Summer in the City

Best Downtown Bets for July & August


Is there anything sadder than strolling through a NYC street fair — overpriced funnel cake or gyro in hand — while telling yourself you’re having a good time?

There’s got to be a better place to spend your summer than standing aimlessly in the middle of the street between two rows of desperate vendors hawking tube socks and sunglasses that nobody wants to buy. Of course, there’s a better place; and it’s right here; Downtown; just beyond that sprawling street fair.

Here, then (to save you from a fate worse than $1 Thai food or $6 smoothies) is our totally biased, not nearly comprehensive list of best Arts & Entertainment events happening between now and Labor Day. Depending upon your likes and general disposition, you’ll either be enriched or enraged by our choices — but you won’t be bored. And isn’t that why you live here in the first place?  


Soho Think Tank presents the sixteenth annual installment of its Ice Factory Festival —which means to shield you from the summer steam by delivering the coolest performances it can muster from emerging and established downtown theater companies (with some national and international groups thrown into the mix as well).

July 8-11, Anonymous Ensemble’s “A Wonderland” delivers a psychedelic,  music-fueled take on Lewis Carroll’s timelessly weird tale — by casting Alice as an aimless urban dreamer whose journey through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole just might lead to a new and better self-identity.

July 15-18, Aztec Economy’s “Lavaman” concerns a shy Queens-based comic illustrator whose repressed anger spills into the pages of his unpublished graphic novel. July 29 through August 1, International WOW’s “Reconstruction” features a five-piece bluegrass band, a 30-person ensemble and the building of a house before your eyes — as a town destroyed by foreclosures and calamities rebuilds itself from the ground up.

August 5 through 8, “Conni’s Avant Garde Restaurant” invites you to gather around banquet tables and enjoy a home-cooked five-course meal as art, food and consumption merge into one crazy, uncategorizable happening. The Ice Factory Festival runs July 8 through August 15; Wednesday through Saturday, 7:00p.m. at the Ohio Theatre, 66 Wooster Street (between Spring & Broome). To order tickets ($15 for adults, $10 for students/seniors), call 212-868-4444 or Visit

CONVENTION: First Annual Asian American ComiCon

Taking place at the new, Maya Lin-designed Museum of Chinese in  America, the Asian American ComiCon (the first annual one, we’re assured) aims to assemble the best Asian American creators in manga, mainstream and indie comics. That’s good news for fans, who get to meet and mingle with masters like Larry Hama (G.I. Joe), Sean Chen (Iron Man), Greg   Pak (Hulk), Bernard Chang (Wonder Woman), Derek Kirk Kim (The Eternal Smile), Cliff Chiang (Green Arrow), Khoi Pham (Mighty Avengers), and many more. Attendees will have the chance to get autographed copies of their  favorite graphic novels, commission original sketches from top creators, and take part in panels with self-aware topics such as “Nerdpop: The rise of the nerds, and why geek chic is changing the game” and “Pop Goes East: How the Asianization of American pop culture has reshaped the graphic novel.” July 11, 10:00a.m. to 5:00p.m. at the Museum of Chinese in America (215 Centre Street). Tickets: $15 for students, $25 for adults (18 and older); $75 VIP Pass gets you priority reserved seating at all panels and workshops, plus a complimentary Asian American graphic novel signed by its creators — and an original sketch from one of the artists participating in the event’s Artists Alley. For more information visit


If you’re not an aging hippie of a certain age who was at the original Woodstock, here’s your chance to brag to future generations about seeing some of the original performers — who will be gathering to celebrate the event’s impending 40th Anniversary. “4 Nights of Peace, Love & Music: A Tribute to Woodstock” is presented (as most things are these days) by the River to River Festival (this time, with able assistance from the Alliance for Downtown New York). A series of four free concerts will feature Richie Havens, Arlo Guthrie, and a tribute to and Sly & The Family Stone (by way of Steven Bernstein’s Millennial Territory Orchestra). Tickets will be distributed, 2 per person, outside Castle Clinton on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 5:00pm on the day of each show. Free; 7:00p.m., at Castle Clinton National Monument (Battery Park; State Street and Battery Place) on 4 successive Thursdays (July 16 to August 6). For a schedule of performers, call 212-835-2789 or visit


If it’s an outdoor event happening Downtown during the summer, all roads inevitably lead to the River to River Festival. As culturally comprehensive and geographically expansive as its name implies, the Festival delivers a seriously stacked menu of free music, dance and cultural events — occurring at, among other places, the World Financial Center, South Street Seaport, Rockefeller Park, Battery Park and Castle Clinton.

For a complete, incredibly dense and detailed programming schedule (plus all the details on events listed below), visit

On July 13, “Movie Nights on the Elevated Acre” delivers a free screening of “The Taking of Pelham 123” (the original version — which our film critic Ed Koch recently declared superior to the John Travolta remake currently in theaters). On July 20, it’s “West Side Story.” The series concludes July 27 with “The Sweet Smell of Success.”

July 16 and 17 at 12:30p.m., jazz prodigy Emmet Cohen (praised for his sophisticated phrasing and compositions) dazzles the audience as he tickles the ivories (World Financial Center, Winter Garden).

July 21, famed Indian composer Karsh Kale, joined by Timeline, perform with GamelaTron (provocatively, proudly billed as “the world’s first and only Gamelan orchestra”).

In celebration of Merce Cunningham’s 90th birthday, The Joyce Theater is co-producing Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s site-specific event—which celebrates the work of the legendary choreographer (August 1, 6:00p.m. and August 2, 2:00p.m.; at Rockefeller Park).

July 20 through 23 at 6:00p.m. and July 27 through 30 at 1:00p.m., LMCC Sitelines presents “Sitelines: A Space Funk Invasion by Nicholas Leichter Dance.” Witness the present, and future, of funk with a performance that combines elements of music, cabaret club culture, fashion and dance (at the Seaport, Fulton & Front Streets).

August 5, 7:00p.m., Los Salseros Del Hudson brings, as it implies in another language, the great sound of salsa music to the Hudson. Led by Jimmy Sabater Jr. (son of salsa legend Jimmy Sabater Sr.), an ensemble of over a dozen musicians shake the rafters with their explosive and unforgettable sound; or they would, if not for the fact the concert takes place outdoors — at Wagner Park (Battery Place and West Street).


Since 1971, Soho Photo Gallery has been showcasing a broad spectrum of imagery by emerging and veteran photographers. One particular artist, currently showing, takes a look at the old and the new — in both name, nature and concept. Peter Leitch’s “New York to New Orleans” features more than 30 photographs culled from several road trips Leitch made through the South (and his time spent here, at home, in NYC). The show contrasts New York City’s verticality, crowded streets and media saturation with the flat highways, cotton fields and low-rise architecture of the American South. In the process, musician/photographer Leitch both mirrors and differentiates the simplicity of the rural blues from the complexity of urban jazz. Through August 8, at Soho Photo; 15 White Street. Call 212-226-8571 or visit Gallery Hours: Wednesday thru Sunday, 1:00p.m. to 6:00p.m. and by appointment.


City Parks Foundation is the organization behind this series of summertime events — which, when put together, comprise the only free performing arts festival in NYC that hosts performances in all five boroughs. With 75 concerts, dance and theater events happening throughout 21 parks, you need a website calendar just to make sense of the schedule. Fortunately, they have one:

Theatrical happenings featured in the 2009 season include Chisa Hutchinson’s “Dirt Rich” — the first play commissioned by the festival. As for slightly older and more established playwrights, NY’s Tisch School of the Arts Continuum Company presents modern adaptations of Shakespeare via their “Theater in a Box: Essential Shakespeare / Dream A Little Dream.” Poet Jessica Care Moore fuses music and spoken word in her one-woman show, “God is Not an American.”

Troupes on the calendar of events for CityParks Dance: Morphoses/The Wheedon Company; the African American troupe Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, break dancing experts Illstyle & Peace Productions; abstract expressionist work from nathantrice/RITUALS; and Ballet Noir—featuring artists of diverse cultural backgrounds on a mission to make ballet accessible to the masses. Dance master classes will be featured before all performances, and will be taught by dance professionals and choreographers.

Got music on your mind? CityParks Concerts delivers performances from Grammy award-winning R&B singer Chrisette Michele, salsa sensation Frankie Negron, and gospel music from the pastor of Brooklyn’s Love Fellowship Tabernacle: Hezekiah Walker. Fans of the first wave of hip-hop can catch Naughty by Nature, KRS-One, and Slick Rick.


For nearly twenty years, NYC resident Tom Keough has focused on painting urban and country landscapes set in the hours after sundown. “Tom Keough: Night Paintings” is an exhibition of his recent works. Focusing on quiet NYC settings, Keough’s ominous yet melancholy vision of urban alienation will seem both familiar and strange to anyone who calls this densely populated city home. Mysteriously empty streets, dark alleys and overlooked corners are transformed by the effects of man-made light and heaven-sent snow. Frozen in time and devoid of activity, they convey a sense of solitude normally achieved only in empty movie backlot visions of Gotham. Through July 31, at Hal Bromm Gallery; 90 West Broadway (at Chambers Street); 212-732-6196. 


Thursdays in July, Battery Park City Parks Conservancy’s “2009 River & Blues” season presents a series of free sunset concerts. July 23, 7:00p.m., Hazmat Modine takes to the stage with “the energy of a brass band and the scratchy sound of an old blues record.” July 30, Jay Collins & the Kings County Band wrap things up with their take on New Orleans-style funk, classic jazz and blues. At Robert F. Wagner Jr. Park on the Hudson River. For more information, call 212-267-9700 or visit


Trinity Wall Street’s Summer Sounds concert series helps you beat the heat with free music performances every Wednesday, 1:00p.m. to 2:30p.m., in July and August. As free as the breeze, all you need do to attend is show up at the north churchyard of Trinity Church (Broadway at Wall Street), all are welcome to take a break from the workday, grab a free lemonade and enjoy a musical performance by an eclectic group of musicians.  From jazz, to blues & ragtime, to global drumming, music from the Andes, and a Beatles cover band, each week will feature a different style of music. Highlights include music of the Andes from Agua Clara (July 15); classical guitar player Mark Edward (July 22); percussive-driven sounds from Mecca Bodega (July 29); New Orleans brass band sounds from Jeff Newell’s New-Trad Octet (August 5); and, on August 26, Beatles cover band Yesterday And Today. For more information, visit or call 212-602-0800.


What event gives you the opportunity to experience a ferry ride, sea breeze, time spent on an island other than Manhattan and art? “Formative Lines: Working in Drawing and Sculpture” (presented by The Sculpture Guild) is a Governer’s Island event happening through October 4. See 86 works of drawing and sculpture  (housed in historic House 19 on Nolan park). The show, titled “Formative Lines: Working in Drawing and Sculpture,” examines (according to the curators Johanna Kleinberg and Rachel Liebowitz of The Drawing Center) “the interdependent relations between drawing and sculpture, bridging the distinctions between two- and three-dimensional artworks.” As for the style, expect everything from figurative or abstract to works traditionally cast in metal or concrete, as well as art processed in a 3-D digital computer. Governors Island will be open to the public on Fridays from 10:00a.m. to 5:00p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays between 10:00a.m. and 7:00p.m.; reached every hour by ferry from the Battery Maritime building next to the Staten Island ferry in Lower Manhattan. For more information, visit


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