Summer in New York is many things: fresh flowers on every corner, a dangerously high concentration of tourists, rooftop bars, coming this close to actually physically melting candle-style on the platform while waiting to the train to come.
But the best thing is the myriad free outdoor events. It’s the time of year when you turn a corner on Sunday afternoon and stumble upon a street fair you didn’t know was happening and instead of trudging down the sidewalk you are dancing in the street to that jazz band on your left and to your right are joyous children experiencing their first bounce house and suddenly—you’re not totally sure how this happened—you’re eating fried Oreos and all is right in the world. Or instead of seeing what’s playing at the movie theatre you just Google “free outdoor movies nyc” and figure out where the most popular movies from the past year and a smattering of classics are playing every night of the week. Or you notice signs for SummerStage in the park and realize you can see both gospel legend Mavis Staples and up and coming band Tank and the Bangas for free in Central Park this summer.
Unfortunately, not all of the performances in Central Park are free. But they’re still outside. Sure, there are leafy trees and intrusive structures and burly men at gates all visually letting you know that without a ticket, you shouldn’t be here. But here’s the thing: sound travels. You can’t see anything except the changing lights reflecting off the leaves, but you can hear a whole lot. And after leaving the Mavis Staples concert, I noticed something: directly behind the bleachers and the trees and the gates is an open lawn, perfect for a picnic on a Wednesday.
And if Regina Spektor happens to be giving a concert in Central Park on that particular Wednesday, who’s to say I have to move my painstakingly planned picnic?
I’ll tell you who: NOBODY.
We weren’t very subtle about it with our Tommy Bahama beach chairs slung over our shoulders and no picnic basket in sight, but neither was the notable contingent already parked on the lawn when we rolled up, an hour before showtime. Men with hefty coolers wove through the lawn selling beer and mojitos to people who definitely weren’t here to listen to music.
Normally I love openers, but I was glad that we were jumping right into the good stuff when we heard an eruption of sound as Regina took the stage. By that I mean, we were so surprised when our picnic was suddenly interrupted by the musical stylings of Regina Spektor, and since you can’t very well carry on a conversation when people are yelling like that, we might as well have a good listen.
“Come and open up your folding chair next to me…”
OMG THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT WE DID! WE BROUGHT OUR FOLDING CHAIRS! It was in that moment that I knew Regina was chill with our cheapskate decision.
As dusk settled in around us, the fireflies zoomed this way and that. I decided they must be part of Regina’s lighting crew, hitting their marks as the music swelled and then faded away. Too soon it was dark, and I tilted my chair back to face the sky. I eased into the memory of listening to Regina late at night, her voice making making me feel safe and understood amidst the swirling vortex of emotion that is age fifteen. Here I was, ten years later, and instead of listening to a recording through my iPod Nano headphones, I could hear her just on the other side of those trees.
In the end, we picnickers found ourselves intermingled with the concertgoers on the paths out of the park. We tried to snatch up some of the post-concert buzz of those who had actually witnessed it while focusing on not bumping into anyone with our incriminating, awkwardly wide backpack chairs.