Photo: Forest Hills Stadium

Get in tune with the best places to see a show in NYC this summer.

Much like Frampton in 1976, New York City in the summer comes alive. The days are long, and that’s a beautiful thing, a fantastic excuse to spend hours Rockaway Beach hopping, fire up a grill somewhere with friends, or finally make that excursion to the wonders of Coney Island. But another treasured tradition emerges from this warmest season, and we’re not talking cicadas. Summer in the city means outdoor concerts galore.

NYC’s connection to music is long, storied, inextricable, and a million other adjectives. It only makes sense this sprawling metropolis would further secure that link with a list of summer outdoor concerts — many of which are free — longer than the line at Katz’s. For everyone from jazz-heads to indie tastemakers to the most dedicated of stans, here are our picks for the city’s top venues to concert al fresco.

Prospect Park

With its annual BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! festival, Prospect Park puts on a summer-long series of spectacular shows that rock Park Slope. In fact, BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! is the city’s longest-running free performing arts festival. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers flock to the Lena Horne Bandshell, host for countless outdoor concerts dating to Benny Goodman’s and Cab Calloway’s heydays. Many of these shows are free, undoubtedly a key allure for prospective concert-goers. Each year, there are also a few ticketed benefit shows whose proceeds help support future gratis programming.

Legends like blues musician Taj Mahal (June 7) and art rock forefather John Cale (August 19) have free performances on the schedule, as do Grammy-nominated trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf (July 1) and Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Rickie Lee Jones (July 29). Benefit concerts include hip-hop duo NxWorries (June 24) — a collaboration between supernova singer and drummer Anderson .Paak and Grammy-winning producer Knxwledge — and two nights of double headliner indie rock courtesy of Alex G and Alvvays (August 22 and 23).

Central Park

Since its 1986 founding, Central Park’s SummerStage Festival at Rumsey Playfield has become a beloved seasonal ritual. Central Park’s enduring aura becomes that much more alluring when you add live music to the mix. Like its verdant Kings County sibling, Central Park’s roster of summer musical guests divides between free and benefit offerings. The City Parks Foundation organizes SummerStage, as well as free events across the five boroughs — primarily focused this year on the 50th anniversary of hip-hop’s birth in NYC — at greenspaces such as Herbert Von King Park in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem.

SummerStage’s free programming darts back and forth across the musical spectrum. Stop by on a given night, and you could be treated to the heavenly resonance of the Met Opera Summer Recital (June 20), the slick West African guitar rock of Mdou Moctar (July 29), or the meteoric jazz stylings of The Comet is Coming (August 2). Meanwhile, celebrated folk-rock duo Indigo Girls (June 2), iconic blues guitarist Buddy Guy on his farewell tour (June 18), and eclectic singing-songwriting pianist Regina Spektor (August 24) are all slated for ticketed SummerStage benefit concerts.

Aside from SummerStage, Central Park is due to host the Good Morning America Summer Concert Series and the 2023 Global Citizen Festival in the warmer months to come.

The Rooftop at Pier 17

If you’ve ever wanted to pair sunset views with an outdoor concert experience, you’ll find no better spot to do so. The Rooftop at Pier 17 sits on the South Street Seaport waterfront in Lower Manhattan and peers east toward the always picturesque Brooklyn Bridge.

Pier 17’s fun has already begun as the weather’s been warming, but there is still plenty of summer left and numerous great shows to go. Ascend to this seaside upper deck for a chance to experience the most celebrated Canadian alt-rock band of the mid-90s (Barenaked Ladies, July 12), mellifluous alt-country (Jenny Lewis, July 18), or a lyrical storytelling masterclass (the Mountain Goats, August 4). It’s also a big summer for double bills at Pier 17, highlighted by the bombastic hip-hop tag team of JPEGMAFIA and Danny Brown (August 9) and a team-up dreamed up in a college rock radio lab — Pixies and Modest Mouse (August 21 and 22).

Looking out across the tennis court and at bleachers before an outdoor concert at Forest Hills Stadium.
Photo: Bryan Kwon

Forest Hills Stadium

Some of the most important names in music and tennis history have performed at Forest Hills Stadium. Whether it was The Beatles or Arthur Ashe, Diana Ross or Billie Jean King, Frank Sinatra or Chris Evert (and oh so many more), this Neoclassical arena was a prestigious center stage and court. Eagle-eyed cinephiles also might recognize the setting from scenes in Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train or Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums, the latter immortalized by a plaque and pair of sneakers hanging on one of the stadium’s many stone pillars.

This current run as strictly a live music hub is a second set for Forest Hills Stadium — commencing in 2013 after extensive rehabilitation saved a venue crumbling since the U.S. Open abandoned it for Flushing in 1978. Given the caliber of artists, summer 2023 at Forest Hills, the stadium’s 100th year of existence, should be nothing short of a cross-court smash. File in for Dave Mathews Band (June 9), The Strokes (August 19), or Duran Duran (September 22). Multiple festivals also touch down in Forest Hills, including Rock the Bells (headlined by Queen Latifah, Ludacris, and De La Soul; August 5) and the Outlaw Music Festival (headlined by Willie Nelson; September 17).

Flushing Meadows Corona Park

The largest park in Queens — number four by size in all of New York City — has a whole lot going on across its nearly 900 acres. It’s home to the New York Mets and tennis’ U.S. Open, the Queens Museum, the Queens Zoo, and the New York Hall of Science. Flushing Meadows was also the site of the 1939 and 1964-1965 World’s Fairs, still bearing the iconic Unisphere and other remnants (like the Philip Johnson-designed New York State Pavilion) to prove it. Cuisine-minded New Yorkers adore the park this time of year for the equal-parts spirited and delicious Queens Night Market.

Verdant environs plus top-tier performers make Flushing Meadows a must-visit for outdoor concerts this summer. First, the three-day Governors Ball graces the grounds (June 9–11). This year marks the long-running city-based festival’s first in Flushing Meadows, and it’s staking a claim with authority — acts include Kendrick Lamar, Lizzo, Lil Nas X, and Haim. A month later, celebrate good times come on as the legendary Kool & the Gang takes the stage for a free show (July 22). The very next night, get caught up in the energy of Bhangra — a lively, traditional Punjabi style of dance and music — as part of another free show, DJ Rekha’s Basement Bhangra Bacchanal (July 23).

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