As a former conservatory student in New York City, I’ve developed several tricks and ideas on how to find cheap and free concerts in NYC over the years. Of course, I’d like to encourage everyone to buy a ticket to go to concerts as a way to support performing arts, but I understand the price is not always affordable, especially for young students and travellers. Nevertheless, New York City, one of the most expensive cities in the United States if not the world, fortunately, does have a lot of offer if you want to see fabulous concerts without draining your wallet.
Read till the end for a secret trick that’s used by music students when we didn’t have the money even to get a rush ticket but want to see some big concerts.
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Here are several ways to find cheap and free concerts in NYC:
Of course, you can always use a website such as NYC Free Concerts to explore your options, but if you want to search base by location or genre, you can use the following methods for the most up to date information —
Go to Conservatory Students’ Recitals – Check the Event Calendars
New York City owns some of the world’s most prestigious conservatories that present high-quality student performances in all forms. Classical solo recitals, opera and new music productions, orchestra, chamber music, and jazz concerts … the young performers need your support, and they always love to see audiences besides their family and colleagues! The concerts are mostly free and open to the public. Of course, the schools don’t just offer student performances. There are also masterclasses and concerts by renown musicians from time to time.
~ Note that there are usually fewer shows at the schools during summer. ~
Manhattan School of Music (Event Calendar)
Columbia University (Event Calendar)
The Juilliard School (Event Calendar)
Mannes School of Music (Event Calendar)
New York University (Event Calendar)
Brooklyn Academy of Music (Event Calendar)
Free New York Philharmonic Concerts
New York Philharmonic gives away 100 concert tickets to young people between the age of 13~26 for the Friday evening subscription concerts. Here’s how to register your ticket.
Games and Jazz at Fat Cat in West Village
Relax and play some games while listening to some of the best jazz players in town! Fat Cat offers billiards, ping-pong, shuffleboard, foosball, chess & checkers, backgammon, scrabble, and more. Buy a beer and pay as low as $1 to enter a game and enjoy great music! (Learn more about it here.)
Fancy Some Swing Dance at the Historic Cotton Club?
Depending on what you consider as affordable, I think $25 per person for a memorable evening at a historic venue like the Cotton Club is totally worth it. The show is on every Monday night. Experience Harlem and hours of swing dancing, go to the Cotton Club!
Barge Music – Floating Concerts on the Hudson River
If you are travelling with children, Bargemusic, a chamber music series that’s hosted on a floating barge under the Brooklyn Bridge offers an hour-long FREE family neighbourhood concert every Saturday at 4 pm. There’s also a Q&A session after the concert with the musicians. All of these are free, and there’s no need to reserve seats.
Bargemusic also has programmed concerts every weekend with ticket purchase in advance.
If You Are Visiting NYC During Summer Time (June~August)
There are lots of free outdoor concerts happening throughout the city during summer time. New York Philharmonic in Central Park’s Great Lawn is one of the iconic summer concert series. The Metropolitan Opera also has free summer recital series performed by the young Met stars in addition to the HD Opera Festival. Nothing is more awesome than having ice cream while listening and watching a world-class performance on a hot summer night on a gigantic screen in the courtyard of Lincoln Center.
Get Rush or Discount Tickets
Many productions and institutions offer rush tickets, and the pricing goes as low as $10 USD. You go to the box office on the day of the performance or a few days before to see if there are any tickets available. A photo ID is usually required, and some only take cash.
Check the links below for details —
- Carnegie Hall: Discount ticket program
- Broadway shows: general rush ticket
- Lincoln Center Ticket Office: Your one stop hub for discount tickets at multiple performing spaces
- How to get a rush ticket for the Metropolitan Opera and the American Ballet Theater
And the Last – A Secret Practice By Conservatory Students: Stub In.
What is “stub in”? Back in the days when we were still conservatory students who didn’t have much spare money to go to a NY Phil concert or concerts at Carnegie Hall, we would call the ticket office to ask when is the intermission. (Technically, it’s not “legal,” but it’s difficult to live in NYC as a student!) Then, we will wait at the entrance or the staircase to get tickets from people who are leaving the concerts. Just go up to people who look like they are leaving and ask if they are coming back, and if you can have their tickets.
The downside? You only get to see the second half. But who cares? The second half is usually better, and it’s free.
“Who would give away their tickets?” You’d probably ask. Well, in fact, many people do. Sometimes some rich fellows would buy expensive tickets just to impress their dates, so often, you can get fantastic seats when you stub in.
I don’t know if the venues still allow the practice of “stubbing in.” Sometimes the ushers and the securities are very understanding that they’d let you slip. I do remember it was getting harder to stub in though, and that was four years ago. If you are feeling spontaneous, give it a try.
However, if you are capable of paying for the tickets, please do. The performing artists need your support!
Otherwise, The streets of NYC is filled with musicians. The entire city is an open air concert hall!
In June, there’s the annual “Sing for Hope” event where dozens of designed pianos are displayed throughout the five boroughs for about a month. They are not the best instruments but surely the most stylish! It’s free for anyone to play on. As you know, it’s not so easy for us pianist to carry around our instrument, so sometimes you’ll meet some amazing piano playing jamming on those in the summer time! This is also a great opportunity for anyone who wants to experience the life of a street musician!
Stop by Union Square, Bryant Park, and Washington Square Park. Just go to the parks, or walk around West and East Villages.
I’ve seen some fun jam sessions, a great accordion concert, an interesting drum and bass collaboration, drum circle, and some serious performances in these neighbourhoods. In fact, amazing performances happen on the streets of New York every single day. Naming them all is impossible! Union Square and Columbus Circle subway stations have the best underground performances! And of course, there’s always that child prodigy pianist and Peruvian flute band at Time Square. Haha.
If you have any other suggestions for finding cheap and free concerts in NYC, feel free to contact me or reply here!
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Also published on Medium.