The 5 Best (Free!) Shows at River to River Festival 2011


This year’s River to River Festival, which runs from June 19 to July 17, marks the 10th time that its mix of free shows takes over Lower Manhattan for the summer. The 2011 bill has a decidedly New York-centric bent, with Patti Smith, Laurie Anderson, Rufus Wainwright, and the New York City Opera all on the roster. While the heavyweights are all well and good, the festival’s real value is found when browsing the so-called “small text” artists, such as Lower Dens and The Wake. Five shows you shouldn’t miss, after the jump.

Bang on a Can Marathon, June 19 @ the World Financial Center Winter Garden
This 13-hour show will kick the festivities off in style. Spanning 13 hours, the marathon will include Phillip Glass with the Bang on a Can All-Stars, Bryce Dessner of the National, and the Asphalt Orchestra performing songs by David Byrne/Annie Clark, Yoko Ono, and Frank Zappa, among other acts.

The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, June 24 @ South Street Seaport
Ignore the idiosyncratic name and focus on the participants: this collaboration between Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl lives off beautiful harmonies and flowing melodies. The promise of “special guests,” given Lennon’s family connections, is also fairly enticing.

Lower Dens and Dirty Beaches, July 1 @ South Street Seaport
CMJ darlings Lower Dens may not seem like the most summer-y band out there, with their woozy guitars and singer Jana Hunter’s dreamlike voice, but after a long day in the July heat, what could be better than a soothing Friday night by the water? (That’s what I thought.) Opening up is Dirty Beaches, who combines the wide-open sound often described as “beachy” with the introspection of shoegaze.

The Wake and Weekend, July 8 @ South Street Seaport
If you happen to miss the chill vibes of the Lower Dens show, fret not. ’80s post-punk outfit The Wake blends new wave with melancholic pop to create a hazy atmosphere that should please those wanting to dance without breaking too much of a sweat. Weekend are a trio from San Francisco, but their music has no ties to the “happy Cali” scene. This is pure noise punk, angry and snarling. Bring your devil horns.

Patti Smith, July 14 @ the Castle Clinton National Monument at Battery Park
Consider this your early warning: This event requires tickets that will be available both online and at the entrance to Castle Clinton on the day of the show.