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 musicfestivaljunkies.com 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! 


  1. Thanks for the great list!

    You forgot to mention that couchsurfing is a great alternative to camping for the Newport Folk Festival ;-)

    4Knots looks like the reincarnation of the Siren Music Festival they used to have in Coney Island.

  2. The Muppet Movie is a film that really touched my funny bone and my heart seeing as I am a huge Muppet fan. The plot shows how they got together and it really worked for me and was fun ride, other than the boring parts with the evil frog legs tycoon. The cast was funny and did good, escpially the Muppet cast, they are always likeable. The comedy was just as perfect