Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield lives a double life of sorts. For half of the year, it’s a sandy play area. Starting in April and ending in October, it is transformed into a haven for music fans.

“It’s piece by piece. We literally take it apart and put it all back together every year,” said Heather Lubov, executive director of the City Parks Foundation, which runs SummerStage.

The outdoor performing arts festival is back in full force for the first time since before the pandemic hit. There will be nearly 90 free and benefit shows in Central Park and at 12 neighborhood parks across the five boroughs.

What You Need To Know

  • SummerStage is an outdoor performing arts festival presented by City Parks Foundation

  • The season opens Saturday June 11th in Central Park with a free performance from legendary jazz pianist and composer Herbie Hancock

  • There will be nearly nearly 90 free and ticketed benefit shows at Central Park's Rumsey Playfield and 12 neighborhood parks across the five boroughs

  • The City Parks Foundation is a more than 30-year-old non-profit that works to provide activities for New Yorkers in parks

“I can’t even explain how amazing it feels to finally bring the venue back and have New Yorkers come and join us,” said Lubov.

That goes along with the mission of the foundation, a more than 30-year-old nonprofit which works with the Parks Department to provide a variety of activities in parks, including the arts. As always, the lineup offers something for everyone.

“More so than, I would say, any other festival in New York, we really try hard to make sure that the artists that play this festival really represent the broadest and best artistic communities, and New Yorkers themselves,” said Erika Elliott, the executive artistic director for SummerStage who has been with the festival for nearly 18 years.

From Harlem to Coney Island, Flushing to Crotona Park East, there will be free music and dance and film, with the benefit shows helping to bring in funds to make it all happen. It also shines a light on everything else City Parks Foundation does, including sports instruction for kids, activities for seniors, and volunteer opportunities for New Yorkers in their local parks.

“We really serve New Yorkers in a variety of ways. We keep parks lively and joyful and vibrant, but of course we do it joyfully with music and sports and amazing other things, so yeah, it’s a great organization,” said Elliott.

To find out about the performances at Central Park and in your neighborhood, head to https://cityparksfoundation.org/summerstage/