In case you haven’t heard, New York City is back. After the state fully reopened on June 15, the city’s lineup of summer and fall festivals, concerts, shows, and events started filling up just as the season enters full swing—a welcome change from last year’s onslaught of canceled events due to the pandemic.
Live music and performances were dearly missed during the past 15 months, so the city is delivering what many are craving most. From free concerts in city parks to outdoor movie screenings and cultural festivals, here are some of the best events for New York residents and visitors alike to bookmark. Added bonus: Many are free. Consider your New York 2021 events calendar officially taken care of.
City Parks Foundation SummerStage
A New York City tradition, this summer lineup of free and benefit concerts, movie screenings, and dance and theatrical performances is back after a hiatus last summer. Although the schedule is leaner than past years, there will be shows at three different locations in the city: Central Park, the Coney Island Amphitheater, and Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem. Between now and October, free performances include Gloria Gaynor at the Coney Island Amphitheater on July 17, Met Opera Summer Recital in Central Park on August 8, Charlie Parker with Strings: The Donald Harrison Quartet and the Harlem Symphony Orchestra in Marcus Garvey Park on August 28, and Patti Smith in Central Park on September 19. After starting the season requiring tickets for even free shows, SummerStage has just announced that all free shows no longer require tickets and are open to the public on a first come, first served basis. See the full schedule here.
BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival
For more than 40 years, the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival has brought renowned musical, dance, theatrical, and film shows to Brooklyn for free and as benefit performances. After going dark last summer, this year the festival is bringing back live, in-person performances from July 31 through September 18 at the Prospect Park Bandshell. Highlights include Ari Lennox and KAMAUU/Nesta on July 31 and Passion Fruit Dance Company, Saadiq Bolden, Soul Summit, and St. James Joy on September 10, which are both free, and the Roots on August 12, with tickets starting at $59.50. Here is the whole schedule.
The Official NYC Homecoming Concert in Central Park
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has asked famous producer Clive Davis to put together a massive concert in Central Park to celebrate the return of the city postpandemic. While details are scarce, reports say there will be eight musical acts on the massive Great Lawn in the park with a tentative date of August 21—most tickets will be free, with some VIP seats for sale.
Forest Hills Stadium Concerts
Built in 1923, this outdoor stadium in Queens has hosted everyone from the Beatles to Chicago to Modest Mouse. This summer’s lineup includes Brandi Carlile on July 23, Bright Eyes, Waxahatchee, and Lucy Dacas on July 31, and Wilco and Sleater-Kinney on August 21. See the full schedule here.
Restart Stages at Lincoln Center
Multiple outdoor stages around Lincoln Center will host a variety of arts performances for free this summer, including classical music performances, live jazz, kids concerts and events, and a preview screening of the upcoming documentary Ailey, about dance master, choreographer, and activist Alvin Ailey, on July 12. While all performances are free, attendees must enter a ticket lottery two weeks before each performance. View the full schedule here.
Little Island Events
This new park on a man-made island in the Hudson River on Pier 55 has a full summer event schedule. There are performances for kids, late-night shows for adults, and book readings for all, plus several specific festivals. July 17 and 18 bring the Island Music Festival, the Little Island Storytelling Festival is July 21 to 25, and August 11 to September 5 will see a festival in collaboration with NY PopsUp!, which will bring dance, music, poetry, comedy, and more to the floating park. The Little Island Dance Festival runs from September 15 to 19. See the complete schedule here.
Shakespeare in the Park
A New York City tradition that dates back more than 45 years, this free outdoor theater favorite returns this summer to the Delacorte Theater in Central Park with one show, Merry Wives, running July 6 through September 18. The show is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor by Jocelyn Bioh and directed by Saheem Ali. It’s set in Harlem amid a community of West African immigrants. This year, tickets can only be reserved via the digital lottery; there will be no day-of tickets by waiting in line in the park (another NYC custom that will hopefully be back next year).
Thunderbird American Indian Powwow
The Queens County Farm Museum hosts this event from July 23 to 25 to celebrate American Indian culture through music, dance, Native American crafts, and food. The powwow features intertribal Native American dance competitions by over 40 Indian Nations, and there will be an expansive market of authentic Native American art, crafts, jewelry, and food. (Don’t miss the fry bread, a deep-fried flatbread popular in Native American cuisine.) Tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for children per day.
This Governors Island festival on September 4 and 5 celebrates everyone’s favorite summer wine—rosé, of course—with an array of rosé and rosé-themed beverages, plenty of food, and musical performances by the likes of Fat Joe, Adeline, the Frenchies, and Sofi Tukker. Attendees are invited to wear pink or white clothing to keep with the theme. Tickets start at $99.
Rooftop Films has been screening indie films outdoors in the city since 1997 and is celebrating its 25th anniversary this summer. It’s showing films across Brooklyn, at places like the Brooklyn Army Terminal in Sunset Park, Fort Greene Park, Green-Wood Cemetery, and the Old American Can Factory in Gowanus. Guests can see films like Fagara, Topside, and Swan Song. See the entire schedule here.
The rooftop of Pier 17 in Lower Manhattan’s South Street Seaport is host to the Greens this summer, a socially distant outdoor dining and drinking venue with individual mini lawns for groups of up to eight. This summer there will be a full lineup of outdoor movies on Monday nights through August 30, with crowd-pleasing picks like Moana, Dazed and Confused, and School of Rock on the schedule. Each lawn must be reserved in advance for $5. Here is the complete schedule.
Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival
The 30th anniversary of this annual event takes place on August 7 in Flushing Meadows Park; it features competing dragon boat teams from across the country, as well as a parade, live music, dance performances, and food vendors.
This annual festival celebrates the best of Harlem through its rich African American, African, Caribbean, Hispanic, and European history, as well as arts, culture, religion, business, entertainment, and sports.
Jazz Age Lawn Party
This Governors Island event started as a small gathering in 2005 and has since become a city favorite with thousands of guests dressed in their finest 1920s-era garb. Celebrating the Prohibition era with dance and music performances, dance lessons, themed cocktails, a car show, vintage clothing vendors, and more, this year’s event is scheduled for August 14 and 15. Tickets range from $10 to $50.
The lawn party could have a symbolic significance this year, as some have said that in the aftermath of the pandemic we could expect something akin to the 21st-century version of the Roaring Twenties—a celebration of life, joy, and freedom from the dreaded virus. With a lineup of New York City events this exciting and inspiring, that may not be too far from the truth.
>> Next: New York State Lifts All COVID Restrictions
Devorah Lev-Tov is a Brooklyn-based food and travel journalist who has been published in the New York Times, National Geographic, Vogue, Bon Appetit, and more.