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The best shows at SummerStage 2017

We sift through the SummerStage lineup to find the absolute best warm-weather gigs happening this summer

By Kristen Zwicker |
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Yo La Tengo
Photograph: Carlie Armstrong

SummerStage is one of the great things to do in the summer in New York, offering a killer spread of worthwhile shows featuring everyone from legendary hip-hop artists to up-and-coming indie-rockers. It’s also one of the absolute best free things to do in NYC (though we did include some of the series’s ticketed “benefit” shows as well). The complete schedule can be a bit daunting, which is why we narrowed down the list to the gigs in the best NYC parks you definitely won't want to miss this summer. Get tickets here

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to SummerStage

Best shows at SummerStage 2017

Mavis Staples
Photograph: Chris Strong
Music, Pop

Mavis Staples + Toshi Reagon & BIGLovely

Unstoppable septuagenarian gospel legend Mavis Staples hits the stage behind last year's Livin' on a High Note, an effervescent effort featuring songwriting from Nick Cave, Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and TUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus. Staples cited Pharrell Williams's "Happy" as an inspiration for the album, saying in an interview with the Guardian, "I told my songwriters I wanted songs just like that, that would make people smile, also because I’ve been making people cry for so long.” It's quite possible you'll do both at this Central Park show.

8468782q, Mandatory Credit: Photo by Amy Harris/REX/Shutterstock (8468782q)George ClintonOkeechobee Music Festival, Day 2, Okeechobee, Florida, USA  - 04 Mar 2017
Photograph: Amy Harris/REX/Shutterstock
Music, Funk, soul and disco

George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic

Going strong in the wake of a 2014 memoir, Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain't That Funkin' Kinda Hard on You?, the funk legend unleashes his colorful current crew at this free outdoor shindig.

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Elvis Costello
LNP/REX Shutterstock
Music, Rock and indie

Elvis Costello and the Imposters

If you missed Costello when he hit town last November, you're in luck: The staggeringly brilliant smart-rock songsmith is returning to NYC on a repeat of his "Imperial Bedroom & Other Chambers" tour. As before, you'll hear selections from his superb 1982 album, Imperial Bedroom, interspersed with other tunes. Unlike most of SummerStage's shows, this gig ain't free, but it's well worth the ticket price.

Music, Rap, hip-hop and R&B

Digable Planets + Natasha Diggs

Considered a one-hit wonder by some, thanks to its briefly inescapable 1992 jazz-rap smash, “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat),” this trio’s commercially underperforming 1994 follow-up, Blowout Comb, has belatedly but deservedly become part of the canon of rap’s golden age. Aspiring beatsmiths and DJs will want to show up early for the 6pm workshop with local DJ school Scratch Academy—and be ready to take notes after, when the always-on-point Natasha Diggs steps up to the decks.

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Robert Glasper
Photograph: Janette Beckman
Music, Jazz

Robert Glasper Experiment + Phony Ppl + Tank and the Bangas

Grammy Award–winning pianist and R&B auteur Robert Glasper brings his genre-melding Experiment to SummerStage as part of the Blue Note Jazz Festival. Also on the bill are playful Brooklyn quintet Phony Ppl and electrifying New Orleans soul outfit Tank and the Bangas. The vibes will be almost impossibly good, trust us.

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Music, Latin and world

Mon Laferte + Princess Nokia + ÌFÉ

Chilean singer and multi-instrumentalist Norma Monserrat Bustamante Laferte, better known as Mon Laferte, serves up her warm blend of rock, blues, pop and cumbia behind her latest, La Trenza. Sharing the bill are Bronx-based rapper Princess Nokia and ÌFÉ, the ultra-compelling new project of Otura Mun that weaves together electronic beats, Afro-Caribbean rhythms and Yoruban devotional singing.

Yo La Tengo
Photograph: Carlie Armstrong
Music, Rock and indie

Yo La Tengo + Ultimate Painting

As beloved an indie-rock institution as Hoboken has ever spat out, Yo La Tengo is known for employing its compendious knowledge of covers in its live shows (and also on 2015's Stuff Like That There), so it's possible you'll hear anything from Hank Williams to Sun Ra at this outing. Opening the show is wistful English alt-rock outfit Ultimate Painting.

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PJ Harvey
Photograph: Shutterstock/Rene Oonk
Music, Rock and indie

PJ Harvey

Alt-rock icon PJ Harvey’s latest release, The Hope Six Demolition Project, is another singular statement. The record balances weighty tone and musical simplicity, serving as another example of Harvey's penchant for dark, compelling songwriting rooted in odd moods. Her output is always arresting, expect no less from this SummerStage benefit performance.

Elza Soares
Photograph: Courtesy Ysanya Perez / Red Bull Content Pool
Music, Latin and world

Elza Soares + Liniker e os Caramelows + Teleseen

Brazilian singer Soares made a name for herself in the 1950s, incorporating elements of New Orleans jazz into traditional samba music. Since then, her inimitable rasp and unwavering courage in the face of tragedy, exile and hardship has made her a living legend. Expect to hear from her superb 2016 album, The Woman at the End of the World, which ventures into the gritty blend of samba and punk known as samba suja, or dirty samba, at this show.

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