Photo by flysi

Summer in the city of New York can be a fickle, fickle mistress.

Day after day of sweltering heat, tempered only sometimes by a blast of cold air in a crowded subway car. When that subway’s A/C unit is busted you begin to understand what Dante was talking about.

There is another side to summers in New York though, a better one, a special one. Summers in New York mean a full slate of great, usually free, outdoor concerts. The big promoters on the scene, Summerstage and Celebrate Brooklyn, have been booking great shows for a long time now. But in recent years every live music loving New Yorker’s schedule has been jam packed with the River to River festival and JellyNYC’s Pool Parties at McCarren Pool.

This year is definitely no different, so I’ll be looking at a few of the gigs I’m more than willing to brave the heat for.


Photo by Paul Kanterman

June 29 – The Hold Steady at McCarren Pool
Last year Craig Finn and co. played their home borough as a part of Celebrate Brooklyn. This year they are heading out of Park Slope and up to Williamsburg to kick off the Sunday Pool Parties. I try to never miss a Hold Steady gig in the city, so rain or shine, I’ll be cavorting with hipsters come June 29.

If you’ve read anything about THS then you’ve probably seen it mentioned that they are America’s Best Bar Band. I’m not going to dispute that, but I’d take it further. Tad Kubler’s riffs translate amazingly well to the outdoors, and Craig Finn’s manic energy just magnifies over the heat waves. Maybe Best American Band is too much?… But maybe not.

The rest of the pool party schedule is up in the air, but other confirmed acts for later in the summer include The Breeders, Black Lips, MGMT, and Liars among others.


Brooklyn Hipsters getting their groove on at the Bandshell, circa 1953

June 27 – Cold War Kids w/ Elvis Perkins and Sam Champion at Prospect Park

Celebrate Brooklyn is entering their 30th year, and their doing it by continuing with another eclectic summer of concerts. Year after year, the band shell in Prospect Park is filled with music representing the many cultures and tastes of people of Brooklyn. Celebrate Brooklyn is probably my favorite summer series, though it certainly helps to live only a few blocks away. I’m looking forward to a number of shows at the band shell this summer, but probably none more so than the Cold War Kids show with Elvis Perkins.

I binged on Cold War Kids in the fall of 2006. I saw them four times in the span of a couple months. They got some serious hype, and then the typical backlash. Personally I thought their music stood up to the test, and a large reason for that was their live show. Some bands don’t feel like bands up on the stage. Their individual musicians, sometimes off in their own world. The music they create together might sound good, but it can’t transcend the songs.

A live show from Cold War Kids is a communal event, not just between the band members, but often with all their friends, which usually means the others acts on the bill. On record, a song like St. John is just a tune with a sing along chorus that sticks in your head. Live, St. John is a rollicking sing along usually with about 20 people on stage, singing and banging drums. You really just want to hop on stage and join in on the fun.

Cold War Kids w/ Dr. Dog and Elvis Perkins – Saint John, Live on KEXP
Elvis Perkins – How’s Forever Been Baby, Live on Kexp

It was at one of these communal shows that I first saw Elvis Perkins live. Perkins can be a beautiful song writer, but live he breathes new life into his tunes filling out the sound with bass drums, squeeze boxes and harmonicas. Perkins and Cold War Kids get along swimmingly, and its sure to be a fun night of indie rock collaborations.


Poster by Crosshair

July 4 – Sonic Youth at Battery Park
Formed in the wake of 9/11, the River to River Festival offers tons of free and eclectic entertainment through out the summer. Of note are the shows they lineup yearly at Southstreet Seaport and Castle Clinton, where Spoon and the Drive-By Truckers both played last year.

The crown jewel of the River to River festival is the free July 4th show they always put on. In 2006 the show was headlined by Belle and Sebastian, and last year New Yorker’s celebrated their independence with The New Pornographers. This year we get Sonic Youth, and as much as New Yorkers like to complain, it’s hard to complain about this one. Beer and feedback is a winning combo.

Although the show is free, tickets have been a little difficult to come by (two years ago all tickets were given away in a confusing cross promotion with Starbucks), so I would keep an eye on the River to River website for ticket details.


Poster by Spike Press

6/14 Vampire Weekend at Central Park Summerstage

Summerstage is another NYC stalwart, and its free weekend concert series is always a nice way to spend a summer afternoon. Similar to Celebrate Brooklyn, Summerstage always pulls from a wide swath of genres and backgrounds. This year’s shows include R&B singer Mavis Staples, genre buster Santogold, and Battles. It may surprise you then that the show I’m most looking forward to in Central Park this summer is Vampire Weekend.

Oh Vampire Weekend, what a divisive band. They’ve ridden the waves of hype and black lash for quite a while now, and it’s still not clear whether they’ll come out riding on top, or crushed in their wake. I like to consider myself a neutral party. I don’t find their afro-pop inspired tunes terribly original, but its hard to deny the hooks of some of their better songs. Songs like “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and “Walcott” sound like the perfect background to a hot afternoon with a cold drink in hand.


Photo by indieink

7/19 – Siren Music Festival at Coney Island
I’d be remiss to talk about free summer shows without touching on the Siren Music Festival. Organized sponsored by the Village Voice, Siren was supposed end last year with the huge redevelopment of Coney Island. But as with most construction in the city, that development is behind schedule, so we get one more summer of Astroland, and one more summer of Siren.

Truth be told, I’ve never been to Siren. And everything I’ve heard is that it isn’t always the perfect experience. Throngs of people split over two stages, Blacktop baking in the summer, and crappy sound are just a few of the complaints I’ve heard. But for most people one thing trumps all the problems. It’s free.

If Siren is going the way of the dodo bird, then at least it looks like it’s going out with a god show. Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks and Broken Social Scene are headlining the one-day affair, with support from Beach House, The Helio Sequence and The Dodo’s.

Below are the rest of my summer highlights. So what summer shows, free and otherwise, are you looking forward to? Any New Yorkers have some can’t miss gigs I’ve overlooked?

6/13 Mavis Staples *
6/14 Vampire Weekend *
7/20 Santogold/Diplo *
8/14 Los Lonely Boys/Los Lobos *
8/16 Battles *

Celebrate Brooklyn
: Prospect Park
6/12 Isaac Hayes *
6/19 Medeski, Martin and Wood *
6/27 Cold War Kids/Elvis Perkins *
7/9 Feist
7/12 Beth Orton *
7/15 Spoon
7/26 Ghostland Observatory *

McCarren Pool
6/6 MIA/Holy Fuck
6/10 Death Cab For Cutie/Rogue Wave
6/20 Gogol Bordello
6/29 The Hold Steady *
7/25 Ween
8/7 The Black Keys
8/13 Wilco

River to River
6/27 A Place to Bury Strangers *
7/4 Sonic Youth *
7/10 St. Vincent *
7/17 Ted Leo and the Pharmacists *
7/31 The Long Winters *
8/15 Dirty Projectors *

Siren Music Festival
7/19 Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks/Broken Social Scene with The Helio Sequence, Beach House, The Dodo’s and others *

* – Free Concert