When you think of major music festivals, big names like Coachella or Glastonbury may spring to mind. Yet New Yorkers certainly don't need to head to California or the UK to experience great live music. The city has more than its fair share of huge music festivals happening every year, representing a wide range of genres. Many of these music fests take place during the summer, attracting locals and out-of-towners alike who are eager to see parts of NYC transform into a giant stage for big-name acts. So you don't miss a single beat, here's a list of 10 of the biggest annual music festivals in New York City, including some relative newcomers.
Launched in 2011, Governors Ball is one of the largest and most popular summer music festivals in New York City, drawing in some 150,000 attendees annually. While the original, one-day festival was held on Governors Island (from where it still borrows its name), the festival smartly relocated to Randall's Island the following year to avoid logistical nightmares (since Governors Island is exclusively accessible via boat); it's been held there ever since.
The three-day annual music fest features some of the biggest names in rock, pop, hip-hop, folk, indie, and electronic music. For an idea of the talent, the 2017 lineup included acts like Tool, Chance the Rapper, Phoenix, Lorde, Franz Ferdinand, and the Wu-Tang Clan. Previous years have featured headliners like Kanye West, Outkast, Bjork, and Beck. In addition to the tremendous talent that shows up every year, Governors Ball is also known for having great food, giveaways, craft cocktails, mini-golf, and meet-and-greets with select artists. Held annually in June
Launched in 2016 by the same organizers behind Coachella (think of it as sort of a "Coachella East"), Panorama is New York City's other big three-day summer music fest held at Randall's Island. Similar to Governors Ball, Panorama features some of the biggest names in rock, pop, hip-hop, and electronic music today. The 2017 lineup included Frank Ocean, Nine Inch Nails, A Tribe Called Quest, Tame Impala, Belle and Sebastian, and Tyler the Creator. Panorama also offers great eats and plenty to do on Randall's Island between sets, including pool parties, interactive technology showcases, and the opportunity to sample a variety products from festival partners such as Sephora, Glenfiddich, and Hendrick's Gin. Held annually in July
Launched in 2016, The Meadows Music & Arts Festival is organized by the same team behind Governors Ball. (In fact, it was partly inspired by the cancellation of Kanye West's set at the 2016 Governors Ball as a result of heavy rain.) Held at CitiField in Queens (home of the New York Mets baseball team), the inaugural two-day 2016 festival took place in early fall, and was headlined by J. Cole and Kanye West.
This year's lineup included Jay-Z, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Gorillaz, Nas, Future, and Erykah Badu. Since the event is associated with Governors Ball, attendees can expect to peruse plenty of similarly delicious food and beverage options as they go between the different stages. If the festival becomes a regular event, Governors Ball and The Meadows could wind up as bookends to New York City's summer live music calendar.
Put on by the City Parks Foundation, SummerStage is New York's largest performing arts festival, with events scheduled throughout the entire summer season. More than a hundred concerts and performances take place throughout the five boroughs each year, and all of them are held at city parks (many of the headliners play Central Park's specially designated SummerStage). The lineup includes numerous free shows, along with ticketed benefit concerts. Some of the most notable performances at the 2017 event have included George Clinton, Khalid, Bob Moses, Elvis Costello, Phil Lesh, and Patti Smith.
Fans of electronic music can sometimes feel left out at big music festivals, which tend to keep DJ sets far from the main stage. That's not at all the case at Electric Zoo: Launched in 2009, this three-day festival is dedicated entirely to electronic music. Electric Zoo always takes place during Labor Day weekend, and is spread out over multiple stages on Randall's Island. This year also features a brand-new "6 Pointz" stage designed specifically to showcase local NYC talent.
The 2017 Electric Zoo lineup (September 1–3) included Deadmau5, Above & Beyond, DJ Snake, Armin van Buuren, Zedd, and Galantis. In addition to all of the dancing and electronic music, there's be outdoor art, body painting, ample food and beverage options, after-parties, and plenty of other activities that are sure to color Randall's Island in fluorescent neon all weekend long. Held annually on Labor Day weekend
Launched in 2009, the Northside Festival in Brooklyn celebrates the creativity and innovation that's flourished throughout the Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Bushwick neighborhoods. Focusing on art, innovation, and music (mainly of the indie ilk), the event attempts to foster a sense of community and shared purpose in the face of widespread gentrification in these communities. The headlining shows in 2017 were held at McCarren Park (other venues vary), and featured performances by Dirty Projectors, Kamasi Washington, and Thursday. Notable performers from previous festivals have included Brian Wilson, Guided by Voices, Neko Case, and Built to Spill. Held annually in June
While SummerStage holds events across the five boroughs, the summer-long BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival is held entirely at the Prospect Park Bandshell. Launched in 1979 as part of the city's efforts to revitalize Prospect Park, Celebrate Brooklyn! has since become one of New York City's longest-running free outdoor performing arts festivals. In addition to the free shows scheduled throughout the summer, there are benefit concerts, requiring paid tickets. The 2017 Celebrate Brooklyn! lineup included names like Andrew Bird, Fleet Foxes, Sufjan Stevens, The Shins, and The Soul Rebels featuring Talib Kweli.
There's an abundance of of pop music festivals all over New York, but there's so much other music with roots that go deep into the soul of the city. The Blue Note Jazz Festival, for one, started in 2011 in order to celebrate NYC's long ties to the jazz scene. Taking place throughout the month of June, many of the shows are hosted at the famed Blue Note Jazz Club in Greenwich Village. Additional Blue Note Jazz Festival shows are programmed at more than a dozen other venues across NYC. The 2017 festival included performances by jazz luminaries Dr. John, Paul Metheny, The Hot Sardines, Cassandra Wilson, and McCoy Tyner. Previous Blue Note Jazz Festival performers have included Dave Brubeck, Bela Fleck, and Natalie Cole.
Launched in 2005 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), the Afropunk Festival was originally inspired by the documentary Afro-Punk, which examined the space for African-Americans in the predominantly white punk scene. Since then, the Afropunk Festival has expanded to celebrate various facets of black music and culture, from soul to hip-hop, afrofuturism to fashion. The multiday festival has been so successful in Brooklyn that it's since launched additional annual events in Atlanta, London, Paris, and Johannesburg, South Africa.
Held at Commodore Barry Park in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, the 2017 lineup featured Solange, Gary Clark Jr., Dizzee Rascal, Raphael Saadiq, and The Cool Kids. Previous performers at Afropunk have included D'Angelo, Lauryn Hill, Grace Jones, Bad Brains, and Sharon Jones. Held annually in August
At the inaugural The Classic East festival, which was held in July 2017 at CitiField, a two-day lineup came stacked with Rock and Roll Hall of Famers. The Eagles headlined the first night of the fest, along with Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers; Fleetwood Mac owned the stage the second night, with Journey and Earth, Wind, and Fire. The Classic East (and its Los Angeles counterpart The Classic West) was inspired by the success of 2016's Desert Trip, a one-off music festival featuring Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, and other legends. While there's no Classic East planned for 2018 just yet, the response to the shows could make The Classic a recurring event. In fact, a third in The Classic festival series was added for Seattle (The Classic Northwest), which took place at the end of September 2017.