.

SEPTEMBER

The Meadows
Friday, September 15–Sunday, September 17
Citi Field
123-01 Roosevelt Avenue, Flushing
Ah, the end-of-summer, big-ticket show. The exact schedule is up in the air, but the lineup was announced on May 8 and it’s a monster: Jay Z, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Gorillaz, Future, Nas, Weezer, Run the Jewels, Migos, LL Cool J, M.I.A., Erykah Badu, Bassnectar, Broken Social Scene, De La Soul, and TV on the Radio barely cover the headliners. Festival tickets run $300 for the weekend, $2,000 and way up if you’re feeling super-VIP.

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Photo by Sam Alive

All set for the summer? Not so fast, we’ve barely gotten started! Check back next week and we’ll explore the lineups for the many multimonth free music festivals taking place across the city. If you ask nicely, I may even give you some hints about how to get in as a VIP. Need to know now? Get in touch with our experience advisers and they’ll set you up.