Sunday, June 24, 2012

Spotlight on NYC Dueling Pianos

In the armpit of Times Square, on a nondescript, mostly deserted block, you will find NYC's only (as far as I know) dueling pianos bar, Tobacco Road.  On Friday and Saturday nights at 10pm, skulk past the divey-looking bar at the front, and make your way into the small back room where exposed brick peeks out over two juxtaposed keyboards and a drum set, just itching to be played.  Tickling the ivories for the "[a]ll-request rock & roll sing-along" are performers who can play a repertoire of 1000s of songs, like a "human jukebox," as the audience is told.  Although touted as a rock show, the whiter-than-you "Shake Rattle & Roll Pianos" performers will play anything from rock to country, showtunes, and even hip-hop, for the right price.

In addition to a $12 per person cover, and a two drink minimum, the audience is encouraged to make song requests accompanied by varying tip amounts.  Although the night can certainly get pricey fairly quickly, it is fun to know that any one person can use the power of the purse to control what songs are played.  If someone requests Britney Spears with a $15 tip, and you would rather hear Kanye West, request your preferred song with a $20 tip, and according to the unwritten rules of dueling pianos, Britney must immediately yield.

Each show lasts nearly three hours, during which time it becomes clear that the seemingly doofy, amateurish musicians running the show are actually quite talented.  Of course, when a song the whole room can sing along to comes up, the energetic, if not somewhat eccentric vibe of the show really picks up.  Some of the artists paid tribute to in a single night at "Shake, Rattle & Roll Pianos," may include Afroman, Billy Joel, Bon Jovi, Cee Lo Green, Eric Clapton, Guns & Roses, Jerry Lee Lewis, Journey, Lil' Wayne, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Meat Loaf, Poison, Spice Girls, The Who, TV Theme Songs, Broadway Showtunes, and whatever else the almighty $1, or $20, can conjure up.

WGINY tips: Reservations are recommended, even if you buy tickets in advance.  If you or your group are celebrating a special occasion, make sure to make it known, so that you can be embarrassed on stage or, at the very least, receive a free shot and a celebratory strong.  Keep in mind though, weak drinks at this show are served in small plastic cups at big prices, so pre-game at home, or at another bar, and you should be set with your obligatory two drinks.

Tickets for the Friday and Saturday night ongoing dueling pianos shows can be purchased here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Summer of Movies 2012!

You already know all about where to go to find some of this summer's best concerts in and around NYC, but if you're looking for an outdoor cultural event that's a bit more low key, why not check out one of the plethora of FREE summer movie screenings across the city?

Last night, Bryant Park kicked off its annual Monday evening HBO Summer Film Festival with the 1960 horror classic, "Psycho."  Access the full Monday night schedule here.

On Tuesdays nights, beginning July 10, Red Hook Flicks (you know Red Hook, it's that part of South Brooklyn you never ventured to until Ikea opened up a few years ago) presents a season of "Scary Monsters and Super Freaks," at Valentino Pier, in Brooklyn, against the backdrop of Lady Liberty.  Movies like "The Lost Boys" and "Alien" may have you looking over your shoulder in the dark.

For more movies by the Hudson River, Riverflicks beckons you to visit Pier 63 on Wednesdays beginning July 11, for movies "for grown-ups," such as "Moneyball," and "Crazy, Stupid, Love," or Pier 46 on Friday evenings for family-friendly flicks, like the animated feature-film, "Rango."

Also on Wednesdays, McCarren Park in Williamsburg/Greenpoint will once again host its Summerscreen film festival, beginning July 11, and featuring such classics as "The Princess Bride."

It seems Wednesday evenings are the winners for movie screenings this summer, as the 2012 Outdoor Cinema series at Socrates Sculpture Park, in Long Island City, takes place on hump day as well, and features a film or films from a different country each week.  The festival kicks off on Independence Day with a series of shorts from the United States of America, of course.

On Thursday nights, head to Brooklyn Bridge Park, in Downtown Brooklyn, for the 13th annual Syfy Movies With a View series, beginning July 5 with "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial."

Even the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum gets in on the summer film fun, with free movies on Friday nights.  Nothing but blockbusters such as "Spider-Man" and "Jurassic Park" will suffice for such a grandiose venue as Intrepid.

Embarking on its 10th year, the Central Park Conservatory Film Festival will run for five consecutive evenings, August 21 through August 25, rain or shine, just north of Sheep's Meadow.  Each year movies are chosen based on a specific theme, and this year's theme is "cult classic films."  Showing will be "The Big Lebowski," and "Animal House," among others.

For a daily calendar of all movies playing in NYC parks in particular, check out

Some of the festivals I already mentioned in the previous music festivals post, such as River to River and Celebrate Brooklyn, also show movies throughout the summer.  And be sure to stop by the Summer on the Hudson Festival at Riverside Park, an annual arts and culture festival that features changing events daily, including music and film.

Finally, if you want a really different movie experience, and you don't mind paying, every summer the non-profit company, Rooftop Films, screens a series of poignant independent short and feature films in various venues across the boroughs.  Peruse the schedule and movie descriptions here.

**Thanks to contributor, Crystal Gaytan, reference website,, and, as usual, search engine, for sources for this post. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Summer of Music Festivals 2012!

The summer season of music festivals is upon us, and the New York City area is in for some real treats this year.  Here is WGINY's comprehensive user guide to all things Music Festival in and around NYC this summer.

If you're wondering where to start looking for a good summer concert, look no further than your local public park:

Central Park Summerstage features over 100 events in music, dance, theater and other arts.  If your style is classical, you may be interested in the New York Pops, folky folks may want to see Dawes or the Guthrie Family, hip hop fans may be won over by DJ ?uestlove or Das Racist, opera lovers can rejoice in recitals from the Met, comedy seekers can catch up with the Upright Citizens' Brigade ... and those are just a few of the free shows offered at parks throughout the five boroughs.  Access the full calendar of shows here.  If you have a few bucks to spare, and want to support continuing free shows, consider attending one of the "Summerstage" benefit concerts, such as Norah Jones on July 3 ($45).  (WGINY will be in attendance at the already sold-out Beach House concert on July 23).

Celebrate Brooklyn follows the lead of "Summerstage" in bringing varied music and arts performances to the masses, but specifically recruits acts for the Prospect Park Bandshell.  This year's free shows at "Celebrate Brooklyn" will include singer-songwriter, Laura Marling, groovy Balkan Beat Box, Latin dance troupe, Ballet Hispanico, indie up-and-comings, The Head and the Heart, and Wild Flag, among other acts.  On select "Movies and Music" evenings, musical-movies, such as the original 1979 "The Muppet Movie," will follow themed-performances to keep concert-goers on their toes.  Benefit concerts will include Dirty Projectors, Hot Chip, Childish Gambino, Wilco, Sigur Ros, and M. Ward.

Head over to Madison Square Park on any Wednesday afternoon, from June 20 through August 8, to take advantage of free weekly concerts during the park's Oval Lawn Series.  Grammy-nominated jazz vocalist, Gregory Porter, will be performing on June 27. (WGINY Tip: If you're hoping to grab a pre-show burger at Shake Shack, check the Shack Cam first to see how long the line will be.) 

While it's not a music festival, I can't very well post about must-see summer performances without mentioning Shakespeare in the Park.  This annual thespian festival brings stars of the stage and screen to perform classic works at Central Park's Delacorte Theater, completely free. The catch is that tickets are limited, and to snag one requires waiting on line in the wee hours of the morning, hoping to get lucky at the Box Office, or entering an virtual ticket lottery that rarely pays off.   

Just off the "coast" of Manhattan, Randall's Island, easily accessible by public transportation, car, ferry,  bike and shuttle, will play host to three exciting festivals this summer: 
On June 23 and 24, there's the Governor's Ball Music Festival.  Promising no overlapping sets (a blessing for avid festival goers used to itemizing a lineup and doling out exact time periods to spend at one set so as not to miss another), this festival brings Beck, Passion Pit, Modest Mouse, Fiona Apple, Explosions in the Sky, Chromeo, Devendra Banhart, Built to Spill, Santigold, Cults, and more, as well as DJ sets by James Murphy (formerly of LCD Soundsystem), Freelance Whales and other notable names.  Tickets are still available and start at $95, plus fees, for a one day pass.

Not to be outdone, Catalpa NYC will bring The Black Keys, Snoop Dogg, TV on the Radio, Girl Talk, Matt and Kim, Cold War Kids, Matisyahu, Hercules and the Love Affair, Zola Jesus, The Big Pink, and 20+ more acts for your listening pleasure to Randall's Island, July 28 and 29.

And, claiming that it will sell out by the end of June, the annual Electric Zoo, a tribute to and celebration of all things electronica and dance, returns to Randall's Island over Labor Day Weekend, August 31-September 2.  A three-day pass will set you back $299, but includes transportation to and from Randall's.  Day passes are also available.

Other Lesser-Known Events to Consider:

From June 14-21, Brooklyn becomes a mecca for indie music, art and film (as if it wasn't already) during the annual Northside Festival, geared towards "discovery" and showcasing "what's next".  Separate badges are needed to access various events, so make sure to scope out the lineups before you go.  Friday night's combined show with Of Montreal, Jens Lekman, and The Thermals, is sure to win some hearts.

If you grew up in NYC and miss the old CBGB days, don't fret, CBGB is back!  Well, in theory... From July 5-8, the CBGB Festival shines the spotlight on emerging artists at thirty venues around Manhattan and Brooklyn.  Some notable names to get excited about: Guided by Voices, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Wyclef Jean, Cro-Mags, Superchunk, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Reggie Watts, and hundreds of other bands.  A three-day badge for access to all music showcases will only set you back $79.  Prices get more expensive if you also want to attend film screenings and music panels.

On Thursday, June 21, for one day only, Make Music New York aims to turn the city into a performers' playground.  Find a free performance to attend, or break out your instrument and search for a "spontaneous" show to join, here.

Looking downtown, from June 17 - July 15, the annual River to River Festival highlights artists of all types, in music, dance, theater, visual art, film, experience, ideas, family, and process, according to the festival's website.  All events and exhibitions are free and are located in lower Manhattan.

If you enjoy concerts by the river, then three free shows at Pier 84, during the RiverRocks series, may intrigue you, on July 12, July 26, and August 9.  Dan Deacon, The Soft Pack, and the other alternative bands playing with the backdrop of the Hudson will surely rock the river.

I haven't heard anything about the Seaport Music Festival going forward this year, but there will be a free one-day festival at the Seaport, Pier 17, called the 4Knots Festival, on July 14, apparently sponsored by The Village Voice, and featuring an after-party headlined by the Black Lips.

Finally, if you're willing to take a short road trip, I would highly recommend these nearby East Coast adventures:

Firefly Music Festival Dover, Delaware, July 20-22
Experience all the fun and craziness of a camping festival without having to travel too far from home.  Headlining this festival are Killers, The Black Keys, and Jack White, with performances by Death Cab For Cutie, The Flaming Lips, Passion Pit, Girl Talk, OK Go, Cold War Kids, Fitz and the Tantrums, The Head and the Heart, Cults, Ra Ra Riot and 30+ more solid bands.  Tickets for the weekend-long event are $218.  Campsites for up to four people are sold separately, and cost an additional $145 for three nights.

Newport Folk Festival Newport, Rhode Island, July 28 & 29
If you're tired of being surrounded by rowdy college kids, and you're looking for a festival that is a bit more low key, but still showcases world-class acts, try this "folk" festival at Fort Adams State Park, in Newport, Rhode Island.  Be warned though, this isn't folk like the days of the Kingston Trio, rather this festival features acclaimed indie and alternative rock and folk musicians, such as My Morning Jacket, Iron and Wine, Alabama Shakes, Conor Oberst, and Tune-Yards, among others, as well as some yesteryear legends such as Patty Griffin and the Guthrie Family.  This is THE folk festival to be at, the one where Bob Dylan went electric back in 1965.  There's no camping on these festival grounds, but if you're looking for a bargain, try the Newport International Hostel.  As a special treat, energizing the early-bird crowd, Friday evening, July 27, Wilco will take over the park as a pre-festival opener.  Tickets for the Wilco show are still available, but you'll have to hit stubhub and craigslist if you want to score a weekend pass for the sold-out festival. 

**Thanks to the guys at for some festival tips.

Stay tuned... the festival fun doesn't have to end when the summer exits.  The CMJ Music Marathon and Film Festival will keep the vibe alive, October 16-20.

UPDATE: A trusted WGINY reader and avid concert-goer noted that I should reference the lineup for Williamsburg Park concert series this summer season.  This outdoor, waterfront venue always make for a good show.  Because everything needs to be branded these days, the official series title is now the Lacoste L!ve Williamsburg Park Concert Series, and will feature both free and ticketed shows, between July 17 and October 5.  Free OK GO and Sharon and the Dap Kings concerts? Yes, please, I mean, Okay, Go!