SummerStage in the Parks: Highlights

Christina Knight | June 5, 2018

The Robert Glasper Experiment at SummerStage in 2017

The Robert Glasper Experiment at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park, SummerStage 2017. Photo: Eliana Rowe

The City Parks Foundation’s love for New Yorkers and visitors is proven year after year with SummerStage, New York City’s largest free outdoor performing arts festival. From June through September, SummerStage hosts more than 100 performances in Central Park and 17 neighborhood parks throughout the five boroughs. To us – the producers of NYC-ARTS and Great Performances – SummerStage is the city’s greatest summer treat.

In 2018, 200 unique artists hailing from New York City and around the globe will be performing indie-rock, hip-hop, Latin, jazz, R&B, salsa, opera, contemporary dance, and spoken word.

The festival’s season of free shows kicked off at SummerStage in Central Park on Saturday, June 2 with jazz great Gregory Porter and rising star Victory Boyd. Other highlights at the Rumsey Playfield in Central Park include 2017 MacArthur Genius grant recipient and Carolina Chocolate Drops co-founder Rhiannon Giddens performing on June 16 with blues musician Son Little; renowned contemporary ballet company Alonzo King LINES Ballet on July 25; up-and-coming electronic musicians Mura Masa and Jessy Lanza lighting up the stage on August 18; and the two kings of salsa, Eddie Palmieri and Tony Vega, joining forces on August 26.

Here’s a look at some show highlights in the boroughs and in Manhattan locations other than Central Park, as well as the two workshop series offered this year. The whole calendar is available here.

SummerStage Bronx

Made in the Bronx night, presented by BAAD! at 2017 SummerStage, at St. Marys Park. Photo: Noah Benus.

Made in the Bronx night, presented by BAAD! at 2017 SummerStage, at St. Marys Park. Featuring Afro-Puerto Rican dance and drum ensemble Bombazo, among others. Photo: Noah Benus.

The Spanish Harlem Orchestra, a two-time Grammy Award winning Latin jazz ensemble, performs Saturday, July 28, at 4pm in St. Mary’s Park. Since their inception in the early 2000s, the group has delighted audiences worldwide with their spin on New York’s own hardcore salsa, and collaborated with luminaries Rubén Blades and Paul Simon.

Hip-hop is the theme Friday, August 3 at Crotona Park. It’s impossible to talk about break beats without mentioning the pioneer, producer, and beatmaker BreakBeat Lou. The Bronx-based artist, dubbed “your favorite DJ’s favorite DJ,” played a crucial part in shaping hip-hop’s most distinctive beats with his seminal 25-part compilation series Ultimate Breaks and Beats. He’ll be taking the SummerStage with the hip-hop mainstays Special Ed, Nice and Smooth, and Lord Finesse. Check out this history of hip-hop in The Bronx. Before the show, dancer Fabel leads a hip-hop workshop at 6pm.

SummerStage Brooklyn

The Metropolitan Opera series of SummerStage, on the Brooklyn waterfront. Photo: Astrid Asmundsson

SummerStage is bringing home to the Borough of Kings many international renowned local talents.

Acclaimed Brooklyn rappers to sway to: Talib Kweli at Brownsville’s Betsy Head Park on June 30; Big Daddy Kane at the Ford Amphitheater at Coney Island on June 20; and Young M.A at the Ford Amphitheater at Coney Island on July 29.

Young local dancers are part of the line-up in “Hip Hop You Don’t Stop” in Coffey Park on Friday, June 22. The Brooklyn-based RestorationART Youth Arts Academy, under the direction of choreographer Ronald K. Brown of Evidence, A Dance Company, performs along with It’s Showtime NYC; Lil Buck; Passion Fruit Dance Company; and A Lady in the House Co.

SummerStage Queens

George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic at Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens , in 2017

George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic at Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens , in 2017. Photo: Astrid Asmundsson


One of Queens’ many claims to fame is the incredible number of languages spoken in the borough and the wealth of nationalities. Two nights of SummerStage this summer will focus on particular countries.

SummerStage will celebrate Haitian music and culture with a stacked bill in Springfield Park, Thursday, July 5 at 7pm. Ram from Port-au-Prince is the featured artist.

For the first time, SummerStage will present a lineup of Colombian musicians in Queens’ Queensbridge Park on Thursday, July 12 at 7pm. Systema Solar is a music-visual collective from the Caribbean coast of Colombia.

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SummerStage Manhattan

Jazzmeia Horn performs at the 24th Annual Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Marcus Garvey Park in 2016.

Jazzmeia Horn performs at the 24th Annual Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in Marcus Garvey Park in 2016. Photo: © Jack Vartoogian/FrontRowPhotos.

For the 26th year, the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival, New York City’s annual salute to the eponymous late saxophonist, will return for three days of live jazz in the Manhattan parks near where Parker worked and lived: uptown in Harlem’s historic Marcus Garvey Park and downtown in Tompkins Square Park.

Running August 24 through 26, the festival will feature performances from Buster Williams with a surprise guest, Jack DeJohnette, and Gary Bartz (August 24); Monty Alexander – Harlem Kingston Express, and Catherine Russell and more (August 25); the Gary Bartz Quartet, The Bad Plus, Amina Claudine Myers, Adam O’Farrill and more (August 26).

SummerStage Staten Island

Her dance songs like "Together Forever" fueled summer play lists in the 90s: native New Yorker Lisette Melendez performs at Corporal Thompson Park for SummerStage 2017.

Her dance songs like “Together Forever” fueled summer play lists in the 90s: native New Yorker Lisette Melendez performs at Corporal Thompson Park for SummerStage 2017.

The borough that probably gets the least attention will be singing “Finally, it has happened to me” along with Cece Penniston and “Show Me Love” with Robin S on Friday, July 20 at 6pm in Corporal Thompson Park.

The Metropolitan Opera Summer Recital Series, featuring Gerard Schneider, Gabriella Reyes de Ramírez, and Adrian Timpau, will serenade the Staten Island Strong on the loveliest and longest of all summer evenings, the solstice date of Thursday, June 21 at Clove Lakes Park.

SummerStage Workshops

SummerStage isn’t just for watching – we love the learning and interactive components of the festival, too. Pre-show workshops will expand this year through two new season-long collaborations. See all City Parks Foundations workshops, here.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Members of the ALVIN AILEY AMERICAN DANCE THEATER performing Ailey's 1960 masterpiece "Revelations" at Central Park SummerStage in 2010.

Members of the ALVIN AILEY AMERICAN DANCE THEATER performing Ailey’s 1960 masterpiece “Revelations” at Central Park SummerStage in 2010. Photo: © 2010 Jack Vartoogian/ FrontRowPhotos.


In celebration of the iconic dance company’s 60th anniversary this year, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater instructors will be hosting free, all-ages and levels dance workshops prior to five SummerStage shows citywide that will teach choreography from the company’s signature work, Revelations. Bonus: live music by an Ailey percussionist and selected props.

When and where:
Friday, June 22, 7pm in Coffey Park, Brooklyn.
Friday, July 13, 7pm in Queensbridge Park, Queens.
Friday, July 27, 7pm in St. Mary’s Park, The Bronx.
Friday, August 10, 7pm East River, Manhattan.
Thursday, August 16, 7pm in Marcus Garvey Park, Manhattan.

VOICES

VOICES, a non-profit arts, education and social justice organization originally founded by Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove, will present five VOICES programs that feature contemporary artists and authors who will use events and words from our nation’s history as inspiration for new discussions around social justice.

When and where:
Saturday, June 23, 6pm in Betsy Head Park, Brooklyn. Voices Of A People’s History featuring Staceyann Chin. See the First Person portrait of the Jamaican-born poet and activist.

Sunday, July 15, 4pm in Queensbridge Park, Queens. Voices Of A People’s History featuring Dres of Black Sheep.

Saturday, July 21, 4pm in Corporal Thompson Park, Staten Island. Voices Of A People’s History featuring Lemon Andersen (Brooklynite and spoken word poet and actor).

Saturday, August 4, 4pm in Crotona Park, The Bronx. Voices Of A People’s History featuring featuring muMs aka Craig Grant (Arnold “Poet” Jackson on the HBO series Oz).

Wednesday, August 15, 6pm in Marcus Garvey Park, Manhattan. Voices Of A People’s History featuring singer-songwriter Celisse Henderson.