SummerStage in Central Park gets makeover for free summer shows

CENTRAL PARK, Manhattan (WABC) -- This summer marks the start of a new chapter in the history of Central Park, where residents have enjoyed free summer concerts for 30 years.

It's called SummerStage," and this summer, the venue has been upgraded and improved.

The upgrades are paid for by the city and private foundations and individuals. Even better? It is free to enjoy the shows.

Each year, Rumsey Playfield gets transformed into an intimate concert space for 5,500 people. The shows span the full range of music, from jazz and hip-hop to indie rock and reggae...even contemporary dance.

Now, Central Park's happy place is a better place after a $5.5 million renovation.

"This is a game changer for SummerStage," says Heather Lubov, executive director of the City Parks Foundation. "Everyone who has come through the venue has said it's so different."

Shows have taken place here for three decades, but this is the venue's first complete renovation.

"We have a completely new stage," Lubov said. "We have a new lighting system, a new sound system. We've also raised up our seats so people can see over the standing crowd."

The artificial grass where the crowd stands is realistic enough to fool local squirrels, and that, says Lubov, is by design.

"We had lots of samples that we walked on barefoot, and this felt the most like grass," she said.

The same attention to detail gets paid to those who play here.

"We try to make sure that our booking is as diverse as possible, so that we represent everyone who lives in New York," she said. "And that's a wide variety of people."

Veteran acts like the B-52's and George Clinton are paired with younger performers.

"One of our specialties is booking rising stars who are about to break big," Lubov said.

And the best part about the big shows is that they're all free except for a few fundraisers each year.

"Really, it's joyful, that's what we strive for," Lubov said.

And that's what she and her team achieve, as there is plenty of joy at SummerStage.

For more information and a list of shows and venues, visit CityParksFoundation.org/SummerStage/.

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