A visitor takes a photo of a painting on the wall at the Harvard Art Museum.

Boston’s art scene is kicking into high gear this season. Now’s your chance to attend a range of plays, concerts, and live shows, or take a leisurely visit to a museum — like the Harvard Art Museums.

Olivia Falcigno/Harvard file photo

Arts & Culture

Summer in the city

long read

Movies, plays, music, and exhibitions to keep you entertained

If you frequent the local music clubs, you may have heard about a great show at Once in Somerville last month by The Undertones, a new-wave band from Northern Ireland. Just in time for Memorial Day weekend, the show peaked with the old single “Here Comes the Summer,” an ode to grabbing all the seasonal fun you can. Said singer Paul McLoone afterward, “That song’s only one and a half minutes long because that’s how long our summers are in Derry.”

We in Boston don’t have that problem — our summers can stretch on for at least a few hours. But the message still applies: Summer’s here, get out and take it in. The latest in our ongoing series of seasonal arts previews offers a taste of the many strong options for those sticking around this summer.


Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones are back on tour and ready to rock.

Photo by Dave Hogan

In the pop music world, some of the biggest of the big names in classic rock are coming to town, from jam-band favorites Phish (at Fenway Park July 5) to the unsinkable Rolling Stones (yes, Mick is healthy again; they’re at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough on July 7). Just as legendary in our book is Bryan Ferry, the glam-rock godfather who recently made the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as part of Roxy Music. He’s at the Opera House in Boston on Aug. 5. Ditto the team of Elvis Costello and Debbie Harry, touring together for the first time since the 1990s, with Costello and the Imposters sharing a double bill with Blondie at the Pavilion in Boston on July 23.

For those with open ears, the best summer music festival may be the semiannual Solid Sound festival, hosted at Mass. MOCA in North Adams (June 28–30) by alt-rockers Wilco — who currently have a foot in western Massachusetts, despite their Chicago roots, with management headquartered in Easthampton. The festival is designed for people who hate festivals, meaning there’s a wide range of art and music (plus comedy, readings, and theater) through the weekend, with audience comfort kept in mind (no competition for space or food). You don’t even have to be a Wilco fan to enjoy it — though of course it helps, since they’ll be playing two lengthy sets and leader Jeff Tweedy is doing a third. They’re even promising to host a live karaoke set where fans can take turns fronting the band.

Also worth a short commute is the Lowell Folk Festival, where you can enjoy some of the greatest music in the world — blues, bluegrass, African, Cajun, Celtic — in the (ideally) summer sunshine of Jack Kerouac’s old stomping grounds. This year’s lineup is only partially announced so far, but it includes Malian guitar master Vieux Farka Touré and British guitar deity Albert Lee, either of whom alone would be worth the admission price if the event weren’t already free. It all happens July 26–28 at Boarding House Park in Lowell.

If Lee — who co-wrote the Ricky Skaggs hit “Country Boy” — isn’t country enough for you, look for Billy Currington at Rockland Trust Bank Pavilion in Boston July 17, Dierks Bentley in Hartford, Conn., on Aug. 15 and Mansfield on Aug. 16, and the Charlie Daniels Band at the Cabot in Beverly Aug. 30.

Disco and roller-skating enthusiasts alike party the hot summer day away at City Hall Plaza during the Donna Summer Memorial Roller Disco Tribute Party.

Photo by Jeremiah Robinson/City of Boston Mayor’s Office

Enough about alternative and roots music, you say: What you really want is some old-fashioned disco. The annual Donna Summer Roller Disco Party — held in honor of the Dorchester diva, who died in 2012 — was by all accounts a blast last year, and it returns to Boston’s City Hall Plaza on June 21. Skates will be available to rent; just bring your “Hot Stuff” moves. Cambridge hosts its own citywide dance party on June 28 outside City Hall in Central Square. It starts at 7 p.m. and wraps up at 11, early enough to hit the clubs. Expect plenty of the artsy, inclusive spirit that makes us glad we live around here.

Once you’ve had your fill of nostalgia, step into the modern world with Ariana Grande June 22, Khalid Aug. 10, and Shawn Mendes Aug. 15, all at Boston’s TD Garden, and Catfish and the Bottlemen at Boston’s House of Blues or the Revivalists at Rockland Trust Bank Pavilion, both on June 19.

Newer rap and hip-hop acts coming to town include Nav tonight at the Gold Room in Boston, Lil Durk at the Strand Theatre in Providence, R.I., on June 29, and Rich the Kid at House of Blues June 30. If you can swing a road trip, go old school July 14 with Snoop Dogg and Friends at the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion in Gilford, N.H., or Common at Foxwoods in Mashantucket, Conn., Aug. 15. Somewhere in between on the chronology spectrum but right up there beatwise are Anuel AA at the Boch Center Wang Theater July 11‒12 and Wiz Khalifa July 13 at the Xfinity Theatre in Hartford. Lesser-known but worth checking out are Cambridge’s own Millyz at Brighton Music Hall July 26; ChocQuibTown, from Colombia, at Lynn Auditorium Aug. 17; and Hawaii-bred reggae band Iration with three other groups at Rockland Trust Bank Pavilion July 20.

Man with American flags in his baseball cap, facing the Hatch Shell

Don’t miss the most anticipated Independence Day celebration, at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade.

Photo by Winslow Townson

You can’t ignore the main attraction on the Fourth of July — the Pops concert on the Esplanade, a ritual that every Bostonian needs to experience at least once. This could be the ideal year to do it, since the guests are a bit edgier than usual: Along with “America’s Got Talent” acts the Texas Tenors and Lynn’s own Amanda Mena, they’ve got Queen Latifah, the reigning diva of hip-hop, and the eternal hippie favorite Arlo Guthrie. We don’t suppose he’ll get to do all 17 minutes of “Alice’s Restaurant,” however.

And don’t forget to check online calendars at more intimate venues such as Club Passim, Toad, Lizard Lounge, Cantab, Middle East, the Paradise, Sonia, the Plough and Stars — the list goes on. Any night of the week you’ll be able to find fantastic acts, from always-amazing standbys like The Daylilies to surprises like the sweetly harmonizing Oshima Brothers (June 19 at Passim). For free live music outdoors throughout the summer — unfortunately all on Wednesdays, making it hard to choose — stop by the Hatch Shell, City Hall Plaza, the Boston Public Library’s lunchtime Concerts in the Courtyard, all in Boston, or City Square Park in Charlestown. And just to change it up a bit, the North End Greenway had the radical idea of offering free jazz on Tuesdays in July.


Everything happens on Boston Common sooner or later, and this summer that includes free performances of Shakespeare. Having done one of the Bard’s greatest hits (“Romeo and Juliet”) in May at Babson College with its CSC2 troupe of younger actors, the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company will now be taking on a deeper cut, “Cymbeline.” Full of desperate love and mistaken identity — along with a bit of cross-dressing — it’s one of the rare Shakespeare plays that’s been classified as both a comedy and a tragedy, depending on who’s judging. The free performances are at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 7 p.m. Sunday from July 17 through Aug. 4.

Shakespeare on the Common

A scene from “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” featured during last year’s Shakespeare on the Common.

Photo by Andrew Brilliant

One iconic actress salutes another in “Tea at Five,” a one-woman show starring Faye Dunaway as Katharine Hepburn. The monologue touches on Hepburn’s unconventional childhood, her unlikely rise to stardom, and her often troubled 27-year relationship with Spencer Tracy. Originally starring Kate Mulgrew, the play was reworked by author Matthew Lombardo for this engagement, which heads to Broadway after its premiere at the Huntington Avenue Theatre, where it runs from June 21‒July 7.

The angst-ridden emotional rollercoaster that is “Dear Evan Hansen” arrives at the Boston Opera House July 10, and “Hello, Dolly!” with Tony Award–winning Broadway legend Betty Buckley, on Aug. 13, while the doomed romance of “Miss Saigon” will touch down at the Citizens Bank Opera House June 12‒30.

“Six” will be at the American Repertory Theater Aug. 21 through Sept. 27. It’s a pop-concert take on the wives of Henry VIII that premiered at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2017 and has since racked up the superlatives, including frequent comparisons to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton.”


An unusual exhibit at Arts in Watertown, “Please Touch the Art,” is comprised of 52 works that need to be touched (and heard, and in a couple of cases smelled) to be fully absorbed. According to curator Georgina Kleege, these pieces — mainly whimsical and playful, but sometimes deeper and even mournful — invite the viewer to feel what the artist was feeling, to explore the overlap of touch and emotion. See it before it disappears Sept. 6.

On July 20 the Museum of Fine Arts’ Herb Ritts Gallery will open “Make Believe,” the work of five photographers. According to the MFA’s website, the exhibit “presents an enchanted realm where sleeping figures float, women weave spiderwebs, magicians cause children to disappear, and homemade dirigibles fly over icebergs.”

From June 20 through mid-September, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s “Big Plans: Picturing Social Reform” uses maps, city plans, photographs, and archival materials to examine “how landscape architects and photographers advocated for social reform in the development of Boston, New York, and Chicago in the late 1800s and early 1900s.” And on Third Thursdays, the Gardner hosts “The Sound of Pride,” what the museum calls “Boston’s longest-running open mic dedicated to the voices of the LGBTQIS communities of color,” which also runs on second Thursdays at the Milky Way in Jamaica Plain.

Japanese art portrait of a woman
Prince Shotoku statue with artifacts

Itō Shinsui, “Before the Mirror,” Japanese, Taishō era, 1916. Woodblock print; ink and color on paper. Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Charles Bain Hoyt, 1937.87.; “Prince Shōtoku at Age Two” (with contents), Japanese, Kamakura period, 13th century. Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Partial and promised gift of Walter C. Sedgwick in memory of Ellery Sedgwick Sr. and Ellery Sedgwick Jr., 2019.122.

Courtesy of Harvard Art Museums

Visitors to the Harvard Art Museums’ third floor will find a trove of Bauhaus works as part of “The Bauhaus and Harvard,” an exhibition timed to the centennial of the movement’s founding, on view through July 28. “Japan on Paper” continues at the Harvard Art Museums’ University Study Gallery through Aug. 11, with stunning, subtly colored woodblock prints from the 17th through 20th centuries; make a day of it and stop by the University Teaching Gallery to be fascinated by the 13th-century Japanese icon “Prince Shōkotu” and the more than 70 tiny objects hidden within the Buddhist statue’s hollow body. “Clay — Modeling African Design” remains on view at the University Collections Gallery through 2021, showing works on loan from the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology alongside pieces by the contemporary Nigerian artist Alice Osayewe and Ghanaian photographer Philip Kwame Apagya. Wind up your summer with Winslow Homer’s moody Civil War illustrations from Harper’s magazine, coming to the Research Gallery Aug. 31.

Readings and comedy

Other upcoming spoken-word events — in the form of readings and author talks — include Pablo Medina July 18 at the Harvard Book Store and Hallie Ephron Aug. 7 at Brookline Booksmith. And the Dorothy and Charles Mosesian Center for the Arts in Watertown has two more dates this month for the innovative Earfull series, which takes place on the patio and brings together “writers reading [and] songwriters singing.” June 18 features former Globe Magazine reporter Charles Pierce, who’s now with Esquire, and New York Times Magazine chief national correspondent Mark Leibovich along with Phillip Price, the singer-songwriter for the Northampton band Winterpill, and Boston-born crooner Jesse Dee. June 25 brings novelists Tom Perrotta and Dorchester’s Dennis Lehane accompanied by Buffalo Tom’s Bill Janovitz and Letters to Cleo’s Kay Hanley, also from Dorchester. (Lots of talent in that part of town.) Tickets are $27. 

Comedians cracking up the Boston area this summer include the raunchily waggish Greg Proops of TV’s “Whose Line Is It, Anyway,” along with “Mad Men” ad man Joel Murray and two others in “Whose Live Anyway” June 21 at the Wilbur Theater; Paula Poundstone at the Chevalier Theater in Medford June 21, Weird Al Yankovic July 21 at Rockland Trust Pavilion; and the flamboyant political-commentator-slash-Broadway-belter Randy Rainbow July 25 and 28 at the Wilbur.


Margot Robbie on set

Margot Robbie stars as Sharon Tate in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

Andrew Cooper/Sony Pictures Entertainment

Movie theaters will be filled this summer with films that are well worth time away from the beach. Going strong right now are Will Smith’s rapping “Aladdin,” and “Rocketman” — which will help you get primed for Elton John’s November TD Garden concert — and arriving June 28 is director Danny Boyle’s fantasy set in a Beatles-less world and the one, suddenly very popular man who remembers their songs. The dramedy “Farewell,” a Sundance hit scheduled for mid-July, stars Awkwafina as an Asian American who returns to China to say goodbye to her grandmother while trying to honor her family’s wishes not to tell Nai Nai that she’s dying of cancer. Also highly anticipated for July are “The Lion King” and the Tarantino-directed “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” a period piece about a stunt double living next door to the actress Sharon Tate, who was murdered along with four others by the Manson Family in 1969. Not scary enough for you? Try the creepy “Midsommar” from Ari Aster, the director of last year’s low-budget critics’ darling “Hereditary.”

August, long considered a “dump month” by the film industry, brings the Richard Linklater gem “Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” a quirky family comedy starring Cate Blanchette, Billy Crudup, and Kristen Wiig, along with its spiritual opposite, “Hobbs and Shaw,” a “Fast and Furious” spinoff starring The Rock and Jason Statham. Two well-reviewed documentaries, “Love, Antosha,” focused on the “Star Trek” series’ Anton Yelchin, who died at age 27 in what police described as a “freak accident” with his own car, and “Cold Case Hammarskjöld,” about the mysterious plane crash that killed the Swedish economist in 1961, round out more traditional end-of-summer fare like the girls-in-bikinis thriller “47 Meters Down: Uncaged.”

The Brattle Theater has some fun series coming up, including an Orson Welles program starting June 21 with a new documentary about the groundbreaking director. “Vacation Nightmares,” starting June 28, features “Jurassic Park” and a double feature of Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” and “Us,” and culminates with “Jaws” on July 4. The 35mm “Trailer Treats” is an annual favorite that the Brattle has described as “fabulous (and fabulously horrible)”; this year it runs July 18. In a similar vein, look for “Trash Night” the first Tuesday of every month — showing “F-grade, sub-cult cinematic wonder[s].” And don’t miss the film noir and rock ’n’ roll series coming in August.

Every summer, the Harvard Film Archive tries to do a director’s complete retrospective, and this year it’s focused on the films of Howard Hawks, who made dozens of classic movies starting in 1916. Best of the bunch: the Archives’ screenings of his silent films on Mondays in July, with live musical accompaniment.

“How Did This Get Made?” hosts Jason Mantzoukas, Paul Scheer, and June Diane Raphael keep audiences laughing about indisputably terrible films.

Courtesy of The Chevalier Theater

How Did This Get Made poster

Finally, if you have a weakness for movies that aren’t worth seeing in a million years, you’re probably a fan of the podcast “How Did This Get Made?” in which a trio of dry-witted hosts skewer the greatest of cinema’s lamest. This summer they’re doing a live version of the podcast at the Chevalier Theater on July 25. There’ll be film clips, live interviews, and sarcasm to spare; among the films they plan to skewer is the Madonna/Sean Penn epic “Shanghai Surprise.” So if you got shut out of the ticket lottery for Madge’s local shows in November, you’ll get your revenge.