Yep, I’m old enough to remember hearing that song on the radio. 1966. The Loving Spoonful. It reminds me of the reason why I live for summer in New York. The free concerts in the parks.
One of the great things I love about New York is that there is always a free or low cost event. In the summer, we are blessed with such an abundance that you’re going to end up missing something. There’s just too many things to do.
I started going to the summer concerts when my boys were toddlers. The shows are family friendly; you can pack a meal, and everyone has a great time. The kids are grown now, but I still hang out in the parks. I’ve check out old faves, and pick up new ones at these festivals. Some highlights of my adventures:
- Randy Weston at Celebrate Brooklyn, Prospect Park. Rodney Kendrick was the opener. C. Scoby Strohman did a soft shoe to some of Randy’s pieces; it turned out to be Strohman’s last performance before he passed away. My older son was nine years old at the time; he turned to me and said, “Mom, this isn’t elevator music.”
- David Rudder and Machel Montano. They appeared at Celebrate Brooklyn on separate dates, but they were the wildest concerts I’ve been to. Total disorder. The. Hottest. Soca. Parties. Ever.
- My first introduction to Tinarwiren was at River to River in Lower Manhattan.
- Best surprise guest: Maceo Parker, the year he opened up at Celebration Brooklyn, brought out The Purple One himself—PRINCE. I could’ve died happy right there.
- Some of the baddest party bands have appeared in the parks; Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Los Amigos Invisibles, The Pinker Tones, and more salsa bands than I care to count.
- Crossed off the Bucket List: Richie Havens at Castle Clinton, Battery Park. I was too young to go to Woodstock, and he was in fine form.
- Two of the last concerts I attended with my older sister before she passed away were in the parks. During the time that she was treated for cancer, we saw Steel Pulse and George Clinton at Rockefeller Park.
- Philip Glass did a live performance of his score at a screening of the movie Powaqqatsi. ‘Nuf said.
Now here’s what I’m looking forward to for this season:
- Central Park SummerStage: May through October. SummerStage is in its 30th season. Last year was the best one ever. Most of the time, I hang at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park. But the festival extends through city parks in all five boroughs. This year, I’m looking forward to checking out Tedeschi Trucks Band, and two triple bills featuring Meshell Ndegeocello / Roy Hargrove / Gabriel Garzón-Montano, and Angelique Kidjo / Emmanuel Jal / Rich Medina.
- Celebrate Brooklyn: June 3-August 12. This is the place where magic happens. Since 1979, BRIC has been putting it down at the Prospect Park Bandshell. Opening concert will be Chaka Khan. Also looking forward to shows by Third World (again!), Esperanza Spalding, Krosfyah and tUnE-yArDs.
- Lincoln Center Out of Doors: July 22-August 9. I’m just now looking at their schedule, but already a few things have caught my eye: Toshi Reagon, Randy Newman, Yo La Tengo, and a Boogaloo Celebration with Joe Bataan.
- River to River: June 18-June 28. Sorry to say, that this festival, in my opinion, is a shadow of its former self. Since it changed organizers to LMCC (Lower Manhattan Cultural Council), the focus is on new arts and new media. Now I admit to liking this genre more than most, but I really haven’t been feeling anything for River to River for the past couple of summers. This year might be different. There’s a block festival featuring the jazz singer Somi, performances by Trisha Brown, Roomful of Teeth, and the Poets House event is back on the calendar.
- Shakespeare in the Park: A much-anticipated summer event. This year, the Public Theater will present The Tempest (May 27-Jul 5), and Cymbeline (July 23-August 23).
- Charlie Parker Jazz Festival: August 22-23 at Marcus Garvey Park.
- Arts Brookfield: The former World Financial Center is now Brookfield Place. They hold free arts events year-round, but in summer they ramp it up. Must-attend is the Lowdown Hudson Music Fest, July 14-15.
Hope that all of you have a fun, happy and safe summer!