Summer in the city means humid days, cloudless skies, and multi-day events. From celebrations of hip hop to performances of modern dance to the dulcet strains of emo pop, New York’s plethora of summer festivals meet just about every need and satisfy just about every taste. Here are our picks for the 10 best in July and August. By Jessica Allen.
Bringing more than 100 performers to 17 parks across the 5 boroughs, SummerStage is an annual extravaganza of song and speech with one goal: “to enrich the lives of New Yorkers,” primarily through exposure to traditional, contemporary, and emerging artists. Since 1986, these have included Sonic Youth, Celia Cruz, Toni Morrison, Vampire Weekend, and members of the Martha Graham Dance Company. The biggest events take place in Central Park; pack a picnic, and prepare to be enlightened.
If you like indie music and you like the Hudson River, then this is your festival. For a few days in July and August, New York welcomes up-and-coming bands like Deer Tick, Dan Deacon, The Get Down Stay Down, Generationals, and Titus Andronicus to play at Pier 84. Hudson River Park puts on several other events each summer as well, including RiverFlicks for Grown-Ups (screening Looper and Argo, among others), at dusk on Wednesdays at Pier 46, and Stars of Tomorrow, featuring jazz and classical music from local students, on Tuesdays at Pier 45.
Each year about 2 million people participate in Harlem Week, attending sporting events, indoor and outdoor concerts, a film festival, fashion shows, gallery tours, theater performances, and college and career fairs. This celebration began as a single day in 1974, then grew into a week, and now has mushroomed into more than 100 events spread over several weeks in July and August, all promoting and extolling the unique history, culture, diversity, and limitless potential of this New York neighborhood.
HBO Bryant Park Film Festival
New York offers plenty of opportunities to see outdoor movies, including Syfy Movies with a View in Brooklyn Bridge Park and Rooftop Films at various locations such as Socrates Sculpture Park. But the movies screened every Monday in Bryant Park are by far the biggest and most popular. On the schedule for July and August are E.T., Norma Rae, The African Queen, and Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, among others. Going takes a little bit of planning: you have to line up early, then run as soon as the lawn is opened. (Yes, run.)
Come Out and Play Festival
Not just for the kiddies, the Come Out and Play Festival encourages everyone to get active, learn something, and have fun. The annual Field Day and Family Day take place this year on July 13, and intends to turn Governors Island into a giant playground. Instructional designers and other creative types go beyond your standard kickball to develop interactive, unusual games. Prep yourself by participating in After Dark, around the South Street Seaport, which begins when the sun goes down on July 12. Who’s up for a citywide game of zombie tag or life-size ping pong?
The Bronx might have invented hip hop, but there’s no doubt about which borough has the best festival. Now in its ninth year, the largest hip-hop event in New York City includes educational programs, local vendors, family events, block parties, talent shows for young artists, and, of course, concerts, from July 10 to 13, designed to build community, inspire social change, and showcase the wide range of talent within this genre. 2013’s scheduled headliners range from Redman and Pusha T to Dizzy Wright to Soul Understated.
Lincoln Center Festival
The Lincoln Center Festival offers a plethora of performing arts throughout July. One of the centerpieces of this summer’s programming is “Monkey: Journey to the West,” a theater and music combo with martial arts, cartoons, and acrobatics from the men behind Gorillaz. Sinead O’Connor is also scheduled to make an appearance. If cutting edge isn’t for you, Lincoln Center puts on Mostly Mozart, celebrating this singular composer, Midsummer Nights Swing, celebrating this singular genre, and Lincoln Center Out of Doors, celebrating all kinds of music under the sun and stars.
New York City Poetry Festival
The Poetry Society of New York has three main goals: “(1) to unite New York poetry communities, (2) to bring the works of New York poets to the world, and (3) to never bore you.” Evaluate its ability to meet those goals at the third annual New York City Poetry Festival, July 27 and 28 on Governors Island. Over 200 poets will read their work on three stages. Booksellers, artisans, brewers, and chefs will be on hand. There’s also a Children’s Festival, devoted to helping little ones express themselves and discover a love of the written word.
New York International Fringe Festival
The largest multi-arts festival in North America, the New York International Fringe Festival consists of more than 200 companies putting on more than 1200 shows in more than 20 venues over 16 days in August. Among the many theatrical performances that got their start at the Fringe are Urinetown, a musical which went to Broadway, and Matt & Ben, a satirical play about Matt Damon and Ben Affleck that helped launch the career of Mindy Kaling. The venues might not be comfortable (think folding chairs in many cases), but the performances are full of heart and nearly always memorable.
Say so long to summer during this festival of electronic music over Labor Day weekend on Randall’s Island. More than 100 performers, including Steve Aoki, Diplo, and Tiësto, are scheduled to appear on two main stages and several smaller ones. In addition to admiring music by some of the world’s best DJs as well as the island’s views of Queens, the Bronx, and Manhattan, take a stroll around the southern part. Here, you’ll encounter site-specific artworks, part of FLOW.13, dedicated to showcasing and supporting emerging artists. It’s like two festivals in one!