Music festivals have become as essential a feature of summer in New York as ice-skating and hot chocolate are to winter in the city. What makes New York's summer music festivals so great? We'll start with the beautiful weather, then add the fact that you'll be watching your favorite bands play in NYC parks and other truly iconic surroundings—say, Central Park, or the leafy BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! bandshell. Whichever ones you decide to go to, just don't forget that '80s sun visor.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to summer concerts in NYC
Best summer music festivals in NYC
June to early October
For New York music fans, SummerStage is the gold standard for outdoor summer concerts. The City Parks Foundation–backed series, which celebrates its 32nd anniversary this year, is a juggernaut among warm-weather concert presenters, booking everything from classic New York hip-hop artists in outer borough NYC parks to big-name indie-rock bands on the Central Park mainstage.
Blue Note Festival
Presented by the Blue Note Jazz Club—an essential part of the city's jazz scene since the 1980s—this annual fest features nearly 100 performances by beboppers, soul crooners and jazz fusionistas throughout numerous venues across the city. The primary performance spots (aside from the Blue Note) are B.B. King Blues Club & Grill and the Highline Ballroom, but you'll also find gigs at such establishments as Le Poisson Rouge, Mercury Lounge, Town Hall and more.
The annual Randalls Island event is the one of the best big local fests, hosting top talent from an array of genres over three days. Catch the new generation of hip-hop stars (Chance the Rapper, Childish Gambino), pop sounds of every ilk (from moody Lorde to pop-rock Phoenix), atmospheric, dreamy rock (Air, Beach House) and more.
Those keen on catching summer concerts in NYC have a ton of options. Northside Festival takes a slightly different approach from GovBall and Panorama, presenting shows at several venues around Williamsburg and Greenpoint. The result is a diverse experience that hosts rising local acts alongside big names, which this year include Miguel and Dirty Projectors.
BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn!—SummerStage's cool, quirky Kings County–only cousin—is a major force in its own right. Unlike SummerStage, which spreads out across the five boroughs, all Celebrate Brooklyn! shows take place at the beautiful bandshell in Prospect Park, a scenic amphitheater surrounded by trees. Catching one of these gigs is guaranteed to be a highlight of your summer, whether you're seeing a buzzy indie-rock band, a classic soul or funk group, or one of the best hip-hop artists around.
Hosted by local hip-hop radio champ Hot 97, this annual blowout unites hip-hop's biggest names with notable up-and-comers. Summer Jam, entering its 24th year, is a bellwether for hip-hop and pop at large, often booking notable acts at the height of their powers. Brooklyn's own Notorious B.I.G. topped the bill in 1995, while DJ Khaled, A$AP Rocky and others took the top spots in 2016. Miss the yearly celebration and risk being left out of the loop.
River to River
Hosted by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, the 16th annual River to River Festival will feature over a week's worth of music, dance, theatre and visual-arts programming at a number of downtown venues, including the South Street Seaport, Rockefeller Park and Governors Island.
Clearwater's Great Hudson River Revival
June 17, 18
This Croton, NY, fest—hosted by the Pete Seeger–founded environmental organization Clearwater—had to take 2016 off due to financial struggles. Its returning this year, though, with a bang, featuring headliners Arlo Guthrie, Los Lobos, Richard Thompson, Josh Ritter and Joan Osborne. Thrown with sustainability and eco-living in mind, this fest featuers Americana roots music ranging from the contemporary to the traditional alongside dancing and other family-oriented entertainment.
July 1–September 2
MoMA PS1 Warm Up boasts almost two decades of packing the Long Island City museum's courtyard with music aficionados and sun-worshiping revelers. Based on last year's highlights, which included artists as diverse as experimental ambient collagist Elysia Crampton and psychedelic multi-instrumentalist Eartheater, we can't wait for this year's series to kick off.
Lincoln Center Out of Doors
For the 47th year of Lincoln Center Out of Doors, expect more of the same. That is, another year of intriguingly diverse music, dance and spoken word performances. Over three weeks, the fest brings internationally-acclaimed talent to the plazas of Lincoln Center. Best of all? All the performances are absolutely free.
Coachella in L.A. is the bash that really kicks the festival season into gear. So it makes sense that its organizers, Goldenvoice, debuted their first NYC fest last year at Randalls Island Park. This year's sophomore edition features Frank Ocean, Solange and Nine Inch Nails topping the bill, with a ton of strong supporting acts that include dusky avant dance producer Nicolas Jaar and introverted indie pop darlings Belle & Sebastian.
Look out New York City dance clubs: Electric Zoo 2017 Festival is poised to take over Labor Day weekend, bringing hoards of EDM fans to Randalls Island for the event's ninth summer. The festival has become an unmissable attraction on the electronic-dance-music circuit, featuring a wide range of artists both top name and underground. Get on your dancing shoes and best festival clothing and enjoy the tunes.
Hosted by Founders Entertainment, the folks behind GovBall, Meadows Festival touched down in Citi Field last year with a star-studded lineup of internationally renowned and locally buzzy acts, from top-charting headliners J. Cole and Kanye West to smaller acts like post-disco outfit Mr. Twin Sister and synth-maestro Mas Ysa. It returns in 2017 for its sophomore edition.
Best summer music festivals in the US
It's back! The 12th edition of Lollapalooza will return to Grant Park from July 28–31, 2016, brining headliner such as Radiohead, Lana Del Rey and LCD Soundsystem to the city. That's right—to celebrate the festival's 25th birthday, you'll be able to enjoy four whole days of bands, heat and huge crowds near some of Chicago's best attractions. There's usually something for everyone, including plenty of opportunities to dance your ass off at Perry's Stage and after-parties.
We're still recovering from 2015, but Coachella festival 2016 will be here before we know it. The Indio music festival kicks off a season of live music weekends around the country—put simply, all eyes and ears will be on Coachella next spring. Find out when tickets go on sale, who's playing the fest, which artists you have to see and what you'll be eating between sets (spoiler: food from some of the best restaurants in Los Angeles).
Have you ever been riding the Red Line on a weekend in mid-June and wondered, "Why are there so many people in here wearing neon tank-tops and Japanese kitten hats?" Well, duh, it is Spring Awakening weekend. Organized by the folks behind North Coast Music Festival, the city's biggest EDM festival takes place in Jackson Park this year (the Copa America Centenario soccer tournament is taking over Soldier Field).
Ah, Labor Day, the end of summer. Accordingly, North Coast Music Festival bills itself as "Summer's Last Stand." (Though technically this is not the end of summer festivals, as Riot Fest hits two weeks later.) Curated and run by local club promoters React Presents, North Coast arguably delivers the most diverse bill of any Chicago music festival. This year, EDM acts such as Bassnectar, Odesza and Zedd top the bill, which also includes artists like Action Bronson and Sleight Bells.
BottleRock, Napa Valley’s music, wine, and food extravaganza, takes place over Memorial Day weekend, May 27-29, 2016. Headliners include Stevie Wonder, Florence + the Machine and Red Hot Chili Peppers, with supporting acts from more than 70 bands across four stages, including The Lumineers, Death Cab For Cutie, Lenny Kravitz, Walk the Moon, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Ziggy Marley, Grouplove, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Ozomatli, Jamestown Revival and more.
Chicago’s beachfront music festival is all carefree, dance-centric fun, with thousands crowded onto the sand at Oakwood Beach for two days of music and more—from henna tattoos to yoga to even impromptu haircuts.