NYC’s summer lineup of music festivals is packed with every type of act you could hope for: young sensation Halsey and dance-music DJ The Black Madonna; queer-popular artists like St. Vincent, Janet Jackson and Cardi B; and, performing free shows, rapper Common and indie rockers Dispatch and Grizzly Bear.
Whether you want to spend big bucks on big-name fests like Governors Ball and Panorama or catch your favorite acts at free season-long series like SummerStage, we’ve got you covered. Read our comprehensive list of all the action along with some survival tips—and let the music play!
Major Music Festivals
Headliners Jack White, Travis Scott and Eminem are supported by queer powerhouse Halsey, gay-popular band Cut Copy and DJ allies Flight Facilities; they’re just a few of the more than 60 acts taking over Randall’s Island Park the first weekend of June.
Northside may be one of the queerest festivals of the summer with acts like indie rocker Jay Som, political electronic music producer Elysia Crampton and rapper Young M.A. The event, which spreads across clubs and outdoor venues in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, also has an innovation series of panels and speeches that highlights entrepreneurs, journalists and artists. It all ends with a block party on Bedford Avenue showcasing rising artists.
Back for its third year running, Panorama also sets up shop on Randall’s Island Park. Headliners are gay icon Janet Jackson along with The Killers, The Weeknd and other name acts including Cardi B, Fleet Foxes and popular DJs Odesza and the Black Madonna. Make sure to check out The Lab—which comprises six interactive art and technology installations as well as an enormous virtual-reality theater.
Closing out the summer weekend festivals, Afropunk infuses Brooklyn’s Commodore Barry Park with a weekend of hip-hop, funk and indie music. This year’s lineup includes topliners like Janelle Monae, Erykah Badu, Miguel and The Internet.
Festival Survival Tips
Consider a day pass
Maybe you can’t get work off for three days or maybe you can’t spend big on a three-day pass—no worries! Most festivals offer general-admission day passes, so you can experience the event for as short or as long as you wish.
We live in a time of Venmo, Apple Pay and plastic—but cash is always king at festivals. Make sure to visit your local ATM ahead of time to avoid long cash-withdrawal lines on-site.
And a water bladder
If you bring one accessory to the festival, we recommend the Platypus Big Zip LP Reservoir 2 for its simple design and function. The system’s easy drinking will keep you hydrated, and its 2-liter capacity will save you trips to (and lines at) the refill station.
Check the weather
All festivals have rain-or-shine policies—meaning no refunds—so if the weatherperson calls for rain, bring a waterproof jacket. And if the sun is shining, make sure you’ve got sunscreen handy.
Arrange a meeting spot
While cell reception and WiFi are typically good at the festivals, the flood of texts, calls and Instagrams can clog networks. So pick an easy-to-find meeting spot ahead of time in the event you and your friends lose one another.
Download the app
Most of the festivals come with free apps that display maps, set times and updates, as well details on any possible emergencies.
Summer Concert Series
Though its home base is Central Park, SummerStage holds 90 events across five boroughs before it finishes its run. The lineup is constantly being updated, but confirmed acts include Dispatch, O.A.R., Marc DeMarco, Voodoo Threauxdown, and Jason Mraz. Most of the performances are free (with a suggested donation of $5), but there are a few benefit shows that support the series.
For 10 days in the middle of the month, River to River organizes performances in and around Lower Manhattan; they include large-scale multimedia theatrics, art shows and, of course, contemporary music sets.
BRIC’s Celebrate Brooklyn!
Running since 1979 in Prospect Park, Celebrate Brooklyn is one of the City’s premier summer cultural attractions; like SummerStage, it mixes a few benefit concerts with free shows (and has the same suggested donation). The festival’s headliners this summer include Common, Vance Joy, Spoon and Grizzly Bear, which is fronted by gay rocker Ed Droste.
Warm Up at MoMA PS1
For two decades, MoMA PS1’s Warm Up concert series has been putting on energetic outdoor shows that showcase emerging, boundary-pushing artists. This year’s lineup is TBA, but past acts have included Solange and Grimes as well as DJs Four Tet and Kim Ann Foxman.
Lincoln Center Out of Doors
Set on the outdoor plazas at Lincoln Center, this eclectic festival features genre-spanning performances: international dance troupes, silent movie screenings with live music accompaniment and spoken-word sets, to name a few.
Concert Series Tips
Scout the lineups
Each of the series above has an eclectic roster; look well in advance to pick out your favorite acts.
Grab the squad
After you’ve chosen your target dates, start the group texts to get everyone stoked for the upcoming shows. There is nothing better than summer nights in the City with friends.
Are you going to be seeing a number of shows? Presale and VIP tickets for benefit performances are generally only available for members—same with expedited entry and access to special reserved seating areas (relevant for the free shows too). It can relieve some of the stress of dealing with the crowds.
Free concerts are incredible. So incredible that everyone wants to go! Make sure to arrive at least 1–2 hours early to secure entry and your choice of seating.
Food and factory-sealed beverages in plastic containers (no alcohol) are allowed in Central Park shows. Rules vary for other events, but most allow food and drink.
Just because the concerts are free doesn’t mean the food and drinks are! Grab some cash on your way there to avoid ATM lines once in the venue.