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. But for those dedicated festivalgoers willing to travel, we've rounded up the best of the best summer music festivals nationwide. So be sure to go to some of Gotham's rockin' festivals, but don't blame us if you can't resist splurging on a trip across the country to attend some of the other amazing festivals going on this summer. 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
Mid–May to early October
For New York music fans, Central Park SummerStage is always one of the highlights of the summer-concerts calendar. The City Parks Foundation–backed series, which celebrates its 31st anniversary this year, is a juggernaut among warm-weather concert presenters, booking everything from classic New York hip-hop artists in outerborough NYC parks to big-name indie-rock bands on the Central Park mainstage.
Governors Ball occupies a unique place among summer concerts in NYC. Central Park SummerStage blankets all five boroughs with a mix of well-curated niche acts; Celebrate Brooklyn! carries out a similarly eclectic mission from its Prospect Park home base. And Northside Festival corners the North Brooklyn indie market—or what's left of it. Gov Ball, on the other hand, has been the city's only bona fide big-tent pop fest for a while now (though that looks to change in 2016). The annual Randalls Island event is the one local fest where you can catch hip-hop chart toppers, tastemaker-approved buzz bands, left-field pop heroes and, yes, dance-commanding EDM overlords. Here's our complete guide to the Gov Ball experience.
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 21st 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 Kendrick "King Kunta" Lamar took the top spot in 2015. Miss the yearly celebration and risk being left out of the loop.
Those keen on catching summer concerts in NYC have a ton of options, including several big-tent summer music festivals like Governors Ball and Panorama. Northside Festival takes a slightly different approach, presenting shows at several venues around Williamsburg and Greenpoint. The result is a diverse experience that hosts rising local acts alongside big names.
BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn!—SummerStage's cool, quirky Kings County cousin—is a major force in its own right. Unlike Central Park 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 showgoing season, whether you're seeing a buzzy indie-rock band, a classic soul or funk group, or one of the best hip-hop artists around.
End of June–beginning of September
Almost two decades of packing the Long Island City museum courtyard with NYC's music aficionados and sun-worshiping revelers, MoMA PS1's Warm Up is bigger than ever, with as strong a lineup of bands, DJs and producers as it's had in years. Based on last year's highlights (which included a whole day's worth of Night Slugs, Lotic and Vessel from Tri Angle Records, as well as the usual out-of-this-world outdoor art), we can't wait for this year's series to kick off.
Coachella in L.A. is the fest that really kicks the festival season into gear. So it makes sense that its organizers, Goldenvoice, will be debuting their first NYC Panorama Music Festival this year. The event will compete with, or complement, depending on your perspective, Governors Ball, in the same space that fest inhabits, Randalls Island Park. Arcade Fire, Kendrick Lamar and LCD Soundsystem top the bill, with a ton of strong supporting acts. It's a diverse roster bringing together names like R&B auteur FKA Twigs, pop enigma Sia, Harlem rap hero A$AP Rocky, indie-rock collective Broken Social Scene and Chicago DJ-producer the Black Madonna.
Afropunk Festival is an annual event that takes place at Brooklyn's Commodore Barry Park (City Park). Over the course of a weekend, the outdoor summer music festival—which celebrates multicultural arts—hosts a wide array of well-known musical artists, as well as “BITES & BEATS” food trucks, live artworks and the SpinThrift Market. Additionally, Afropunk strives to raise multicultural awareness in New York City with its Activism Row initiative.
Look out New York City dance clubs, the Electric Zoo 2016 Festival is poised to take over Labor Day weekend, bringing hoards of EDM fans to Randall's Island for the event's eighth 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.
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).
We're still stoked from last year's fest, but FYF Fest 2016 will be here before we know it. The folks at Fuck Yeah Fest continue to step it up compared to their humble beginnings at the Echo all those years ago. New and improved walkways, beautiful weather and some amazing sets made 2015's fest a success; if FYF keeps this up, 2016 is sure to be epic.
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.