South Street Seaport: NYC’s Best Place for Outdoor Concerts

I don’t go to too many concerts these days, and when I do attend one, it’s usually a free summer show. There’s no shortage of them, and that’s one of my favorite parts of summertime in NYC.

After seeing shows at various venues over the course of several summers, I noticed something strange: I enjoyed the concerts at South Street Seaport’s Pier 17 much more than anywhere else. This surprised me because I generally try to avoid the Seaport at all costs. (Well, except for Front Street, which is a little restaurant row north of Pier 17 where tourists rarely venture, for some reason.) I find Pier 17 to be an oddity; it can best be described as hollow. There’s nothing distinctly New York about the place. In fact, it feels more like a cross between a suburban mall and a circus, and I can’t figure out why tourists flock there to shop in stores they could visit anywhere, eat at overpriced restaurants, and gawk at cliche street performers. (Oh look, another silver-painted person!) You could transport Pier 17 to any waterfront city; just look at Faneuil Hall in Boston. Same vibe.

But somehow, when there’s a concert there, Pier 17 becomes great place to spend a Friday evening. The bands are usually unknown, so it never gets too crowded. There’s an area right in front of the stage where people can stand, but we prefer to sit off to the side, closer to the shops, which offers a great view of the performers, as well as other people walking around. And this is the real reason I love concerts at Pier 17: the people-watching is unparalleled.

For such a diverse place, New York can often feel quite segmented, with different groups never really mixing. At every other NYC outdoor concert venue, you get a homogenous group of people based on the location and the act. SummerStage shows that feature indie bands are filled with hipsters and, a bit strangely, with high school and college kids eager to spend a day in the city. SummerStage dance shows can be a bit more diverse, but when it comes down to it, it’s mostly the arty, well-educated crowd. Pier 54 crowds have a bit more variety, but most people tend to be 20 and 30-somethings of the not-quite-hipster-but-almost variety. And any Williamsburg concert? No explanation necessary.

So in that respect, South Street concerts are refreshing. There’s no dominant group there. Instead, it’s a nice cross section of people of all ages that includes locals from all boroughs, office workers hanging out at the end the week, some hipsters and arty people, U.S. and international tourists, families, people who just happened to walk by an see a concert going on, and so on.

Plus, watching the sun set over the water and the buildings of lower Manhattan is pretty sweet, too.