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VIBRANT | The Best Music Festivals in New York

VIBRANT | The Best Music Festivals in New York

Amythyst Kiah performing at the 2018 American Roots Music Festival. Photo: Gabe Palacio

Whether you want to groove out to a pop star as you chug cheap domestic beer at the beach, or prefer to sip rosé from Provence while snapping your fingers cool-cat style on a lawn chair in the woods, the music festival options in New York this summer are more diverse than ever.

As of May 15, the fate of the festival so many of us were looking forward to August 16, 17, and 18 in Watkins Glenn — Woodstock, 50 years later! — was still hanging in the balance. Fingers crossed that the organizers sort it out and get it going again. If not, there's always next year and, in the meantime, plenty of music to fill your soul. (On August 15 at the original site of Woodstock, The Bethel Woods Center for the Arts will be hosting the currently sold-out "Film on the Field" — a free screening of Woodstock: The Director’s Cut plus a performance by Woodstock Alum and New York native Arlo Guthrie.)

Press play to watch Top 5 Rockin' Facts About Woodstock

Mountains, country fields, cityscapes, seasides; hip hop, jazz, indie, classic rock, pop. There's a little something for everyone. We've gathered the most promising sonic options below. Have fun, be safe, and always remember to pack extra SPF!


Acclaimed folk duo The Milk Carton Kids are bringing a full band, in addition to their heartfelt, trademark melodies to Caramoor's 9th annual American Roots Music Festival, a kid-friendly, feel-good festival that celebrates African-American roots music, country, bluegrass, gospel, blues, and more. The Tennessee-based Amythyst Kiah, the Rainbow Girls, Bumper Jacksons, Oliver the Crow, and many others will also perform. This festival continues to grow in popularity every year because of its focus on genre-specific, emerging performers. The show will be held at Katonah’s Caramoor Center for the Arts. Tickets range from $15-$92.


The Clearwater Music Festival (a.k.a. The Great Hudson River Revival) will kick off at Croton Point Park in Westchester this year. Pete Seeger founded the organization that hosts the festival decades ago, and it has maintained its American folk roots, in addition to its ties to the environmental movement, even after his death in 2014. This year, Mavis Staple, Ani DiFranco, Guy Davis, Leslie Mendelson, and many others will perform, but it's so much more than a show. There will be seven sustainably powered stages with a variety of music, dance, storytelling, and family-oriented programming, as well as a juried Handcrafters' Village, Green Living Expo, and Working Waterfront with exhibits and rides. Audience participation will be the focus at the Circle of Son, and the food and drinks on tap at the Artisanal Food & Farm Market are always a locavore epicurean dream. Tickets start at $60.


The Freihofer's Saratoga Jazz Festival has become a summer must-go for jazz aficionados within driving distance of Upstate New York. Held in Saratoga Spa Park (110 Avenue of the Pines) and hosted by the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, 20+ jazz greats congregate and perform at the main stage, with dozens of up-and-comers headed for the Charles R. Wood "Jazz Discovery" Stage. This year, Norah Jones, the Joey DeFrancesco Trio featuring Billy Hart, George Benson, and the Mercy Project are among those set to perform. Tickets start at $0 (lawn pass for a child), and go $196 for a two-day pass and primo seating.

Press play to watch Herbie Hancock perform at the 2018 Saratoga Jazz Festival


Part rock, part classical, all family, the Ellicottville Chamber of Congress puts on a fabulous show every year, made even better with an epic fireworks display as a grand finale. This year, the four-time Grammy Award winner and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Don Felder, of The Eagles fame, will perform, followed by the Buffalo Philharmonic. The venue address is 6557 Holiday Valley Road in Ellicottville. Tickets for kids 12 and under are free, for everybody else, they start at $40.


The rolling hills of Western New York have been alive with music since 1992, when the Great Blue Heron Music Festival took a bow. There's always a mix of music, often with a focus on slightly retro or cult hitmakers who haven’t cracked the Top 40 in a while, but still have a strong fanbase. This year, 10,000 Maniacs, Donna the Buffalo, and The Wailers headline, with dozens of other supporting performers. In addition to the music, there's camping, square dancing, kids and teen programs, hiking and biking trails, and a variety of workshops (from dancing to drumming and healing arts). The Festival address is 2361 Waits Corners Rd. Tickets start at $50 for kids 12 and older. Under 12 is free.

Camping scenes at the Great Blue Heron Music Festival in Sherman, NY. Photo: Great Blue Heron Music Festival


Oswego knows how to throw a party. For the last full weekend in July, about 75,000 concert-goers stream in to see artists perform at a family friendly event that also includes plenty of arts and crafts, and an epic fireworks display. The 9-piece horn band Brass Inc. kicks off the show Thursday night this year, with The Electric Lynn Orchestra (a.k.a. the ELO Show) following. Tickets are free.

SUMMERSTAGE | May 19 - October 1

It doesn't get much better than City Parks SummerStage shows. It's a comprehensive, genre-jumping series of concerts in Central Park that seems to grow in popularity every year, and is it just us, or do the acts keep getting better too? This summer, fans can see their favorite hip-hop stars, funk sets and indie-pop stars on a newly remodeled mainstage with better acoustics. We'll be jamming out to George Clinton, Khuraungbin, Parquet Courts, the B-52s. Tickets start at $0. Yes. All free, except a handful of benefit gigs.

Photo: CentralPark.com

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