The first real signs of a New York summer on the horizon, even when it snows in April, are the lineup announcements for the city’s summer performance festivals. Taking the lead this year is SummerStage. With more than 130 free concerts, recitals, lectures, workshops, and events, it’s pretty much a guarantee that at least one will speak to your musical preferences. However, we highly recommend adding these 10 Central Park shows to your summer calendar.
David Bowie’s Blackstar was a frenetic, stunning meditation on mortality and celebrity, crafted with a surprisingly experimental sound. This live instrumental presentation of Bowie’s final LP, as arranged by Bang on a Can All-Star Evan Ziporyn, will be played by the concert orchestra Ensemble LPR, with a special guest appearance by Bowie’s backing band for Blackstar, the Donny McCaslin Group. Saturday, June 9; 7 p.m.
Grammy-winning bluegrass and opera singer Giddens first appeared in the public eye as the lead of the retro-roots band the Carolina Chocolate Drops. She’s since emerged as a breakout solo performer and a MacArthur Fellow. Traditional musician and guitarist Little will join Giddens for an appreciation of modern Americana through a distinctly black, deeply considered historical perspective. Saturday, June 16; 7 p.m.
Siano was the house DJ for Studio 54 at the height of the club’s notoriety. His Hallelujah Disco show is a multimedia look back at the ’70s nightlife scene through a mix of storytelling, dance music, disco history, and rare footage of celebrities. Siano will be supported onstage by Tony-winning R&B singer Melba Moore and the Harlem Gospel Choir. Avant-theater Afrofuturist duo Illustrious Blacks open. Sunday, June 24; 7 p.m.
One of the biggest bands of the early aughts, Toronto indie-pop collective Broken Social Scene spun out a number of major artists and acts, including Feist, Emily Haines, Metric, and Stars. The core collective, still going strong, will headline this special Canada Day show, with support from Haitian-Canadian singer Melissa Laveaux and Juno Award–winning folk trio the East Pointers. Sunday, July 1; 3 p.m.
Held annually in New York City, the Latin Alternative Music Conference provides a big stage for an array of groundbreaking artists from the Latin diaspora. Following concerts on July 11 with Brooklyn alt-pop star (and Drake favorite) Gabriel Garzón-Montano and July 12 with psychedelic cumbia pioneers Systema Solar, LAMC’s third day in Central Park features Academy Award and Latin Grammy winner Jorge Drexler; Calle 13’s Eduardo Cabra; Dominican singer-songwriter Vicente Garcia’s pan-Caribbean band, Trending Tropics; and Puerto Rican musician Otura Mun’s fusion project, ÌFÉ. The vibe at LAMC shows is always fun and explicitly Yanqui friendly; if you don’t have a favorite Spanish-speaking musician, consider this your invitation to expand your horizontes. Saturday, July 14; 3 p.m.
This Big Easy–themed family concert will likely bring out more than a few children in their 40s and 50s—and with a lineup like this, who could blame them? For more than 35 years, the Rebirth Brass Band has been the go-to collective for their big New Orleans marching band sound. Fans of HBO’s Tremé will recognize the group and their special guest for this performance—Big Chief Monk Bodreaux of the Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indian tribe—as regulars from that show. Famed second line divas the Lady Buckjumpers will be on hand to teach young and old alike some basic dance moves and show off a few of their own. Sunday, July 15; 3 p.m.
In the world of Afrobeat music, no family name carries as much weight as Kuti. The son of the immortal Fela, along with his band Positive Force, has earned his place at the front of the genre. They’ll be playing classic hits and up-tempo summer dance music from Femi’s recently released 10th album, One People One World. Kinshasa-born pan-African fusion bandleader Jupiter Bokondji and his combo Okwess opens. Sunday, July 29; 3 p.m.
Singer-songwriter Richard Barone hosts this nostalgic look back at the post-folk revival that flourished in downtown clubs throughout the 1960s. The songbooks of Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Janis Ian, and more will be explored by those who were there (including “Ruby Tuesday” singer Melanie; guitarist José Feliciano; and lead singer of the Youngbloods, Jesse Colin Young) and those who wish they could have been (’80s rocker Marshall Crenshaw, Broadway and pop star Nellie McKay, performance artist Tammy Faye Starlite). Sunday, August 12; 7 p.m.
Here’s one for the SoundCloud generation: The fantastically popular 22-year-old electronic producer Masa has collaborated on hits with a who’s who of pop and hip-hop royalty, including Charli XCX, Christine and the Queens, Desiigner, and Harlem’s own A$AP Rocky. Whether the A$AP crew rolls through or not, it’s a safe bet several surprise guests are likely to show. Canadian electropop DJ and singer Lanza opens. Sunday, August 19; 7 p.m.
The internationally acclaimed Beninese singer-songwriter Kidjo will reprise last year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors live performance of Afrocentric covers from the Talking Heads’ classic New Wave LP, Remain in Light, to celebrate her 2018 album release of the same name. New York’s own grassroots protest choir the Resistance Revival Chorus provides support. Thursday, September 27; 7 p.m.