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Free Music in NYC: Where to Find Rock, Jazz, Opera, and More All Summer Long

By Maya Stanton, Lonely Planet Writer
June 5, 2019
A jazz drummer play9ing at the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in NYC
Cameron Hughes/Dreamstime
From Central Park to the Outer Boroughs, the Big Apple heats up from June through September with some of the world’s coolest music.

Between the sweltering subway stations and the above-ground heat and humidity, New York can be brutal during the dog days of summer. But for those who choose to stick it out in the city instead of escaping to the Hamptons or the Jersey Shore, there are rewards to be had.

Each year, from early June to late September, an array of artists take to the stage in al fresco venues across the five boroughs –and you can catch most of them for free. Spanning diverse genres (think: everything from opera to afrobeat) and drawing capacity crowds, the city’s outdoor program is one of the summer’s highlights. Mark your calendars: these are the shows you won’t want to miss.

SummerStage in Central Park and Beyond

With almost a hundred performances in 18 parks around town, the City Parks Foundation’s SummerStage is perhaps the best-known fest, and thanks to a newly renovated stage and sound system for 2019, its flagship Central Park venue is ready to rock. For the first time ever, this year’s slate of performers is evenly split along gender lines. It kicked off with pop-soul singer Emily King on June 1 and continues through September 24, when the B-52s close out the season with a ticketed benefit show. In between, New Orleans rapper Big Freedia gets her bounce on, New York post-punk rockers Parquet Courts bring the noise, and the Met Opera recital series packs the house. (The opera has dates in each borough, though, so if you miss it in Manhattan, there are plenty of additional options.)

Other Central Park highlights include jazz singer Corinne Bailey Rae and indie favorites Alvvays, the Courtneys, Japanese Breakfast, and Hatchie, but you can also see the Mountain Goats at East River Park and the Wailers with Junior Julian Marvin at Marcus Garvey Park. And cool cats take note: The Charlie Parker Jazz Festival takes over Marcus Garvey and Tompkins Square in late August.

Free Music in Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island, and Brooklyn

At Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Sheila E. headlines the Only in Queens Festival (also part of SummerStage), while flamenco dance company A Palo Seco performs at Queensbridge Park and calypso legend Mighty Sparrow plays Springfield Park. Up in the Bronx, Slick Rick hits Soundview Park and salsa star Ray de la Paz takes over Crotona Park. Over in Staten Island, Lisa Lisa and Jody Watley steal the spotlight at Corporal Thompson Park. In Brooklyn, Fela! The Concert travels to Coney Island’s Ford Amphitheater, Black Moon and Smif-n-Wessun host the Duck Down BBQ at Betsy Head Park, and funk collective Everyday People storms the stage at Herbert von King Park.

Celebrate Brooklyn

The jewel in Brooklyn’s park system is Prospect Park—just like Central Park, it was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, and it has the summer schedule to match its rival across the river. Like SummerStage, BRIC Arts Media’s Celebrate Brooklyn offers a mix of paid and free shows, with the one and only Patti LaBelle opening the season, gratis, on June 4. NPR Tiny Desk Concert winners Tank and the Bangas play a few weeks later, followed by a Calexico/Iron & Wine joint ticket; Nilüfer Yanya opens for Broken Social Scene, and Liz Phair headlines with some help from Ted Leo & the Pharmacists. World music star Salif Keita hits the bandshell in July, and for the Latin Alternative Music Conference, a selection of talented artists command the stage: Guatemalan singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno, rock en español stalwarts Enjambre, and Latin indie folkster El David Aguilar.

Rounding out the bill are Americana trio I’m With Her, a dance performance choreographed by French-Algerian maestro Hervé Koubi, a screening of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as part of the first-ever Lou Reed Tai Chi Day, and classical outfit Alloy Orchestra providing the soundtrack to a 1925 German silent film called Varieté. (Come early to catch Lava, the “feminist acrobatic modern dance troupe” providing the opening entertainment.) And finally, Bogotá-based cumbia stars Bomba Estéreo see out the season in style, bringing the party to wrap things up at summer’s end.

For full lineups of free music in all of NYC's five boroughs, visit City Parks Foundation’s SummerStage and BRIC Arts Media’s Celebrate Brooklyn.

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Travel Tips

Getaround Makes the Car Rental Experience Personal

It’s happened to the best of us: your flight was delayed, you’re landing in a city you’ve never traveled to before, the kids (and you!) are cranky, and you just want to get to your hotel. But you’re thinking about the last time you rented a car: it took 20 minutes to get to the rental depot and another 40 minutes before you turned the key and pulled out. But you need a car for the weekend. Enter: Getaround (getaround.com). The company provides a nifty service that blends the Airbnb sharing model with the accessibility factor that defines bikeshare program. So grab a cab or the train from the airport, check into your, shower, and figure out the car thing later. How It Works Getaround basically provides a way to rent a car from someone in the vicinity. Like all sharing platforms, it starts with the app. Once you download it, the company vets you, verifying your credit card and Department of Motor Vehicles record. As soon as you’re cleared, you have the capability to unlock and start the vehicle you book, thanks to technology the company developed and patented. The car is fully connected, so you can use the app to identify where it’s parked, unlock the door, and start the car. At the same time, the car owner can use the app to see the precise location of his vehicle. Getaround aims to make errands or day trips a breeze. You can rent a car--the style of your choice--by the day or by the hour, which is the key feature that differentiates the program from traditional car rentals. There’s $1 million in insurance and 24/7 roadside assistance and customer service. How It Started Getaround launched in 2011 and is available in 300 cities in the U.S. and Europe today. Founder and CEO Sam Zaid developed the idea as talk about self-driving cars became more and more of a widespread discussion. “We were looking at the future of transportation and imagining if all the cars on the road today were fully connected and maybe even self-driving or partially self-driving," said Zaid. "Also, think about it: if you owned car, would you park it for 23 hours a day? Or would you let friend or family member use it? If you can imagine a world where your car is connected and it’s easy to move around, the idea of sharing cars isn’t that crazy.” Given how so many other industries are moving towards a sharing model, it makes sense that it was only a matter of time until driving services evolve even beyond ride-hailing apps. “We feel that transportation is moving away from ownership to a shared model. What we have today is not sustainable,” said Zaid, noting that there are 250 million cars in the United States; they sit in parking spaces and garages for a total of six billion hours each day. “If we’re more efficient with cars, it could solve a lot of problems.” A Positive Environmental Impact According to independent studies by the University of California Berkeley Transportation Sustainability Research Center, every shared car removes 10 cars from the road, which translates into 100,000 pounds of carbon pollution. The studies also say that 1,000 shared cars can offset up to 50 million pounds of carbon dioxide. In addition to addressing solutions to pollution, Getaround is proving to be in sync with the lifestyle of millennials. According to studies conducted by the company, 51% of millennials believe car-sharing is better, compared to car renting, at providing opportunities to try something new or different. Of people who car-share, 91% say that the service, along with ride-sharing and public transit, allow them to live completely car-free lives.

Travel Tips

6 Best Airline Loyalty Programs

One of the easiest ways to score free flights is to take advantage of an airline’s frequent flyer program. Indeed, roughly 7 percent of flights are paid for with points or miles, according to a recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers. But not all frequent flyer programs are created equal—and comparing these programs can be tricky for everyday travelers. All major U.S. airlines offer loyalty programs. Some programs let you rack up miles, while others programs let you accumulate “points” that you can redeem for things like discounted flights, seat upgrades, access to private airport lounges, and other cool perks. Frequent flyer programs are free and easy to sign up for. And, don’t be fooled by the term “frequent flyer”—these programs can be beneficial even for occasional travelers. So, what loyalty programs have the richest rewards? Here are the six best programs among U.S.-based airlines, including some benefits that make each program unique in its own way. 1. DELTA Delta Air Lines’ SkyMiles program is unique in that allows members to rack up miles that never expire. (JetBlue Airways is the only other major airline with a frequent flier program where miles don’t expire because of inactivity.) Members earn 5 to 11 miles per dollar spent, depending on elite status, and can earn additional miles from hotel stays, car rentals, and dining. One caveat: most airlines publish an awards chart that shows the number of points or miles needed for a given flight. Delta doesn’t. So, you’ll have to search for the flight you want to see how many reward miles are required to redeem a seat on that flight. 2. ALASKA AIRLINES With flights to more than 900 destinations worldwide, Alaska Airlines offers top-notch rewards through its Mileage Plan program. Members earn one mile for every mile flown on Alaska (even on the lowest fare), and fliers earn elite status at just 20,000 miles; elites get two free checked bags, priority check-in and boarding, and preferred seating. The drawbacks: blackout dates apply when booking flights with rewards, and miles expire after two years of inactivity. 3. AMERICAN AIRLINES Launched in 1981, AAdvantage from American Airlines is the largest loyalty program, with a reported membership of more than 100 million. The airline operates more than 3,500 flights a day within the U.S., and flies to nearly 1,000 destinations worldwide. Members earn 5 to 11 miles per dollar spent, and 0.5 to 3 qualifying miles per mile flown, based on fare class; they can also earn miles from select hotel stays, car rentals, and dining. The AAdvantage program isn’t perfect though. The program is revenue-based, meaning miles are awarded based on dollars spent rather than number of miles flown. And mileage credit is forfeited after 18 months of inactivity. (The airline allows you to pay to reactivate your mileage credit, but reactivation fees can be high depending on how many miles have expired). 4. UNITED AIRLINES With 4,500 daily flights to more than 300 cities across five continents, United is among the largest airlines in the world—and has one of the best loyalty programs. Members of its MileagePlus program earn 5 to 11 miles per dollar spent, and 1 to 3 miles per mile flown, based on fare class. Transparency is also a plus, since the airline publishes a flight award chart that shows you the maximum number of miles you’ll need for a given flight. There are two noticeable flaws though: the number of seats available on United for award travel is limited, and miles expire after 18 months of inactivity. 5. SOUTHWEST Easy points redemption, generous earnings, and zero blackout dates make Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program a winner. Members earn six to 12 points per dollar spent, based on fare class, and can accrue additional points through hotel stays, car rentals, dining, and shopping. While values vary, Rapid Rewards points can be redeemed at an average of 1 cent apiece, according to a Nerdwallet analysis. And travelers that fly 100 qualifying one-way flights, or accumulate 110,000 Rapid Rewards points, get a coveted Companion Pass, good for free flights for a travel companion. The worst aspect of the Rapid Rewards program? Points can only be redeemed for Southwest flights; many other frequent flyer programs let you redeem rewards for flights on other airlines. 6. JETBLUE Points never expire and there are no blackout dates on JetBlue’s solid TrueBlue rewards program. Members earn 3 points per dollar spent and 6 points per every dollar spent when booking a flight on jetblue.com. Even better, points are worth, on average, a handsome 1.3 cents each, according to The Points Guy’s May 2018 Valuations report. Also, redemption is easy when you use the program’s Best Fair Finder calendar tool, which shows the cost in points for specific flights on any day of the month. But, because TrueBlue only offers one elite membership status, there are no special perks for road warriors, and JetBlue flies to fewer destinations than larger U.S. airlines. BONUS TIP: EARN MORE REWARDS BY USING AN AIRLINE CREDIT CARD Every major U.S. airline has its own credit card that provides customers with opportunities to earn extra points, miles, or cash back for eligible purchases. So, if you do most of your flying on one airline, it generally pays to get that carrier’s self-branded credit card and swipe it when you can nab big rewards.

Travel Tips

Airport Layovers: Best Food & Fun While You Wait for Your Next Flight

Show of hands: How many of you actually enjoy spending time at the airport? We didn't think so. But that may changing. While airport "entertainment" once consisted of only bars and chain restaurants, today many airports offer a number of fun ways to chill while you’re waiting to fly out. Here’s how to get the most out of a layover the next time you fly from one of the five busiest U.S. airports. 1. Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport With more than 100 million passengers visiting it in 2017, Atlanta’s international airport is the busiest airport in the world, according to Airports Council International. Flying with Fido? Check out the 1,000-square foot fenced-in dog park, which is part of the ground transportation center in Domestic Terminal South. It features flowers, grass, rocks, and benches—and has biodegradable waste bags for easy pet cleanup. History buffs should check out "A Walk Through Atlanta History." Located in the Transportation Mall between Concourses B and C, the multimedia installation uses video, audio, murals, and photographs to take you through key periods in Atlanta’s development. Have time to enjoy a fine dining meal? Hit up One Flew South in Concourse E. This critically acclaimed restaurant specializes in cuisine inspired by world travels, and it has a cocktail list that pays tribute to the flying boats (‘Floatplanes’) that carried wealthy passengers from Miami to Nassau and Havana so they could drink legally during the Prohibition era. Art lovers will enjoy the airport’s permanent exhibit, “Zimbabwe Sculpture: a Tradition in Stone,” which features 20 stone sculptures from the South African country. Find it in the transportation mall between concourses A and T. 2. Los Angeles International Airport Over 84 million people visited LAX in 2017. The second largest airport in the U.S., Los Angeles's main airport has an array of food and entertainment options for travelers. The size of three football fields, the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) serves as the "Rodeo Drive" of LAX. It boasts tons of shops, including Fred Segal, which sells trendy clothing, accessories, and grooming products, and Sunset Strip's famous bookstore Book Soup. The caveat: it's not connected to any other terminal, so to visit from another terminal you'll have to go through security again. Wine aficionados will enjoy Vino Volo, a wine bar that offers vintages from around the world and a food menu of locally sourced cheeses, smoked salmon rolls, and other light bites. Find it in the TBIT. Need to pick up a snack for your flight? Los Angeles’ Original Farmers Market has a store in Terminal 5 where you can choose from a broad selection of meals, snacks, wine, and coffee from local vendors. 3. Chicago O'Hare International Airport This is a major connecting airport for destinations in the Midwest. It’s also not a bad airport to be stuck in. Parents traveling with children should take them to the Kids on the Fly interactive play area, which features child-sized model airplanes and a control tower. Find it in Terminal 2. Enjoy the stunning display of 466 squiggly neon tubes above a moving walkway in "The Sky's the Limit,” a mile-long neon light sculpture that connects concourses B and C in Terminal 1. Don’t depart without stopping by one of the airport’s Garrett Popcorn shops, located in Terminals 2 and 3. Go for the Chicago staple’s Garrett Mix, a combination of handcrafted cheddar and caramel popcorn. 4. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport Spanning more than 17,000 acres, the busiest airport in Texas is also the fourth most-visited airport in the country. In fact, because of its size, it has its own postal code. Find your happy place before you board a plane for a long trip by doing some pre-flight stretches in the free 24-hour yoga studio, tucked between Terminals B and D. View works from more than 30 local, national and international artists in the International Terminal D. Also, check out the sculpture garden just outside the Terminal D parking garage on the arrivals level. Let your kids burn off energy in Terminal B’s Junior Flyer Club, a 685 square-foot aviation themed play area. 5. Denver International Airport A hub for Frontier Airlines and United, this Colorado airport handled more than 61 million passengers in 2017. Eat like a local at the popular Colorado burger chain Smashburger in Concourse C, Elway’s steakhouse Concourse B, or Root Down, a veggie-centric restaurant in Concourse C that serves up tasty dishes like thai carrot curry and roasted beets with seed pesto and basil vinaigrette. Take in a gorgeous view of the Rocky Mountains at the west end of Terminal C. While you’re there, grab some reading material for your flight at Denver’s famous Tattered Cover Book Store outpost. Sip a glass of wine Lounge 5280 in Concourse B. Rated one of the best airport bars in the U.S., the establishment offers hand-picked wine selections from around the world and a beer list highlighting Colorado's craft brewers.

Travel TipsProduct Reviews

Essential Weekend Getaway Gear

There’s an art to packing for a short trip—there are the essentials, and then there are the non-essentials that bring an element of comfort and joy to the journey. For those travelers who rarely let a weekend pass without hitting the open road or taking to the skies, we found five things to help make the most of those quick two-day jaunts, from packing to transit to maximizing your time on the ground. The Bag (Courtesy Lo & Sons) First things first: Start with the proper equipment. This classic-looking cotton-canvas weekender is roomy enough to hold the necessities for a short trip and has multiple pockets to keep things organized, but its best features may very well be its modern touches: a sleeve that lets it slip over a suitcase handle for easy transport and a zippered compartment that keeps at least two pairs of shoes separate from the rest of your clothes. And the whole thing weighs less than 2 pounds, so it’s easy to sling it over your shoulder and go—even if it's packed to the brim. Catalina Deluxe Small in Teal Blue, $128, loandsons.com. The Multitasker (Courtesy The Bali Market) With luggage space at a premium, weekend warriors need accessories that do double-, triple-, or even quadruple-duty, and this lightweight, high-absorbency Turkish towel fits the bill. At 40”x70”, it’s large enough to be used as a beach towel (or as a bath towel, for that matter), but it takes up way less room than terry cloth. Woven from quick-drying cotton, this thin textile can also serve as a wrap, a scarf, or a throw for a chilly plane, train, or bus ride, and it rolls up to practically nothing. That's a win-win-win-win. Perfect Classic Turkish Towel in Grey, $36, thebalimarket.us. The Wet One (Amy Lundeen) Wring every last drop out of a warm-weather weekend: Pack a stash bag for a wet bathing suit (and Turkish towel!), and never forgo that final swim again. This one has a beachy, tropical print and a vinyl-coated, waterproof interior, and it’s big enough to hold the sunscreen, too. Tropical Palm Extra Large Cosmetic Bag, $28, needleandoak.com. The Sleep Aid (Courtesy Bucky) If you need pitch-black darkness to get a solid eight hours of Zs, an eye mask is a must-pack accessory. Sure, you could go with that flimsy freebie you've been using since your last long-haul flight, but this silky polka-dot number is a playful alternative. With contoured foam eye cups that let you blink without messing up your makeup or putting undue pressure on your lids, it'll keep you snoozing, even if you're stuck in coach. Bucky 40 Blinks Sleep Mask, $13, amazon.com. The Soundtrack (Courtesy Bose) What’s a vacation without the tunes? This waterproof, drop-proof Bluetooth speaker clocks in at just under 4"x4" and weighs less than a pound, offering huge, bass-heavy sound in a tiny, silicone-rubber-wrapped package. With six hours of battery life, a tear-resistant strap for hands-free portability, and an app that can control the volume, pair another speaker, and switch between music libraries in various devices, it'll help get the party started wherever you are. SoundLink Micro Bluetooth speaker, $100, bose.com.

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