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The best free summer concerts and festivals

Discover the season’s best free concerts from Andrew Bird, St. Vincent, Thee Oh Sees and many others

Photograph: John Klemm
Central Park SummerStage

One of the (many) reasons we love living in New York is the huge amount of free concerts come summertime. And we’re super jazzed about this year’s offerings, which include free-of-charge sets by top-tier artists in parks and seaside spots throughout the city. 

RECOMMENDED: All summer concerts in NYC

Thee Oh Sees

John Dwyer & Co. freaked out garage-rock fans when they announced a hiatus at the end of last year. Luckily for that lot—and anyone who likes their riffs big, bad, meaty and pogoworthy—that break didn’t last. The Cali crew returned this spring, releasing the excellent LP Drop; now it hits town for this rare, sun-soaked appearance. Trust us: This will be a blast. R.S.V.P. at northsidefestival.com. Free.

Andrew Bird

Bird is known for playing venues that highlight his hypnotic violin pop; setting the whistling, magic-fingered multi-instrumentalist in the great outdoors promises a whole other kind of trippiness. He’ll be backed by his new band, the Hands of Glory, and probably more than a few of the flying friends with whom he shares a name. 212-360-2777, summerstage.org. Free.

4Knots Music Festival

The Village Voice has long played a major part in free music fests. Now that its Coney Island Siren Music Festival has been retired, 4Knots is its standard-bearer. This year, South Street Seaport puts on its party hat and rolls out the indie-rock carpet for a female-heavy lineup that includes garage rockers Those Darlins, noise-doused Speedy Ortiz and headliner the Julie Ruin, which is fronted by Kathleen Hanna—erstwhile Bikini Kill and Le Tigre singer (and wife of Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz). 212-475-7446, villagevoice.com/4knots. Free.

Lowdown Hudson Blues Festival

This year’s get-down goes a long way to honor the genre that spawned it, while pushing its well-worn boundaries. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings appear, touring behind a recent effort, Give the People What They Want—a title that encapsulates the fun-loving group’s mission. (The album’s release was delayed so that Jones could get treatment for cancer.) No BS! Brass Band, Robert Cray, John Hiatt and James Carter are also on the docket. 212-417-7000, brookfieldplaceny.com/blues. Free.

St. Vincent

The year isn’t half over, but it already looks like 2014 belongs to St. Vincent, née Annie Clark: Fresh off a tour with David Byrne, she immediately churned out her new, self-titled record. The album contains the kind of self-confident musings that have made St. Vincent the reigning queen of indie rock, including the gem “Oh what an ordinary day / Take out the garbage, masturbate” on the single “Birth in Reverse.” 718-683-5600, bricartsmedia.org/cb. Free.

Blood Orange

Cupid Deluxe, Devonté Hynes’s second record as Blood Orange, is a complex, swirling affair—packed with R&B, pop, blues and even jazz, it’s an upbeat ode to dance one moment and a soul-searching dirge the next. Formerly the man behind Lightspeed Champion, Hynes knows his way around a switchboard, producing unexpected, robust combinations of sounds. At SummerStage, he’s sure to lean on the more sexual numbers, sending the masses into the humid August night soaked in sweat. 212-360-2789, summerstage.org. Free.

Charlie Parker Jazz Festival

Once again, the city becomes a movable ode to Bird for a weekend in August. On Saturday, Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park welcomes a host of jazz luminaries, including Wallace Roney and his orchestra. (Roney’s former associates include a fellow by the name of Miles Davis.) Sunday the fest heads to the East Village’s Tompkins Square Park, which Parker used to overlook in the 1950s from his apartment on Avenue B; NEA Jazz Master Kenny Barron takes the headlining slot. Marcus Garvey Park. Aug 23 at 3pm. • Tompkins Square Park. Aug 24 at 3pm.• 212-360-2789, summerstage.org. Free.