Free Outdoor Summer Music Festivals & Concerts in NYC: Best Bets for Families
Although some New York City outdoor music and performance 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 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 NYC's best FREE outdoor music and performance series and highlighted the events we think will be of particular interest to families. You can find even more family fun in our jam-packed Summer Guide.
SummerStage – Citywide
Tuesday, June 3-Sunday, August 24
Most events are FREE, a few require paid tickets
This massive festival sponsored by the CityParks 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: Barolosolo Cirkus Company in Brooklyn Bridge Park on Saturday, June 21 and Sunday, June 22 features the show ile O, a mash-up of slapstick and acrobatics presented in a shallow pool of water.
- Global Family Day in Central Park on Sunday, July 6 features performances by the Okee Dokee Brothers, the Hybrid Movement Company, the Acrobuffos and National Dance Institute.
- Bronx Family Day in St. Mary's Park on Sunday, July 13 features performances by David Gonzalez's Aesop Bops! Funky Fables, the Kids Junk Orchestra and Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
- Queens Family Day in Queensbridge Park on Sunday, July 20 features performances by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Rashida Bumbray, and Michael Mossman & Copland Jazz
- Harlem Family Day in Marcus Garvey Park on Sunday, August 17 features performances by Shine and the Moonbeams, Moona Luna, Kojo Odu Roney & Friends, B-Love's Hip Hop Jazzy Groove and DJ KS 360
Celebrate Brooklyn! – Prospect Park Bandshell
Friday, June 4-Sunday, August 9
FREE but there is a $3 suggested donation (save for benefit concerts, which are ticketed and cost more)
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. Since none of the performances have an age minimum, it's worth browsing the entire schedule in case you have an adventurous tween or teen. But keep in mind that most performances attract an adult crowd. Highlights for families are:
- The annual Ezra Jack Keats Family Concert on Saturday, June 14 at 4pm, featuring the Grammy-winning, multiculti party band Ozomatli doing a set specifically for families called Ozokidz. Keats' classic children's books will also be read aloud
- A performance by NYC's own Dance Theatre of Harlem on Thursday, July 31 at 7:30pm
- Before Star Wars, sci-fi cinema pioneer George Lucas directed THX 1138, an R-rated film about a dystopian future in which society is controlled by emotion-suppressing drugs. Tweens and up can catch the film with a new original live score by the Asian Dub Foundation on Friday, August 8 at 7:30pm.
River to River Festival – Downtown Manhattan
Thursday, June 19-Sunday, June 29
Since this formerly month-long fest has been condensed to 11 days, there aren't as many events as in years past. However, it's still worth heading to downtown Manhattan to check out some of the 35 eclectic art experiences that comprise the 13th edition. Offerings of particular interest to families include:
- The multidisciplinary arts celebration Figment on Governors Island Saturday, June 7 and Sunday, June 8, which is one of our top family event picks for all of June
- New York Walkscape, a software-coded musical score that changes as you explore Lower Manhattan. All you need to do is download the app and follow the route at designated times on Saturday, June 21
- FREE admission to 13 downtown cultural institutions as part of Night at the Museums on Tuesday, June 24 from 4 to 8pm including the Fraunces Tavern Museum, the Museum of American Finance, the Museum of Jewish Heritage and the just opened National September 11 Memorial Museum
- The installation The Signs of Paradise in Battery Park, which profiles a bunch of towns in the U.S. named Paradise and 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.
Lincoln Center Out of Doors – Upper West Side
Sunday, July 20-Sunday, August 10
One of our favorite things to do at Lincoln Center with kids, this genre-spanning fest features more than 35 music, dance and interdisciplinary performances on the culture center's grounds. The main events for families are:
- A memorial concert for the late Pete and Toshi Seeger on Sunday, July 20 featuring folk greats like Judy Collins and Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul & Mary), kindie rock pioneer Dan Zanes and Grammy winner Tom Chapin
- The dance-themed Family Day on Saturday, July 26 featuring a Baby Loves Disco dance party, a Brazilian street dance workshop, a collaborative interactive National Dance Day performance and tunes by the Black Rock Coalition Orchestra
- globalFEST for Families on Sunday, July 27 with Brooklyn jazz outfit Banda de los Muertos and Afro-Colombiana and electronic-tinged M.A.K.U. Soundsystem
New York Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks – Citywide
Wednesday, July 9-Tuesday, July 15
The famed orchestra will play outdoor evening concerts in Brooklyn's Prospect Park (Wednesday, July 9), Queens' Cunningham Park (Thursday, July 10), Central Park (Friday, July 11 and Monday, July 14) and Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx (Tuesday, July 15), plus an indoor matinee at the College of Staten Island (Sunday, July 13). Fireworks will follow the alfresco concerts in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx.
Metropolitan Opera Summer Recital Series – Citywide
Monday, June 23-Thursday, July 10
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.
Harlem Meer Performance Festival – Harlem
Sundays, June 15-August 31 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. The gorgeous Conservatory Garden, catch-and-release fishing and the recently renovated East 110th Street Playground are nearby so it makes for a great afternoon outing.
River & Blues – Battery Park City
Thursdays, July 10-Thursday August 7 at 7pm
Enjoy blues concerts by a diverse lineup of artists like The Wiyos and Heritage Blues Quintet in Wagner Park.
Hot Summer Nights at Kingsborough – Manhattan Beach
Saturdays, July 5-26 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 5-August 7 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: Singer Darlene Love and Grammy-winning band Snarky Puppy are just two of the rhythm and blues greats you can see here!
Madison Square Music – Flatiron
Wednesdays, June 18-August 6 at 6 or 7pm depending on night
Catch jazz, bluegrass, folk, R&B, soul and pop performances at this lovely green space, which also hosts a fabulous kids' concert series on Tuesday and Thursday mornings throughout the summer.
Broadway in Bryant Park – Midtown West
Thursdays, July 10-August 14 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 in years past The Lion King, Wicked and other kid-friendly hits performed. Also check out Bryant Park's After Work concert series Wednesdays June 18-August 27 at 6pm to catch local jazz, classical and world music artists.
Stars of Tomorrow – West Village
Thursdays, June 5, 19, 26, July 17 and 31 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 6-August 22 at 7pm (save for July 4)
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 and blues bands.
RiverRocks – Midtown West
Thursdays, July 10, 24 and August 7 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 23 at 2pm featuring yummy eats and live blues music.
Naumburg Orchestral Concerts – Upper East Side
Tuesdays, June 24, July 15 and 22, August 5 and 12 at 7:30pm
An oldie but a goodie, this classical music 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.
Martin Luther King Jr. Concerts – Prospect Lefferts Gardens
We're still waiting for 2014 dates for this series, however, we do know that its sister series, Seaside Summer Concerts in Coney Island, isn't happening this summer.
And if you're wondering about the concert series hosted by the Today Show at Rockefeller Center and Good Morning America at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park, here's the deal: Yes, your family can catch big names like Demi Lovato, Robin Thicke, Ariana Grande, John Legend, Jennifer Hudson and Pharrell, 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 and if you sign up for Today's Concert Series newsletter you can enter a lottery to win a Fan Pass, which guarantees you a good spot. Good luck!
Be sure to check the New York Parks Department's calendar for even more FREE concert listings.
Find out about other seasonal fun in our Summer Fun Guide.