Summer Festivals Start Sizzling

While New York is a great place to get cultured in any season, the summertime heat brings art to a rolling boil. Performers, both from around the world and around the block, take to city stages indoors and out even well before the summer equinox. Whether you want to take in a book reading, a concert in the park, site-specific dance or a film festival—to name just a few options—this guide will help you find hot culture spots in the city.


The Elevated Acre at 55 Water Street. Photo by Abbey Braden.

River to River Festival
More than 20 locations in Lower Manhattan

Lower Manhattan’s free annual summer arts festival organized by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, takes place seven days a week from June 17 through July 15. The densely-packed month of music, dance, film, theater, visual art, ideas, experiences and family programs happens mostly outdoors, including at Battery Park, Battery Park City Parks, the World Financial Center and Governors Island. Performers include: Philip Glass Ensemble, Trisha Brown Dance Company, Bang on a Can Marathon, Eddie Palmieri, Alarm Will Sound, George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, Merrill Garbus (TuNeYaRdS), choreographer Beth Gill and Suzanne Vega. (MetroFocus‘ parent company, WNET/Thirteen, is a media sponsor of the festival).


Midnight Summer Night Swing Dancing 101s
David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center, Broadway between 62nd and 63rd Streets

On June 6, 13 and 20, learn and how to swing dance and salsa before Midsummer Night Swing starts on June 26. Each of the three “Dancing 101” sessions are free. They  begin at 7 p.m. with music spun by a DJ, followed by a dance lesson from a professional instructor from 7:30-8:30 p.m. The dance floor is open until 10 p.m. The food concession on-site, Tom Colicchio’s ‘wichcraft café, can fuel you up.

Museum Mile Festival
Fifth Ave, between 85th and 105th Streets

Museum Mile Festival attendees fill Fifth Avenue near the Guggenheim Museum.

On June 12 from 6-9 p.m., ten world-class museums that make this 20-block stretch of Fifth Avenue “Museum Mile” throw their doors open free to the public and take over the avenue as well, in an annual party that dates to 1978. This tradition unites the artistic community up and down Fifth Avenue for an evening of food, fun, live performances, and the best art-viewing of any given mile in the country. The evening’s opening ceremony takes place at the National Academy Museum and School at 5:45 pm. The past two years have brought rain to the festival, but that didn’t stop attendees from waiting in lines that went on for blocks and wrapped to Madison Ave. as well. Arrive early if there’s a particular museum or exhibit you have your heart set on.


Midtown Manhattan

Word for Word at Bryant Park
North side of park, bordering W. 42nd St., between Fifth Ave. and Ave. of the Americas

Bryant Park "reading room" near site of Word for Word series, off 42nd Street.

Word for Word is an outdoor reading series that features bestselling authors, celebrity writers, comedians and expert-panelists sharing anecdotes, answering questions from the audience and signing copies of their latest books. The talks are free and open to the public. Before or after the event, check out the outdoor “reading room,” or head to New York’s most famous library: the New York Public Library’s iconic building, fronted by lions, borders the park at Fifth Avenue.


Bryant Park Film Festival
The lawn of park; enter on east side of park off Ave. of the Americas, between 4oth and 42nd streets

Bryant Park Film Festival.

To celebrate the 20th anniversaries of the reopening of the park and the Film Festival, Bryant Park  highlights some of the crowd-pleasers from the last two decades. Only one of the 10 films is new to the festival –“Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981). Get your blankets and picnics ready, and be ready for a tight fit on the lawn — it opens for seating at 5 p.m. (you can grab a seat along the gravel border to the park starting at 4 p.m.) Bicyclists can use the free parking at the park’s Pétanque Courts (Sixth Ave. and 41st St.).


City Parks

New York Philharmonic Concerts in the Parks
Various parks

New York Philharmonic Concert in Central Park. AP Photo/Demitrius Balevski

From July 11-17, the New York Philharmonic takes a breath of fresh air at the Great Lawn in  Central Park (July 13 & 16), Prospect Park (July 11), and Van Cortland Park (July 17) to perform in front of thousands of music lovers and plain old folk who enjoy a side of music with their al fresco picnic.  For Program I, Music Director Alan Gilbert will lead the orchestra in a free program of Respighi’s “Fountains of Rome,” “Pines of Rome,” and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. For Program II, Andrey Boreyko will conduct the orchestra in a free program that includes Wagner’s Prelude to Act I of “Die Meistersinger”; Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, with James Ehnes  as soloist; and Brahms’ Symphony No. 1.



Shakespeare in the Park: “As You Like It”
Delacorte Theater, Central Park (southwest corner of Great Lawn)

Mistaken identity, cross-dressing, madness, mayhem, rage, lust, laughter — another night out in New York City, or a Shakespeare play in Central Park? “As You Like It” (June 5-30) is this year’s Public Theater Shakespeare production held in Central Park’s open-air theater. Tickets are free, but the time investment in line will cost you or a friend several hours and some sunscreen. Ticket distribution (limit two per person) begins at 1 p.m. on the day of the performance at The Delacorte Theater. Arrive hours in advance for the best chance of securing tickets.  On specific dates, a limited number of vouchers for that night’s performance will be distributed at locations throughout the five boroughs. Stay tuned in July for “Into the Woods,” which though decidedly un-Bard-like as it was written by musical theater giants Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, is still part of the Shakespeare in the Park programming.

Central Park and 16 parks across the five boroughs

SummerStage concert at Central Park. Courtesy of SummerStage.

SummerStage is the the City Parks Foundation’s gift to New Yorkers who don’t get away on the weekends. The excellent caliber of alternative American bands, world famous international ones, professional dance companies and other artists have entertained the masses in the increasingly tight spot at Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield (off Fifth Ave. and 72nd St.) for decades. The festival runs from June 5 through August 30 this year.

Starting in 2010, the festival was extended to 16 outdoor stages in parks all over the five boroughs.   Note that access to Rumsey Playfield in Central Park is tightly controlled and the festival advises the following: “do not bring alcoholic beverages, glass, bottles, coolers, pets, bicycles, rollerblades, folding chairs, beach umbrellas, video cameras or tape recorders. No professional camera gear, telephoto lenses, or flash photography is allowed. All bags are subject to search. Beer and wine are for on­site consumption only and may not be removed from the venue.”

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