New York is a city made ever more dynamic by its diversity and endless creativity. And nothing captures the essence of NYC quite like music reverberating through the balmy summer air. From July 24 to August 11, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, one of the country’s longest-running free outdoor festivals, adds to the spirit of summer with three full weeks of multi-genre music, dance, family events, spoken word, and more.
Filling the summer nights will be a combination of new artists and classic favorites, opening with a celebration of a Lincoln Center milestone: Soul at the Center. In 1972, this first extended presentation of Black Art and culture took place across Lincoln Center’s campus. Ellis Haizlip, the visionary creator of the public television show SOUL!, coproduced this breakthrough live series with Lincoln Center, featuring artists such as Nina Simone, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Ike & Tina Turner, and Labelle. For this special evening at Out of Doors, Lalah Hathaway, daughter of influential soul legend Donny Hathaway—who performed at the original Soul at the Center—lends her magnetic contralto to a specially curated set of her father’s classic songs.
Soul music has transformed generations of artists and audiences, and so it’s fitting that its spirit extends beyond opening night. On July 27, Damrosch Park will be filled with the flavors of old-school Texas Chicano soul as guitarist-producer Adrian Quesada leads an all-star band of Tejano trailblazers in selections from their 2018 album Look at My Soul: The Latin Shade of Texas Soul. This lively mix of blues, Latin jazz, and rock ‘n’ roll, as well as traditional norteño and mariachi, celebrates the musical contributions of Chicano soul singers and session musicians from the 1950s and ’60s, long overlooked by the mainstream. Kicking off the evening will be Austin-based psychedelic soul band the Black Pumas—recently named Best New Band at the 2019 Austin Music Awards—and soul veteran Lee Fields & The Expressions, performing from their new album, It Rains Love.
Another evening that honors underacknowledged voices will be Turning the Tables, a continuing partnership between NPR Music and Lincoln Center, which showcases female artists who have been marginalized, overlooked, or just hidden in plain sight. This year’s project, The Motherlode, spotlights eight women who shaped the blues, jazz, gospel, rock, and Latinx music. Selecting from the rich songbooks of these artists—whose names will be revealed at the show—will be a group of contemporary performers, including Rhiannon Giddens, Ledisi, Valerie Simpson, Lizz Wright, Xiomara Laugart, Amina Claudine Myers, Cleo Reed, Charenée Wade, all under the musical direction of multiple Grammy Award–winner Terri Lyne Carrington. The two-day La Casita event (July 27 & 28) will host a community of artist-activists fighting for rights—LGBTQ, women’s, civil, immigrant, and human—through poetry, music, and stories.
Upholding Lincoln Center’s mission to celebrate diversity and establish a welcoming community to the largest possible audience, Out of Doors brings back the annual Heritage Sunday, presented in association with the Center for Traditional Music and Dance (CTMD). Illustrating the outstanding diversity and complex history of New York City is an all-star lineup of artists, including Afro-Puerto Rican bomba supergroup Redobles de Cultura, members of the dynamic Sri Lankan Dance Academy of New York, klezmer artist Michael Winograd & the Honorable Mentshen, and visionary Andean folk music ensemble Inkarayku (July 28). Later that evening, the Caribbean Cultural Center celebrates the legacy of African influences on Puerto Rico’s rich musical history with a program of music and dance, featuring performances by Moncho Rivera, Cita Rodriguez & Su Banda, Carlito Padron & Su Banda, and the Bombazo Dance Company.
Seamlessly integrating cumbia, bossa nova, rumba, bolero, tango, jazz, rock, klezmer, and a plethora of other musical genres, Latin fusion band La Santa Cecilia, fronted by Marisol Hernandez, pays a visit to the Bandshell (July 25). Following the performance will be a screening of Disney/Pixar’s Coco, inspired by the rich traditions of el Día de los Muertos.
A group of young urban Desi artists comes together on August 4 for another exceptional evening of music and culture. A lineup of genre-defying musicians—including international powerhouse Punjabi singer G. Sidhu; singer-songwriter Rianjali; rap, R&B, and hip-hop artists Taizu, Rolex Rasathy, and Robin Dey; plus DJ Sharad and dance groups IMGE Dance, SA Grooves, and Project Convergence—explore the music of India and its diaspora, creating a space for self-expression that acknowledges their hyphenated identities as Desis outside of South Asia. Then, on August 8, OkayAfrica fills Damrosch Park with the spirit of African soul. Audience members will be treated to the irresistible rhythms of DJ Poizon Ivy and Nigerian singer-songwriter Adekunle Gold’s signature blend of urban high-life and pop-infused songs.
Out of Doors offers plenty to get dance lovers excited throughout the festival. Along with the stellar companies featured by CTMD and the Caribbean Cultural Center, Caleb Teicher & Company masterfully combine tap with jazz, Lindy hop, and hip-hop in a program of fresh, clever choreography on August 2. Then, that same evening, Bob Fosse fans will be delighted by a rare screening of Liza with a “Z,” in which the effervescent Liza Minnelli performs such classics as “Son of a Preacher Man” and concludes with a medley from the film Cabaret. This evening is fittingly kicked off by a performance of “Sing, Sing, Sing” from Bob Fosse’s DANCIN’, featuring students of LaGuardia High School and original choreography by Fosse. On August 7, Jesús Carmona brings his intensely beautiful piece Amator to the Bandshell, which incorporates elements of ballet and flamenco, as well as escuela bolera and modern dance. The evening will also feature musician Arooj Aftab, whose experimental style combines Sufi-mystical poetry with the spirit of independent rock.
Other beloved artists are gracing the Bandshell stage this year, including Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, with an opening set by experimental cellist and singer-songwriter Helen Gillet (July 26); Blood Orange (a.k.a. Dev Hynes) whose distinctive sound captures the current musical zeitgeist, with the deeply imaginative Kelsey Lu opening the night (August 1); and Grammy Award–winner H.E.R. and U.K. soul singer Samm Henshaw, performing in association with MTV Music Month and Save the Music—a nonprofit organization that has launched thousands of school music programs—alongside top student musicians from the programs (August 9). As part of Americanafest NYC’s sixth annual Roots of American Music Weekend, folk music superstar Patty Griffin joins the roster, with an opening set by a rising force in the country soul scene, Yola (August 10). The August 11 Americanafest lineup boasts Anaïs Mitchell, whose indie-folk musical Hadestown earned 14 Tony Award nominations this year, and closes with the music legend and two-time Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee David Crosby & Friends.
Need a laugh? This year, Out of Doors features stand-up comedy. Daily Show correspondent Roy Wood Jr., along with some of comedy’s brightest stars, will fill the Bandshell with jokes on August 3. And for the younger set, Family Day (August 3) will start off with the global music of Brown Rice Family, followed by an afternoon hosted by Hi-ARTS entitled Move the Crowd: A Day of Hip-Hop and Culture. Najee Omar will offer a powerful spoken-word performance, along with the high-energy dancing of SOLE Defined. Lola Lovenotes brings her street-art skills to Hearst Plaza with live-art creation throughout this fun-filled day.
The beauty of the arts shines most brightly when many cultures and communities are brought together. Lincoln Center will indeed be powerfully illuminated this summer.
Kaitlyn Zafonte is the Marketing and Communications Writer for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
For more information, visit lcoutofdoors.org.