History of Summertime Festivals in NYC
New York City is a veritable hotspot for arts and culture in the summertime. No matter your artistic passions, at least one of the countless, long-running cultural organizations in the city will have something to appeal to your interests. Add one (or all) of the below festivals to your calendar and share in the excitement! Who knows — some of the best performers in the country may be just a short walk from your doorstep.
First launched in the summer of 1979 by Brooklyn residents, Celebrate Brooklyn! is one of New York City’s longest-running outdoors performing arts festivals. This multi-day summer concert series highlights the best, brightest, and most promising Brooklynite musicians of the year. Since its founding, the festival has showcased over 2,000 artists, many of whom used the appearance as a springboard towards greater success. The festival spotlights internationally-celebrated and emerging artists from all musical genres, including but not limited to classical, jazz, pop, alt, hip-hop and regional American. This year’s lineup features notable performers such as Patti LaBelle, Courtney Barnett, Shareef Keyes & the Groove, and Iron & Wine. Attendees should note that while the festival itself is and has always been free, certain performances are charity benefits and have an associated cost.
Celebrate Brooklyn! starts Tuesday, June 4.
Shakespeare in the Park wasn’t always such a summertime staple in Central Park. When director-producer Joseph Staff initially launched the program, he did so with the not-so-hidden disapproval of the then-parks commissioner, Robert Moses. Moses didn’t have a problem with theatre productions in the park per se, but he was firmly against the lawn erosion that audience members were beginning to cause on the grass in front of Turtle Pond. He demanded that Papp charge a fee to cover the cost of sod and lawn care — but Papp refused to charge for the performances, stubbornly maintaining that the theatre should be free to any who cared to see it. A long legal battle ensued between the two parties and ultimately ended in Papp’s favor. Surprisingly, the clash reportedly left Moses with a deep respect for Papp and led the commissioner to request the funds the director needed to build a proper theater in the park.
Since then, Shakespeare in the Park has developed into one of New York City’s most beloved summertime arts offerings. It has entertained over five million people throughout its run, and in past years even featured standout actors like Meryl Streep, James Earl Jones, and Al Pacino.
Interested? You can find the dates for 2019’s productions below. Remember — while entry is free, you’ll need to claim tickets beforehand to reserve a seat!
Much Ado About Nothing: May 21 – June 23
Coriolanus: July 16 – August 11
Hercules: August 21 – September 8
Founded by Jay K. Hoffman, William W. Lockwood Jr., Schuyler G. Chapin, and George F. Schutz in August of 1966, the Mostly Mozart festival was initially intended to provide freelance classical musicians with work opportunities during the summer off-season. Then and now, the event’s in-house orchestra pulls its members from notable classical ensembles across the country; its performers hail from high-profile orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and more.
The focus of Mostly Mozart has expanded since its early years. While the festival primarily offers concerts that feature its in-house orchestra, it also features solo classical artists, dance pieces, panel discussions, and film screenings. Most events occur at the David Geffen Hall at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, but other venues include and are not limited to Rose Theater, Merkin Concert Hall, the Walter Reade Theater, and the David Rubenstein Atrium.
In 2019, the Mostly Mozart festival will run from July 10th through August 10th; tickets for various events available for purchase online.
Midsummer Night Swing is a three-week extravaganza of dance, music, and culture. Held at Damrosch Park at the Lincoln Center, this long-running annual event offers new and experienced dancers alike the chance to learn how to swing, disco, salsa, ballroom step, and more. Each night follows a similar pattern: attendees arrive in the early evening for a formal lesson on the dance featured that night, and then spend the next few hours dancing the night away. The fun doesn’t always stop with formal steps, either; in recent years, organizers have even begun handing out wireless headsets and facilitating post-dance silent discos on certain nights!
This year, dancers can enjoy live music from celebrated musicians such as Bobby Valentin, Eyal Vilner Big Band, Curles Turner & Uptown Swing, and Bria Skonberg, among others. This is a ticketed event; attendees can buy four dance passes for $60, six dance passes for $84, a season pass for $170, or advance tickets for select evenings at $18 apiece.
Midsummer Night Swing will run from Tuesday, June 25 until Saturday, July 13th.
Want more artsy events on your calendar? Check out our blog post on the Coolest Pop-Up Museums in NYC!