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Summer music festival guide: The best shows in NYC

The best concerts, hottest festival looks and dazzling live-music photos

Photograph: Ryan Muir
Celebrate Brooklyn in Prospect Park

Music festivals have become as essential a feature of summer in the city as ice-skating and hot chocolate are to winter in New York: It's part of the reason why you live here. What makes New York's summer music festival scene better than anywhere else's? We'll start with the beautiful weather, then add the fact that you'll be watching your favorite bands play in truly iconic surroundings—say, Central Park, or the leafy Celebrate Brooklyn! bandshell. Then there's the people—check out any of our street fashion slide shows for proof that New Yorkers are a snappy-ass bunch when it comes to festival gear. Wherever you decide to hang, just don't forget that '80s sun visor.

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Celebrate Brooklyn! 2014

Janelle Monaé; Neutral Milk Hotel; The National; Nick Cave and the Bad SeedsSummerStage may be bigger and better-known, but Celebrate Brooklyn! has been around for much longer. And yes, it's worth the trek to Brooklyn—not only is the Bandshell a beaut, but the roster is often packed with interesting artists (recent alums include They Might Be Giants, Belle & Sebastian and Big Boi.) This year, the fest is kicking off its 36th season in style, with groovy R&B spitfire Janelle Monaé playing the first free concert on June 4. Benefit shows from reunited cult heroes Neutral Milk Hotel and Brooklyn indie royalty the National will follow, and expect a bevy of free concerts and film screenings to be announced as it gets closer to summer.

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The Governors Ball Music Festival

The blockbuster three-day fest returns, sporting a lineup that screams early aughts: the Strokes, Jack White, TV on the Radio, Interpol and, oh yes, the much ballyhooed return of Atlanta alt-hip-hop funkateers OutKast. Other big draws include local-boys-made-good Vampire Weekend, dubstep renegade Skrillex, U.K. house sensation Disclosure, soul fantasist Janelle Monáe, and Odd Future cronies Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt. Visit governorsballmusicfestival.com for the full scoop.

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Vision Festival 19

The 19th iteration of this free-jazz marathon will bestow lifetime-achievement honors on intense, unpredictable multi-instrumentalist Charles Gayle. Other performers and honorees include painter Jeff Schlanger, saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, pianist Matthew Shipp, guitarists James Blood Ulmer and Mary Halvorson, and the head-spinning collective Tarbaby.

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Northside Festival 2014

Most exciting five acts: Sharon Van Etten; Courtney Barnett; Titus Andronicus; Omar Souleyman; Beach Fossils In the five years since it began, The L Magazine's hip summer fest has gone from a small showcase for up-and-coming acts to a Brooklyn version of SXSW, with concerts, a film festival and an "innovation" component for techies. But we're still most excited about the music: Building off past successes (in 2013, headliners included the Walkmen, Solange and Black Flag), this year will feature performances from Brooklyn troubadour Sharon Van Etten, Jersey punk-rockers Titus Andronicus, prolific Syrian singer Omar Souleyman, and many more. (And we mean many: Approximately 400 acts will play during the music portion's four-day run.)

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Central Park SummerStage

Taking in a concert at Central Park's Rumsey Playfield is as essential a summer-in-New-York activity as a trip to Rockaway Beach. But the amazing outdoor shows aren't limited to that iconic venue: During SummerStage's three-month run, sponsored by the City Parks Foundation, a diverse roster of acts (past performers have included Pavement, Femi Kuti and the Positive Force, and Beach House) plays in green spaces throughout the city's five boroughs. And the best part: Aside from a few benefit shows (mostly staged in Central Park), concerts are free—the better for you to clutch a sweaty beer can as you sway along on a hot July night.

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Electric Zoo Festival

New York—just like the rest of the world—goes gaga for EDM (electronic dance music) and shows its love at this annual three-day dayglo rave-up on Randall’s Island. In its four year history, the fest has seen headlining DJ sets and live performances from Skrillex, Deadmau5, Avicii, Pete Tong and Moby—yep, the big names. Sadly in 2013, there were two ecstasy-related deaths at the festival, and its last day was cancelled. This year’s edition is set to go ahead, however, and also sees the first installment of Electric Zoo Mexico in Mexico City in May.

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Festival photos and street fashion

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Afropunk Fest 2014

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Full Moon Fest 2014

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Newport Folk Festival 2014

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Firefly Music Festival 2014

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Governors Ball 2014: The best crowd shots

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Governors Ball 2014: Sunday

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Governors Ball 2014: Saturday

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Governors Ball 2014: Friday

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Summer Jam 2014

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Boston Calling Spring 2014

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Best summer music venues

Celebrate Brooklyn! (at the Prospect Park Bandshell)

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Things to do Buy tickets

SummerStage Mainstage

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Attractions

Central Park, Rumsey Playfield

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Things to do

Williamsburg Park

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