On Friday, July 7, 1989, a small blurb appeared in The New York Times under the headline “Dancing, By Audiences.” The announcement heralded the very first iteration of what would eventually become Midsummer Night Swing, New York City’s most beloved outdoor dance party. Originally planned as a celebration of Lincoln Center’s 30th birthday, the festival itself turns 30 this year and it’s more popular than ever, with a blend of regulars and newcomers mixing it up on the custom dance floor installed every summer in Damrosch Park.
In a city known for constant change, what explains Midsummer Night Swing’s staying power? For one thing, it’s the festival’s three-decade history of presenting world-class live dance music of all genres, including swing, tango, disco, salsa, ballroom, soukous, zydeco, country western, cumbia, polka, garba, and more. All-star bands from the metro area and around the globe have traveled to Lincoln Center to have the chance to play for dance enthusiasts of all levels. “Our musicians love playing for dancers as much as our dancers love moving to live music. It’s just this special relationship,” says Jill Sternheimer, Lincoln Center’s Director of Public Programming.
As important as the incredible live music is the “in real life” social aspect: Midsummer Night Swing offers the chance to unplug for a few hours and learn (or show off) a new dance move, to connect with new and old friends, and to take a break from the constant hustle, all in a unique outdoor setting in the heart of the city. “Where else can you leave your apartment, hop off the subway, and step into a magical world?” asks Sternheimer. “You can come as an observer or you can come as a participant; either way it’s a beautiful summer night.”
This year’s lineup continues Midsummer Night Swing’s tradition of presenting both longtime—and future—favorites. The season opens on June 25 with an evening of 1920s big-band swing by Grammy Award–winner Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, who performed at the festival’s inaugural season in 1989 and have kept dancers on their feet with weekly club dates ever since. Also returning this year—following their success at last year’s opening night—Bria Skonberg and the Sisterhood of Swing Seven take the stage on July 3, presenting an unforgettable evening of 1930s and ’40s classic swing with a first-class septet and Catherine Russell on vocals. Veteran ballroom stars Joe Battaglia & The New York Big Band will keep the festivities going on July 5 with everyone’s favorite rumba, foxtrot, cha-cha, and more, while Charles Turner & Uptown Swing (July 6) and the Eyal Vilner Big Band (July 10) make their Midsummer Night Swing debuts, performing fresh new takes on swing, jazz, blues, and big-band swing, respectively.
On June 27 at DiscoVogue, part of Celebrating WorldPride NYC’s monthlong citywide commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. This pre–Pride March evening will feature an extended live set by Escort and DJ sets by DJ Lina and MikeQ and members of the Qween Beat collective, all followed by a silent disco to keep the party going. On July 2, the beat goes on with Joe McGinty & The Loser’s Lounge, whose celebration of the golden era of disco will have everyone partying like it’s 1979.
The Detroit sound will be heard on June 28, when Dr. K’s Motown Revue performs timeless songs by the Temptations, the Four Tops, the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye, and more.
Salsa lovers are in for a treat with performances by New York City’s own Los Hacheros (June 29), who were recently signed to Daptone’s Latin revival label, and on July 4, longtime aficionados will be sure to flock to one of the original Fania All-Stars, Bobby Valentín—a.k.a. “El Rey del Bajo.” Few have had as big an impact on the genre. Lastly, be sure to save the date for a very special June 26 appearance by a legendary band (check MidsummerNightSwing.org in early June for more information).
Two renowned female bandleaders will represent South American dance this year: Brazilian songwriter, singer, poet, and actress Elba Ramalho, making a rare New York appearance, brings an evening of forró on July 9; and Argentinean pianist, composer, and arranger Analía Goldberg—who toured the world as part of Color Tango Orchestra—brings her sextet to Damrosch Park on July 11 for a moonlit milonga.
One of this year’s can’t-miss shows is sure to be an evening with blues and folk singer Maria Muldaur (July 12), who will perform the songs of Blue Lu Barker, a 1930s-era New Orleans jazz and blues singer whose hits included “Don’t You Feel My Leg” and “Look What Baby’s Got for You.” “It’s going to be a sassy and fun night,” Sternheimer says, “the musical equivalent of a nod, wink, and coy little smile.”
On July 13, the Harlem Renaissance Orchestra presents its 15th annual tribute to saxophonist, bandleader, and swing icon Illinois Jacquet, who graced the stages of every Midsummer Night Swing from 1990 through 2004. This evening of classic big-band tunes culminates in an exciting finale as dancers compete for the Ambassador Prize, an homage to another Midsummer Night Swing regular (and Lindy hop royalty), Frankie Manning. This double event is a fitting way to close out the 30th birthday of a uniquely New York tradition. As Sternheimer says, “In a world where the newest and shiniest thing gets the most attention, here everyone holds up and reveres their elders. The past is really important here, but not as a relic. It’s alive.”
For more information about Midsummer Night Swing, visit MidsummerNightSwing.org.