Free Outdoor Summer Music Festivals and Concerts in New York City
Although some New York City outdoor music and culture series are created specifically with children in mind, there are lots of grown-up ones that families can enjoy, too. At these wonderful alfresco events—most of which take place in parks and plazas—families can pack a picnic, stake out a spot, lay down a blanket and soak up some culture at no cost. Don't worry if the kids aren't totally into it; sit along the perimeter and let them run around, dance and play and they'll be happy.
While many of the series including SummerStage, Celebrate Brooklyn! and Lincoln Center Out of Doors host dedicated family days, it's worth browsing their full schedules. There's no minimum age to enjoy jazz, classical or rock, right?
We've rounded up the city's best free outdoor music and performance series and highlighted the events we think will be of particular interest to families.
Celebrate Brooklyn! – Prospect Park Bandshell
Friday, June 5-Sunday, August 10
Free but there is a $3 suggested donation
One of the city's premier summer performance fests, Celebrate Brooklyn! always has an eclectic lineup of live acts and films, and this year is no exception. While none of the performances have an age minimum, most attract an adult crowd. Highlights for families are:
- The annual Ezra Jack Keats Family Concert on the afternoon of Saturday, June 8, featuring the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. Keats' classic children's books will also be read aloud
- Drag dance troupe Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo doing excerpts from famous ballets on Thursday, June 27
- Irish-folksters The Waterboys on Friday, July 19
- A grown-up concert by indie rockers They Might Be Giants on Saturday, August 10. Although they won't be playing their kids' music, tweens should enjoy it.
River to River Festival – Downtown Manhattan
Saturday, June 15-Sunday, July 14
Another multidisciplinary fest featuring more than 150 music, film, dance, theater and art events at 28 sites throughout lower Manhattan. The lineup is so varied and jam-packed that it's impossible to encapsulate in a paragraph. Offerings of particular interest to families include:
- The nine-hour Bang on a Can Marathon on Sunday, June 16
- Annual synthesizer block party Control Voltage on Saturday, July 6
- The interactive Come Out & Play Field Day and Family Day on Saturday, July 13 on Governors Island
- Improv Everywhere's participatory public event MP3 Experiment Ten on Sunday, July 14
- Caraballo-farman’s public art exhibit The Signs of Paradise, which is on view throughout the fest
You can also just walk around lower Manhattan: There are so many things going on as part of this fest, you very well may stumble upon something offbeat and cool.
SummerStage – Citywide
Tuesday, June 4-Thursday, August 29
Most events are FREE, a few require paid tickets
This massive festival sponsored by the City Parks Foundation boasts more than 100 performances throughout NYC including lots of no-cost circus, music and theater performances just for kids in parks and playgrounds all summer long. The big family events are the FREE SummerStage Family Days held in every borough except Staten Island.
- Brooklyn Family Day in Herbert Von King Park on Sunday, June 16 features a concert by Shine & the Moonbeams, a multimedia presentation by Something Positive Afro Caribbean Dance Theater and DJ Hard Hittin' Harry
- Bronx Family Day in St. Mary's Park on Saturday, June 29 features juggling acts by the wacky Gizmo Guys, magic tricks by LuckyBob, and performances by KR3TS Dance Company, Double Dutch Dreamz and BAM's house DJ, Idlemind
- Global Family Day in Central Park on Sunday, July 7 with Elizabeth Mitchell, performances by the Carpetbag Brigade Physical Theater Company and Nemcatacoa Teatro
- Queens Family Day in Queensbridge Park on Sunday, July 21 features a tribute to Michael Jackson, the 10-piece PitchBlak Brass Band and a Little Club Heads dance party
- Harlem Family Day on Sunday, August 11 with music by Robbie K & Friends, a dance performance by Illstyle & Peace Productions, and live DJ Stormin' Norman
New York Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks – Citywide
Wednesday, July 10-Tuesday, July 16
The famed orchestra will play outdoor evening concerts in Brooklyn's Prospect Park, Queens' Cunningham Park, Central Park and Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, plus an indoor matinee at the College of Staten Island. Fireworks will follow the alfresco concerts in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx.
Metropolitan Opera Summer Recital Series – Citywide
Tuesday, July 16-Thursday, August 1
More classical music in all five boroughs, including two Manhattan concerts. A word of warning for families: These performances attract many serious listeners. Happily, they tend to sit right up front, which means if you head toward the perimeter, you'll most likely avoid condescending stares.
Lincoln Center Out of Doors – Upper West Side
Wednesday, July 24-Sunday, August 11
Another genre-spanning fest with more than 50 offbeat music, dance and interdisciplinary performances. The main events for kids are:
- Family Day on Saturday, July 27 with performances by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, folk singer Elena Moon Park and a play-along concert with the classical Kronos Quartet. That evening, kindie star Dan Zanes does a tribute to blues legend Lead Belly.
- San Francisco's PG-13-rated circus Vau de Vire Society along with the Hungry March Band on Friday, August 9
- The Roots of American Music Festival on Saturday, August 10-Sunday, August 11 starring Nick Lowe and the Crickets
River & Blues – Battery Park City
Thursdays, July 25-Thursday August 8 at 7pm
Enjoy blues concerts by a diverse lineup of artists like The Wiyos and John Hammond in Wagner Park.
Harlem Meer Performance Festival – Harlem
Sundays, June 16-September 1 at 2pm
This intimate concert series takes place beside the picturesque Harlem Meer in Central Park. The lineup includes local emerging and established Latin, jazz, world and Mambo artists like the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band, Los Soneros de Oriente and Nayibe la Gitana. Nearby attractions include the Conservatory Garden, catch-and-release fishing and a playground (currently under renovation but tentatively scheduled to reopen in July).
Hot Summer Nights at Kingsborough – Manhattan Beach
Saturdays, July 6-27 at 8pm
Enjoy live music at the oceanfront campus of Kingsborough Community College. The lineup includes patriotic pops, swing and jazz concerts. The gates to the grounds open at 7pm so bring a blanket and picnic while the sun sets.
R&B Festival at MetroTech Commons – Downtown Brooklyn
Thursdays, June 6-August 8 at noon
The Brooklyn Academy of Music’s lunchtime concert series takes place on a grassy, tree-lined strip of downtown Brooklyn. The music sure is fabulous: Percussionist Sheila E and the legendary Bobby Rush are just two of the rhythm and blues greats you can see here!
Madison Square Music – Flatiron
Wednesdays, June 19-August 7
Suzanne Vega kicks off the Madison Square Music series on Wednesday, June 19. Other offerings include jazz, bluegrass, folk, R&B, soul and pop performances. Acclaimed chef Zakary Pelaccio will be selling food from his restaurants Fatty Crab, Fatty Cue and Pig & Khao, so you can pick up dinner.
Broadway in Bryant Park – Midtown West
Thursdays, July 11-August 15 at 12:30pm
Who needs TDF? On Thursdays at lunchtime, catch performances by the casts of big Broadway shows right in Bryant Park at no cost. The lineup won’t be released until June, but last year The Lion King, Wicked and other kid-friendly hits performed. Also check out Bryant Park's After Work concert series Wednesdays June 5-August 28 to catch local jazz, classical and world music artists.
Stars of Tomorrow – West Village
Tuesdays, June 4, 18 and 25, July 16 and 23 at 6:30pm
Hudson River Park's Pier 45 hosts performances by the talented students from the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, and Mannes College the New School for Music.
Sunset on the Hudson – West Village
Fridays, June 7-August 23 at 7pm
Cap off the week at one of our favorite picnic spots with free nighttime concerts on Pier 45. Dine alfresco as you catch live performances by local jazz, classical, soul and blues bands.
Riverrocks – Midtown West
Thursdays, July 11, 25 and August 8 at 6pm
Pier 84, the largest of Hudson River Park’s public piers, hosts a trio of rock concerts this summer. The spot also has a Blues BBQ on Saturday, August 24 at 2pm featuring yummy eats and live blues music.
Naumburg Orchestral Concerts – Upper East Side
Tuesdays, June 25, July 9 and 30 and August 21 at 7:30pm
An oldie but a goodie, this series has been going on in Central Park since 1905! Unlike most of the other concert series in this post, you can actually sit on chairs at these shows, assuming you arrive early enough to snag one.
Seaside Summer Concerts – Coney Island
Thursdays through August 15, plus the final concert on Wednesday, August 21
Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz sponsors this annual concert oceanside series featuring lots of incredibly popular bands from the past, including Huey Lewis and the News (August 15), the Go Gos (August 1) and Chicago (August 21).
Martin Luther King Jr. Concerts – Prospect Lefferts Gardens
Mondays through August 19
The Brooklyn Borough Prez also hosts this concert series in Wingate Field, with Gospel and Caribbean-themed nights, and performances by superstars like Toni Braxton (August 12) and Gladys Knight (August 19).
And if you're wondering about the concert series hosted by the Today Show and Good Morning America, here's the deal: Yes, your family can catch big names like Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, One Direction, J.Lo, John Mayer, Maroon 5 and Alicia Keyes, but seeing these concerts is a serious commitment. Be prepared to arrive around dawn (in the case of hot stars, long before the sun comes up) in order to snag a halfway decent spot. Some of the shows require tickets. Good luck.
Find out about other seasonal fun in our Summer Fun Guide.