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Top 27 Manhattan Summer Festivals

By Della Hasselle | May 20, 2011 7:32am | Updated on May 20, 2011 7:27am

By Della Hasselle

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

MANHATTAN — Summer in the city comes with blues and barbeque, yoga followed by dumplings and an international dance parade with more than 60,000 participants.

The city's slew of free or cheap festivals reflect the unique cultural treasures in each neighborhood — and to help you find your way through the borscht, hip-hop, tango and tacos, DNAinfo has put together a list of must-see events.

A Little Bit of Everything


One of New York's largest free summer arts events, the River to River Festival, offers everything from the avant-garde dance theater of famed New York company STREB, to free performances by music icons such as Patti Smith and Philip Glass.

This year, highlights include Movie Nights on the Elevated Acre, the 12-hour concert "Bang on a Can Marathon" that features more than 150 artists, and the interactive Come Out and Play games that encourage participants to go on a scavenger hunt through the area's parks, neighborhoods and waterfronts.

"It attracts people to Lower Manhattan and gets them to interact with the landscape in new ways, to really discover Lower Manhattan. And it’s a really great thing to have during the summer," said Andy Horwitz, curator at the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.

The best part, Horwitz added, is that it doesn't cost a penny.

"These are really well-renowned artists that are offering the gift of their art to the public for free. It's an opportunity for people to partake in high-quality entertainment."

When and Where: The festival runs every day from June 19th to July 16th all over Lower Manhattan. For a detailed schedule, please click here.


Every Thursday in the summer, free events will be open to the public for Union Square's summer festival. The mornings will start off with Fitness in the Square, with programs such as yoga and aerobics held from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., followed by Kids in the Square at the playground.

In the evening, the park will host Music in the Square at 6 p.m.

When and Where: Summer in the Square runs in Union Square Park every Thursday from June 17th through August 12th.


Featuring the Royal Shakespeare Festival, the Mariinsky Ballet, and the Cleveland Orchestra, the Lincoln Center Festival has a multitude of cultural treasures to show this summer.

Highlighted performances include Brazilian music, opera and contemporary dance by choreographer Merce Cunningham.

"That’s what is wonderful about new Yorkers — they’re so culturally sophisticated and they have such unique tastes," Lincoln Center's Eileen McMahon said. "It’s just not a chocolate and vanilla and strawberry kind of town."

One of the most exciting aspects of this year's festival, McMahon added, will be the contribution by Brazilian songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Tom Ze, who will make his first New York appearance in 10 years.

"The Brazilian community will be very excited," McMahon said. "He's a real trendsetter."

When and Where: The Lincoln Center Festival will run from July 6th to August 14th at 70 Lincoln Center Plaza.


New York's Summerstage boasts more than 100 performances, including funk, pop, Latin music and gospel, tap and hip-hop dancers and spoken word and theater of all genres and styles.

Manhattan events will include a Turkish band, Brazilian cinema and a hip-hop Battle of the Boroughs, among many, many more events.

When and Where: Manhattan events will take place from in Central Park's Mainstage from June 3rd to August 28th.

Food Festivals


This scrumptious festival brings the Deep South to New York with a line-up of the country's best blues bands and samplings from mouth-watering New York-based BBQ restaurants.

Performance highlights include Marquise Knox, Diana Braithwaite and Chris Whiteley.

When and Where: The festival is on August 21st from 2 to 9 p.m. at Greenwich Village's Hudson River Park, on Pier 54 at W. 14th Street.


For more than 10 years, the Bastille Day on 60th Street festival has been celebrating French independence, bringing the European country's best to Manhattan.

This year, the popular FiAF wine and cheese tasting will return, alongside games of pétanque, Can-Can dancing, mime acts and a classic Citroen car show.

When and Where: Bastille Day on 60th Street is on Sunday, July 10th from 12 to 5 p.m. between Lexington and Fifth avenues.


New York's famous street food cook-off lets pedestrians judge the best Manhattan vendor. Last year's sidewalk chefs made mouth-watering dumplings, fish tacos and fresh fruit smoothies.

The festival is also a fundraiser for the Street Vendor's Project, an organization that promotes the rights of New York's street vendors.

When and Where: The Vendy Awards are on Governors Island on Saturday, Sep. 24th from 12:30 to 5 p.m.

Theater Festivals


The New York International Fringe Festival is one of the largest multi-arts festivals in the United States.

This year the company is celebrating with the FringeBENEFIT Series, a look back at 15 of the festival's most successful shows. Every Thursday will feature a different performance, concert, or reading.

Highlights include "Urinetown," "Williamsburg: The Musical," "Cats Talk Back" and "The Boys Upstairs."

When and Where: Catch the FringeBENEFIT show every Thursday from May 5 to August 11 at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, inside West Bank Cafe, 407 West 42nd Street at Ninth Avenue.


Often described as fringe-ier than even the New York International Fringe Festival, the Ice Factory Festival has gained its street cred as a place for quality avant-garde theater.

Seven shows are presented over seven weeks. This year's picks include experimental theater, dance, music, film and installation art. Some big names include Obie-winner Matthew Maher and comics creator Liz Prince.

When and Where: Ice Factory from July 9th to Aug. 23rd at SoHo's Ohio Theater, located on 66 Wooster between Spring and Broome.


The 2011 lineup features well over 20 shows, including "Alice: A New Musical," "The Banana Monologues," "Between the Bricks" and "Children of God."

When and Where: All of the shows are at 312 W. 36th Street in either the Abingdon Arts Complex or TBG Arts Center. The shows run from July 11th to July 31st.


Theatreworks USA’s presents THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD, a salsa and merengue-infused musical inspired by "The Wizard of Oz."

When and Where: The free summer theater runs from July 19th to August 19th at Theatreworks USA, located on 151 West 26th Street.


Shakespeare in the Park, held annually at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, has been delighting visitors for 57 years.

This year, the Public Theater is putting on two works diametrically opposed in theme and content. "Measure for Measure" has been called Shakespeare's grittiest piece, and "All's Well That Ends Well," is a fairytale for grownups.

When and Where: Shakespeare in the Park is held from July 6th to August 14th in Central Park's Delacorte Theater.


Here's a taste of what this theater festival is cooking up: "Henry V" will become a traveling play through Lower Manhattan as King Henry and his army from England (Castle Clinton/ Battery Park) travel across the English Channel (New York Harbor) to France (Governors Island). The play will end at Governor's Island with the Battle of Agincourt at Fort Jay.

When and Where: New York Classical Theater will perform from the end of May through July 5. Please check the website for a detailed schedule.


Put on by the Moose Hall Theater Company, the Inwood Shakespeare Festival will bring "Othello" to greater Northern Manhattan, among other theatrical treats.

When and Where: The Festival will be in Inwood Hill Park Peninsula from June 8th to August 6th.

Dance Festivals


Jonathan Hollander in 1976, the year he founded Battery Dance Company.
Jonathan Hollander in 1976, the year he founded Battery Dance Company.
View Full Caption
Ed Robbins

Artistic Director of Darrah Carr Dance and champion Irish step dancer, will teach a master class on Irish step and contemporary modern dance.

When and Where: The class will be Saturday, May 7th at Riverside Park South Pier One at 70th Street.


More than 10,000 dancers are expected to march down Broadway in this year's parade, which represents a huge range of genres and cultures, from Polynesian to Peruvian to classical ballet dancers.

This year more than 73 different types of dance are expected, including African dance, salsa, Argentinean tango, the jitterbug, modern dance and hip-hop.

Although onlookers have always had a good time, the importance of the parade lies in fact that so many cultures come together for a single event, president Greg Miller says.

"It’s not just a party parade but a parade that celebrates diversity and presents artistic expression," Miller said. "People enjoy watching dance."

He also added that the city's immigrant populations bring sights and sounds that appeal to many New Yorkers.

They "bring with them very beautiful styles of dance. Bangra, Bolivian tinkers, Bulgarian cultural dances — this is what you would never expect to see on the streets," he added.

This year, the parade promises to also offer interesting street floats, including an 8-foot toad. It will also bring Broadway enthusiasts with the star of "Billy Elliot" as an honorary Grand Marshal.

When and Where: On May 21st the parade travels from Broadway and 21st Street to University Place. Then from St. Marks it will go down 8th Street to Tompkins Square Park, with a final DanceFest performance onstage. For specific directions, please click here.


The Downtown Dance Festival celebrates its 30th birrthday this year, with nine days of festivities.

Established by the Battery Dance Company, which recently celebrated 35 years of performance, Downtown Dance Festival is New York's longest-running free festival that emphasises equal opportunity for both established and emerging companies.

When and Where: Battery Dance Company’s 30th Anniversary Downtown Dance Festival will take place at Battery Park, One New York Plaza and other downtown locations from August 13th to 31st.

Music Festivals


The most popular shows on and off Broadway will be performed in Bryant Park this summer free of charge for showtunes lovers and newcomers. The performers will be announced in late May.

When and Where: The shows will take place every Thursday in Bryant Park, from July 7th to August 11th.


Charlie Parker, who was often called "Yardbird," was an American jazz saxophonist and composer thought to be one of the greatest musical masters of the 20th century. As the father of bebop, or modern jazz, he changed the way people listened to music.

The Charlie Parker Jazz Festival emulates this innovator by showcasing some of the world's finest jazz musicians that carry out Parker's style. Every year, the festival is held in two Manhattan parks that Parker frequented — Harlem's Marcus Garvey Park and Tompkins Square Park.

This year, the downtown portion of the festival will feature Archie Shepp Quartet, Madeleine Peyroux, Anat Cohen and The Gerald Clayton Trio.

When and Where: Please click here for schedule details.


The Blue Note Jazz Club, located in the West Village on W. 3rd Street, has long been an institution for the city's top-notch jazz. In honor of its 30th Anniversary, the club is expanding its doors throughout New York during the month of June for a brand-new festival celebrating numerous jazz musicians.

The 2011 Blue Note Jazz Festival will feature high-profile acts such as Dave Brubeck, Chris Botti, Nancy Wilson, Bobby McFerrin, Roberta Flack, Brian Wilson.

When and Where: The Blue Note Jazz Festival will run from June 1st to June 30th throughout different venues in Manhattan. For a full schedule of shows and events, please click here.


Every Wednesday at 6 p.m. during the summer, Bryant Park will host a concert that is timed to ease New Yorkers into after-work mode.

The concerts will feature an eclectic collection of jazz, instrumental and classical music, with highlights being Paul Dempsey and David Berkeley.

When and Where: The concerts are every Wednesday at 6 p.m. from June 1st to August 31st at Bryant Park, located between 40th and 42nd streets and Fifth and Sixth avenues.


This highly anticipated, star-studded concert will kick off this year with a performance by Rihanna. Other stars will include American Idol winners, Ce Lo Green, Maroon 5 and and Journey.

New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys will perform a joint concert this summer. Even Chris Brown will make a guest appearance, despite his public breakdown on rival "Good Morning America."

When and Where: Viewing is on a first-come, first-served basis outside the "Today" Studio 1A, located at 49th Street and Rockefeller Plaza in New York City.


The River Rocks festival will feature three performances by bands that encompass the genres of indie-rock, post-rock, punk rock and pop.

Former performers have included the White Stripes, George Benson, Natalie Cole and The Roots.

When and Where: The River Rocks festival will take place July 8th, July 22nd and August 12 at River Park's Pier 54.


A Midsummer Night's Swing will foxtrot and hustle its way into Lincoln Center at the end of June. Featuring Jonathan Stout Orchestra and Hot Club of Cowtown, the music ranges from big band style to salsa music.

Don't know how to dance? Don't worry. The festival prides itself on introducing new forms of swing via lessons like the Soul Train Party Dances, the foxtrot, the tango, the lindy hop, boogie woogie, New York style swing and so much more.

When and Where: Midsummer Night Swing will take place at 70 Lincoln Plaza from June 27th to July 16th.


The Mostly Mozart Festival is an homage to the concertos and symphonies of the classical composer, but that's not all the festival has to offer.

This year, the festival will also feature period-instrument ensembles, dance presentations, new-music groups, opera productions, films, and lectures and artist discussions. The pieces will span Baroque style to current classical music.

When and Where: The Mostly Mozart Festival will take place in Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall from August 2nd to 27th.


Every summer, the famed Metropolitan Opera brings live opera to New York city's parks. This year, the season will kick off and end in Manhattan, starting with a performance with Central Park SummerStage and ending in Jackie Robinson Park in Harlem.

When and Where: The last performance will take place July 28th at 7p.m. in Jackie Robinson Park, located between Bradhurst and Edgecomb avenues and W. 145 to W 155th streets. For a full schedule click here.


Throughout the summer, the Central Park Conservancy puts on free concerts featuring jazz, gospel, blues and Latin music. The concerts take place on the north side of Central Park.

When and Where: The concerts will take place from June 19th to September 4th at the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center on 110th Street between 5th and Lenox avenues.

Jonathan Hollander, founder of the Battery Dance Company, now also focuses on advocating for the arts in lower Manhattan.
Jonathan Hollander, founder of the Battery Dance Company, now also focuses on advocating for the arts in lower Manhattan.
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Richard Termine