About SummerStage

SummerStage, a program of City Parks Foundation, presents performances of outstanding artistic quality, free of charge, to serve the diverse communities of New York City.

The artists represent a breadth of genres and cultures and perform in an outdoor setting accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds. SummerStage strives to develop audiences' deepening appreciation for contemporary, traditional, and emerging artists as well as the communities in which these artists originate.

All SummerStage shows go on RAIN OR SHINE and are only cancelled in the event of dangerous lightning during a performance. Schedule of events and performers subject to change without notice.

SummerStage is accessible to the mobility-impaired. For additional information please call (212) 360-2789 and ask to speak with our Volunteer Coordinator. To obtain the Parks Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD), please call (800) 281-5722.

SummerStage takes place at Rumsey Playfield, enter Central Park on 69th and 5th Ave. Click here for directions. 

History of SummerStage

  • 1986
    JUN
    SummerStage was founded in the spirit of Central Park's original purpose–to serve as a free public resource to help enrich the lives of New Yorkers. The first season consisted of free events at the Naumberg Bandshell and kicked off by a performance from the Sun Ra Arkestra.
  • 1987
    JUL
    Premier South African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, fresh from Paul Simon's Graceland tour, played to over 7,000 people. The show is still remembered as one of the highlights of SummerStage's history.
  • 1988
    JUL
    Performers included Youssou N'Dour, Jonathan Richman, Quentin Crisp, and gospel great Marion Williams, whose concert (complete with a huge tent that dwarfed the band shell) brought the southern revival meeting to the heart of the Park.
  • 1989
    JUL
    Although spoken word events had been part of SummerStage from the beginning, the Spoken Word series was formalized in July with performances by Studs Terkel, Sonia Sanchez, Jayne Cortez, John Sayles and Amiri Baraka.
  • 1990
    JUN
    City Parks Foundation launches free concerts in neighborhood parks throughout the city under the name CityParks Concerts.
  • 1990
    JUN
    SummerStage moved a few hundred feet east, from the Naumberg Bandshell to Rumsey Playfield. With a new sound system and greater seating capacity, SummerStage started to draw larger crowds. David Byrne made his first appearance, while soul great Curtis Mayfield played one of his last concerts ever.
  • 1992
    JUL
    This memorable season saw Sonic Youth's first appearance at SummerStage. The downtown band's epochal performance with Sun Ra and his Arkestra brought avant-garde music to the heart of the city.
  • 1993
    JUN
    SummerStage held "WoodyFest," a celebration of Woody Guthrie's 80th birthday that included Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Nanci Griffith and Billy Bragg.
  • 1993
    JUL
    Patti Smith made her first New York appearance in over a decade at a magical spoken word event at SummerStage. Reading to a packed crowd, she included a tribute to her good friend, the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.
  • 1994
    JUL
    City Parks Foundation officially took over the management of SummerStage from the Central Park Conservancy, which had founded the festival.
  • 1995
    JUN
    The season saw the U.S. debuts of Chico Science & Nacao Zumbi and Ali Hassan Kuban & The Nubian Band, while the 1996 season gave Americans their first chance to see Timbalada, Safri Boys and DCS.
  • 1997
    AUG
    Avant-garde musician Diamanda Galas teamed up with the Stephen Petronio Company for the world premiere of Petrino's #4 set to Galas' "Balm In Gilead," an innovate blend of world music and dance.
  • 1999
    JUL
    Vernon Reid, Chaka Khan, Jane Siberry, Duncan Sheik, Don Byron and others paid tribute the genius of Joni Mitchell, particularly the jazz side of her career. Joni herself showed up for a finale that brought the house down.
  • 2000
    JUN
    The summer included world premieres of SummerStage¬ commissioned dance pieces by Elizabeth Streb and Ronald K. Brown, as well as a once ¬in¬ a ¬lifetime Latin music summit organized by Little Louis Vega.
  • 2000
    JUL
    SummerStage also commissioned a tribute to our friend Chico Science, who had passed away in 1997. The event featured his band Nacao Zumbi as well as Arto Lindsay, DJ Spooky, DJ Soul Slinger and TC Izlam.
  • 2002
    JUL
    On July 16, Celia Cruz made her first appearance at SummerStage with an incredible performance. Sadly, it would be her only Rumsey Playfield appearance, as she passed away the following summer.
  • 2002
    AUG
    The Zora Salon, a celebration of Harlem Renaissance writer and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston. The evening included readings from African-American actors Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Avery Brooks, Kerry Washington and others.
  • 2003
    SummerStage was awarded the Municipal Arts Society's Certificate of Merit, for helping to make New York City more liveable for New Yorkers. The certificate says, in part "…Free as a summer breeze, SummerStage is just as refreshing."
  • 2003
    AUG
    Beloved writer and New York fixture George Plimpton hosted a special 50th Anniversary celebration of The Paris Review in August of this year. The event included readings by actors John Hamilton and Peter Dinklage, and author Paul Auster. It was one of Plimpton's final appearances.
  • 2003
    JUN
    Excerpts from the television series Martin Scorsese Presents: The Blues, are screened, including interpretive films from Scorsese, Charles Burnett, Clint Eastwood, Mike Figgis, Marc Levin, Richard Pearce and Wim Wenders.
  • 2003
    AUG
    Atlanta's Indigo Girls were scheduled to play on August 14. That afternoon the city was hit with the largest blackout in 40 years. The Indigo Girls showed up anyway and played to a packed house using generators that had been serviced earlier that day. It was one of the few performances in the entire Northeast to go on as scheduled.
  • 2004
    JUN
    The Newport Jazz Festival's 50th Anniversary was celebrated in Central Park with a screening of Bert Stern's legendary film Jazz On A Summer's Day, which includes performances from Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Anita O'Day, Gerry Mulligan & Mahalia Jackson. Festival founder (& pianist) George Wein led The Newport All Stars in a live jazz jam.
  • 2004
    AUG
    It was a Pulitzer kind of night on August 5th. Nobel Laureate and Pulitzer winner Toni Morrison read from her novel Love, and 2004 Pulitzer winner Edward P. Jones read from his novel The Known World.
  • 2005
    JUN
    SummerStage entered its 20th Anniversary season having presented over 750 free concerts. City Parks Foundation estimates that since 1986, two and a half million people have seen performances at SummerStage.
  • 2006
    JUN
    City Parks Foundation launches free dance and theater programs in neighborhood parks under the brands CityParks Dance and CityParks Theater.
  • 2007
    JUN
    Comedy Central Park came to SummerStage for the first time with comic Dave Attel.
  • 2007
    AUG
    Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez, 1960s Black Arts Movement pioneer poets, took to the stage for a powerful night of spoken word.
  • 2008
    JUN
    Newcomer indie darlings Vampire Weekend kicked off the season to a packed audience during a torrential downpour.
  • 2008
    JUL
    SummerStage celebrated the 25th anniversary of "Video Music Box" featuring icons of the original hip-hop scene.
  • 2008
    JUL
    Two Israeli choreographers presented their U.S. premieres: Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company's "Kef Kafim", and the site-specific installation "PeepDance" by Nimrod Freed/Tami Dance Company.
  • 2009
    JUN
    The season opened with an unforgettable collaborative performance by the acclaimed singer/songwriter Josh Ritter backed by the New York Pops orchestra.
  • 2009
    JUL
    The first ever appearance by The Metropolitan Opera (featuring Paulo Szot) at SummerStage.
  • 2009
    AUG
    CPF's first commission that paired classical ballet with modern music premiered over two evenings by the esteemed ballet company Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company & musician Martha Wainwright. The event featured the world premiere of "Tears of St. Lawrence," a specially commissioned work created by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon set to music by Martha Wainwright.
  • 2010
    JUN
    As part of the 25th anniversary season of SummerStage, City Parks Foundation re-branded the festival to include the free music, dance, film and theater performances taking place in all five boroughs.
  • 2011
    JUL
    "Everybody Loves the Sunshine" celebrated the 70th birthday of famed jazz, funk and soul pioneer, Roy Ayers with world premieres from the acclaimed collective of jazz virtuosos, top MCs, singers, arrangers, and composers called The Jazz Mafia, which re-envisioned Ayers' classic works for this special show.
  • 2011
    JUL
    Karole Armitage, dubbed the "punk ballerina" and her celebrated dance company Armitage Gone! Dance premiered "UnEasy" a special commissioned work featuring an original composition by famed 2010 Grammy-nominated, jazz pianist, Vijay Iyer.
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