The Recs: New York City Outdoor Concert Venues

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.

Bask in the brilliance of late great avant-garde composer Arthur Russell, as played by the Wordless Music Orchestra (July 12), cut up a rug with “The King of Salsa,” Brooklyn’s own Richie Ray (July 19), or experience the latest project in a career of stunners from Grammy-award-winning multi-instrumentalist Meshell Ndegeocello (August 2) — all for nothing more than time well spent.

Lest we ignore another NYC life summer staple — outdoor movie viewing — the bandshell hosts a free screening of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing on July 9 to celebrate the iconic film’s 35th anniversary.

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 at greenspaces such as Herbert Von King Park in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem, and Tompkins Square Park in the East Village.

An endless eclecticism defines SummerStage’s free programming. Stop by on a given night, and you could be treated to the sonic cataclysm of Kim Gordon and the Sun Ra Arkestra (June 13), a genre-agnostic Bastille Day celebration boasting acts across the sphere of French music (July 14), or a three-great-tastes-that-taste-great-together triple bill featuring Arooj Aftab, Sid Sriram, and EMEL (July 24). Meanwhile, nostalgia pangs all across SummerStage’s ticketed benefit concerts, whether it’s Counting Crows, Mr. Jones, and you (July 11), Squeeze and Boy George continuing the Second British Invasion apace, or The Roots unfurling their unforgettable live show with support from revered 1980s and 90s hip-hop groups the Jungle Brothers and Digable Planets (August 23). 

Aside from SummerStage — which bridges the seasonal gap this year, spanning from June into October — Central Park is due to host the Good Morning America Summer Concert Series and the 2024 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 concerts to go. Ascend to this seaside upper deck to kick out the jams for minutes on end (moe., July 11), bop along to honeyed indie pop (The Japanese House, July 27), go pitch-for-pitch with our foremost whistling violinist (Andrew Bird, August 16), or pick your pop-punk poison (Something Corporate, June 21; Taking Back Sunday, August 18).

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 2024 at Forest Hills, the stadium’s 101st year of existence, should be nothing short of a cross-court smash. File in for quite stacked one-night bills like Pixies and Modest Mouse with Cat Power (June 15), Pitbull with T-Pain (August 25), and The National and The War On Drugs (September 13). And don’t fret if one show sells out for the following artists, who are serving up multiple nights of performances: Neil Young and Crazy Horse (May 14–15), Hozier (June 4–5, 7–8), King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard (August 16–17), and Khruangbin (September 20–21).

Flushing Meadows Corona Park

The largest park in Queens — number four by size in all of NYC — 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 World’s Fairs, still bearing the iconic Unisphere and New York State Pavillion to prove it. Cuisine-minded New Yorkers adore the park this time of year for the equally spirited and delicious Queens Night Market.

Verdant environs plus top-tier performers make Flushing Meadows a must-visit for music fans this summer. The three-day Governors Ball graces the grounds (June 7–9). This long-running city-based festival returns to Flushing Meadows, authoritatively cementing its claim. Top-line acts include Post Malone, SZA, The Killers, and 21 Savage. Fold in Citi Field as part of the broader park’s concert offerings, and more star power takes the plate than a Mets–Yankees Subway Series:  Foo Fighters on July 17 and 19; blink-182 on July 21; K-pop sensations ATEEZ on August 3; Green Day with Smashing Pumpkins, Rancid, and more on August 5; Def Leppard and Journey with Steve Miller Band on August 7.

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