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Virgin Mobile’s annual music festival at Merriweather won’t happen this year. By Tanya Pai
Robin Thicke headlined the 2013 FreeFest. Photograph by Benjamin Freed.

This has been a rocky year for local music festivals. First the summertime-staple Fort Reno concerts were canceled—though thankfully organizers managed to get them reinstated. Now comes word that the annual Virgin Mobile FreeFest, held in the fall at Merriweather Post Pavilion, has also been nixed. 

Says Seth Hurwitz, chair of I.M.P. (which owns Merriweather) and one of the producers of FreeFest: “The Freefest was this fantastic product of a crossroads of Branson and some very creative people at Virgin. The mixture got shaken up every year, and it always settled at the last possible moment for that year. That was part of the spontaneous magic that everyone could pick up on I think. Unfortunately, the pieces are not all there right now with Virgin. Whether they are again who knows. But the Freefest concept is fantastic and we are exploring options to continue it at Merriweather.”

So what does that mean? We’re not really sure. We’ve reached out to Virgin Mobile for (hopefully less-vague) comment, and will update when we hear back. In the meantime, we’ll be pouring one out for the event, which since 2009 has been giving Washingtonians the chance to see big-name acts (which last year included Vampire Weekend, MGMT, and Icona Pop) for a price even cash-strapped college students could afford—that is, free. 

Find Tanya Pai on Twitter at @tanyapai.

Posted at 04:44 PM/ET, 07/29/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The nonprofit will take over 1358 and 1360 Florida Avenue, Northeast. By Tanya Pai
Capital Fringe will move from its current headquarters at 607 New York Avenue, Northeast. Photograph by Flickr user Joe Loong.

Capital Fringe announced Tuesday it has finalized a deal to purchase 1358 and 1360 Florida Avenue, Northeast, which currently houses the Connersmith Art Gallery and the headquarters of the (e)merge art fair. The performing-arts-focused nonprofit has been in the District since 2005, but its fate in town has been up in the air recently, as its home at Fort Fringe (607 New York Avenue, Northwest) is slated for redevelopment. 

Capital Fringe’s new home will feature “three black-box theaters, a scene shop, art gallery/event space and a beer garden,” according to a press release. It will house both the year-round training factory and performances in the Capital Fringe Festival, though the switch won’t take place in time for this year’s event, coming up July 10 through 27. “We still have quite a bit of fundraising ahead of us, but we are enthusiastic at the potential of what this space will become and the cultural influence it will have on the city,” says Peter Korbel, Capital Fringe’s COO. 

Connersmith and (e)merge, meanwhile, are looking for a new home. The final hurrah in the Florida Avenue space will be a pre-party for (e)merge on July 12 and the annual student art show Academy 2014, happening July 12 through August 9. 

Posted at 10:14 AM/ET, 06/25/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Here are a few highlights. By Tanya Pai
Hal Holbrook in Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey. Photograph by Rodney Taylor.

On Wednesday, the AFI Docs film festival announced its full slate of 84 films, screening June 18 through 22 at AFI Silver Theatre and various locations around DC. The selection includes four world premieres (including the opening-night film Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey), as well as four Catalyst Screenings, featuring post-film panel discussions with filmmakers, experts, and policymakers.

Several of this year’s films have local connections. The world premiere How I Got Over tells the story of 15 formerly homeless women from DC’s N Street Village center for addiction recovery who together create an original play based on their stories to be performed onstage at the Kennedy Center. Bronx Obama follows Louis Ortiz, an unemployed single father from the Bronx who began to get noticed in 2008 for his resemblance to then-presidential hopeful Barack Obama and launched a career as a professional look-alike. Art and Craft looks at the case of Norfolk, Virginia, native and diagnosed schizophrenic Mark Landis, who is one of the most skilled and prolific art forgers in American history—but doesn’t do it for the money. Marshall Curry’s Point and Shoot, which took home the award for Best Documentary Feature from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, tells the story of a young man from a Baltimore suburb whose quest for adventure leads him to join the 2011 revolutionary efforts in Libya. And What’s an Epi is a short film by 18-year-old Shelly Ortiz about the troubled upbringing of her father, Epi Ortiz, that appeared alongside that of 15 other young artists in the first White House Student Film Festival, held this April.

Featured as Catalyst Screenings are The Internet’s Own Boy (in its East Coast premiere), the story of internet wunderkind Aaron Swartz; Ivory Tower, which explores the mounting cost and burden of student loan debt; The Homestretch, a look at three homeless teens’ journeys through the Chicago public school system; and The Newburgh Sting, which delves into FBI anti-terror investigations and post-9/11 mistrust of the government. Other films cover topics ranging from a look at the trial of infamous Boston mobster Whitey Bulger ( Whitey: United States V. James J. Bulger); to Cary Bell’s Butterfly Girl, about a teenage girl dealing with an incurable skin disease; to Dinosaur 13, about the struggle between landowners and the federal government for custody of “Sue,” the largest and most complete T. rex skeleton ever found.

For the complete list of films, showtimes, and events, visit the AFI Docs website, and check back in with us for more coverage.

Posted at 12:00 PM/ET, 05/21/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Scientists, science-fiction writers, and Star Trek actors came together for the three-day event. By Vicky Gan
The jet-pack demonstration. Photographs courtesy of the festival.

The second annual Future Is Here Festival beamed into DC this weekend, bringing with it speakers who bridged the worlds of science and science fiction. Coordinated by Smithsonian magazine, the three-day event featured appearances by George Takei and Patrick Stewart, who presented an exclusive preview screening of X-Men: Days of Future Past on Saturday night. But the real scientific heavy-hitters took center stage during a conference at the Ronald Reagan Building Saturday.

This year’s theme, “Science Meets Science Fiction,” invited the discussion of topics such as human evolution and space exploration. Michael Caruso, editor-in-chief of Smithsonian and chief organizer of the festival, kicked things off by pointing out how similar the two now are. “The world we live in now,” he said, “is a science-fiction world.” That is, one full of technologies that could only have been imagined by science-fiction writers.

Ten-minute TED-style talks characterized the remainder of the conference, grouped by themes that ranged from the future of humans to the futures of Earth, outer space, and deep space. In his discussion of the future of humans, headliner George Takei called the harmonious diversity of the original Star Trek a “metaphorical goal” for society.

Later highlights included presentations of Project Loon, a Google initiative that uses balloons to bring internet access to remote areas, and Revive & Restore, a nonprofit that employs genetic techniques to bring species back from extinction. Consumer-grade drones made their way into the auditorium for a demonstration, as did a device that delivers focused sound to a listener like a laser beam.

To round out the festivities, astronaut Mae Jemison—the first African-American woman in space—introduced 100 Year Starship, which is dedicated to achieving interstellar flight in the next century. NASA’s lead Mars-rover engineer Adam Steltzner said: “I look forward to human footprints on the surface of Mars in my lifetime.” And MIT’s Sara Seager unveiled a component of her Starshade spacecraft, which will help NASA find Earth-like planets in other solar systems.

The Saturday conference concluded with a live jet-pack demonstration in the atrium of the Reagan building. The pilot, suited up like a Nascar driver, flew from the second floor to the center of the atrium and back, remaining airborne for about 30 seconds.

All told, the weekend drew some 500 attendees, many of them regular participants in Nerd Nite—a monthly gathering affectionately called “the Discovery Channel with beer,” held in more than 75 cities worldwide. A partnership with Future is Here allowed the organization to present its second annual Nerd Nite Global Fest on Sunday, convening presenters on bird parasitism, pneumatic-tube systems, and Godzilla, among other subjects. As Eric Moon, a Nerd Niter from Ontario put it: “Being a nerd doesn’t mean being interested in any one thing; it’s about being curious.”

In that spirit of boundless curiosity, presentations at the Future Is Here Festival steered clear of the dangerous potential of technologies such as drones, genetic engineering, and robotics. “We’re techno-optimists,” Caruso said by way of explanation. “It’s not that there aren’t questions, dark possibilities, dystopic possibilities even. That all should be debated. But this was more a forum for presenting these great, cool, interesting ideas.”

Drone demonstration:

Jet-pack demonstration:

Posted at 11:53 AM/ET, 05/19/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The annual documentary festival begins June 18 at the Newseum. By Benjamin Freed
Roger Ebert in Life Itself. Photograph by Kevin Horan courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

The organizers of AFI Docs said last year that the annual documentary festival will take a programming shift toward more policy-oriented films as moves away from Silver Spring and more into DC. But the bookends of the 2014 edition are clearly crowd-pleasers instead of wonk slogs.

This year’s AFI Docs will open June 18 at the Newseum with the world premiere of Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey, a retrospective of the actor Hal Holbrook’s seriously long-running one-man show about Mark Twain. Holbrook has staged the one-man show Mark Twain Tonight!, in which he portrays the great satirist giving dramatic readings of his works, on and off since 1954.

Scott Teems’s biography looks at Holbrook’s long career, focusing on the show he has mounted for 60 years and which Holbrook has no apparent intention of ending any time soon. The film features former Holbrook collaborators like Sean Penn, Martin Sheen, and Robert PatrickMark Twain Tonight! has played about 40 times in Washington over the years, most recently over a two-night stand last month.

And anyone who has reviewed a movie—or, really, gone to a movie—in their lifetimes will likely be allured by Life Itself, a biography of the great critic Roger Ebert, which will close the festival with a screening at the National Portrait Gallery on June 21.

Life Itself, an adaptation of Ebert’s memoir of the same name, premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival and was also shown, obviously, at Ebertfest in Champaign, Illinois. It is slated for a July 4 release, but is getting another festival show to close out AFI Docs.

Director Steve James, who was at Silverdocs in 2011 to promote his film The Interrupters, started working with Ebert and his wife, Chaz, in late 2012 as the critic’s health started fading. The film traces Ebert from his long-running rivalry and friendship with fellow critic Gene Siskel, to his unshakable love of the moviegoing experience, to the loss of his voice to cancer, and finally to his death in April 2013. Life Itself features Martin Scorsese as an executive producer, as well as appearance by directors Werner Herzog and Errol Morris.

AFI Docs will announce its full slate May 21.

Posted at 09:00 AM/ET, 05/15/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The Treehouse Stage, body paint, and food trucks dominated Sweetgreen’s annual music and food festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion. By Alison Kitchens
Chromeo performing at Sweetlife 2014. Photograph by Paul Spella.

The fourth annual festival put on by Sweetgreen on Saturday brought its usual spate of lively music acts and tasty food offerings. Here are a few highlights.

The Treehouse Stage brought the party
While headliners Lana Del Rey and Foster the People drew the largest crowds of the day to Merriweather’s main stage, the Treehouse acts definitely brought the rowdiest. At times during 2 Chainz’s performance, the audience drove the show, singing along to every word while the rapper watched from the stage. St. Lucia’s upbeat indie-electronic tunes paired with matching floral outfits were a refreshing addition to a warm, damp afternoon, and we loved watching Capital Cities’ trumpet player, Spencer Ludwig. The best dance party of the day award goes to electrofunk duo Chromeo, who kept festival attendees who forwent Del Rey’s more mellow performance, happening at the same time, on their feet. (Bonus points to ASTR, whom we saw dancing and singing along to Chromeo in the audience.) That’s not to say the crowd wasn’t involved over at the main stage: Lana Del Rey posed for selfies with front-row fans, and Bastille’s Dan Smith donned a hoodie and ventured into the crowd (who then followed him up near the lawn seats) during the band’s performance.

Food trucks reigned supreme
One of the best parts about Sweetlife in the past has been the many food options available, and this year was no exception. Local favorites including DGS Delicatessen, Rappahannock Oyster Co., Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza, and Roofers Union served up their specialties to festival guests. We spotted the longest lines of the day at the Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken truck, which served strawberry and crème brûlée doughnuts and a fried-chicken BLT that looked too good to be true. Pho Wheels, TaKorean, Big Cheese, and DC Empanadas were also part of the food-truck fleet. Just like last year, we only saw a few people actually eating Sweetgreen salads, although serving the salads in cups this year was a smart choice.

Someone is always watching you . . . probably
Sweetlife attendees, take note: Whatever you did Saturday is most likely on video. A drone flew overhead throughout the day taking shots of the crowd, who loved every minute of it. We have no idea where the footage went, but we’d love to see the view from above the smoke-covered audience during 2 Chainz’s performance.

You can’t go wrong with a good cover song
Fitz and the Tantrums’ version of “Sweet Dreams” got the audience on their feet, and ASTR’s performance of Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home” was a welcome and unexpectedly emotional addition to their set. Our favorite cover of the day, though, was Bastille’s “Rhythm of the Night,” which reminded us why we still love the ’90s so much.

People love body paint
As expected, festival attendees spent a good portion of the day covering themselves in body paint, with designs that ranged from hearts and stars to words such as “blessed” written across people’s chests. An oversize Twister game, yoga classes (watching people do yoga in NBA jerseys and floral headdresses was a first for us), and live painting by District-based artist Kelly Towles were just a few of the other activities available between sets.

Jorts aren’t going anywhere
We spotted the festival staple on everyone from dads supervising their teens to headliner Lana Del Rey. With so many different versions these days (we were most impressed by an unlikely lace/fringe combo), it looks like they’re here to stay.

Posted at 12:00 PM/ET, 05/12/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Here are more than two dozen outdoor fairs and festivals happening over the next month. By Sherri Dalphonse
Kids can pet little lambs at the Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival. Photograph courtesy of Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival.

In addition to the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival in Reston and Passport DC—a monthlong celebration in which embassies and cultural organizations open their doors—here are more than two dozen outdoor fairs and festivals this month.

April 25-May 4

Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival

May 2-3

Washington National Cathedral Flower Mart

May 3

Solomons Maritime Festival

May 3-4

A-RTS Rockville Arts Festival

Maryland Sheep & Wool Festival

Naptown barBAYq

National Harbor Wine & Food Festival

May 4

National Cinco de Mayo Festival

May 10-11

Bethesda Fine Arts Festival

Fiesta Asia Street Fair’s five stages feature colorful performances. Photograph courtesy of the Fiesta Asia Street Fair.

May 16-18

Mount Vernon Wine Festival & Sunset Tour

Saint Sophia Greek Festival

May 17

Fiesta Asia Street Fair

Gaithersburg Book Festival

McLean Day

Potomac United Methodist Church Strawberry Festival

May 17-18

DC Dragon Boat Festival

Wine in the Woods

May 18

Taste of Arlington

May 22-25

Chestertown Tea Party Festival

May 24-25

Delaplane Strawberry Festival

Rockville Hometown Holidays (Under “Explore Rockville,” select “Events.”)

May 24-26

ViVa! Vienna!

May 29-June 1

Herndon Festival

Western Maryland Blues Fest

May 31

Maryland Craft Beer Festival

May 31-June 1

Great Tastes of Tysons

This article appears in the May 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

Posted at 10:40 AM/ET, 04/25/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The second-annual event comes to the Mall May 16 through 18. By Tanya Pai
Photograph of Patrick Stewart by Jaguar PS/Shutterstock; Takei by Helga Esteb/Shutterstock.

May 16 through 18, Smithsonian magazine boldly goes where it went once before with its second annual The Future Is Here Festival, exploring and celebrating innovations in science and technology. Billed as the area where “science meets science fiction,” the festival features presentations from Star Trek/Star Trek: The Next Generation stars and national treasures George Takei and Patrick Stewart; NASA’s Adam Steltzner, who helped design the Curiosity rover; and theoretical physicist Brian Greene; as well as self-proclaimed “D-list YouTuber” Shyaporn TheerakulstitNerd Nite founder Chris Balakrishnan, and president of the New York State Distillers Guild Nicole Austin, so you’re in for an eclectic mix of topics. 

More into the science fiction part? The festival will offer an advance screening of X-Men: Days of Future Past on Saturday the 17th, along with a Q&A with Stewart. 

May 16 through 18 on the Mall. For tickets ($250 to $350) and more information, visit Smithsonian magazine’s website.

Posted at 03:40 PM/ET, 04/02/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The performing arts center’s new season features the return of the smash hit musical next summer. By Sophie Gilbert
Get a second chance to see Book of Mormon when it returns to the Kennedy Center next summer. Photograph by Joan Marcus.

The Kennedy Center announced its 2014-15 season this morning. Here are the highlights:

The touring production of Evita stops by in October 2014.
The KenCen premieres its new production of Little Dancer, with direction and choreography by Susan Stroman, also in October.
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is your holiday musical, arriving December 16.
Signature Theatre’s Eric Schaeffer directs a new revival of Lerner and Loewe’s Gigi before it heads to New York, opening January 17.
Tony-winning musical Once arrives for a six-week engagement in July 2015.
Smash hit Book of Mormon (which, you may remember, crashed the Kennedy Center’s website last summer when tickets went on sale), is returning for two months in the summer of 2015.

The KenCen presents Martha Clarke’s Cheri in October.
Beijing Dance Theater stops by in October.
Ballet West provides this year’s Nutcracker from December 1 through 14.
The Mariinsky Ballet performs a mixed-repertory program in January.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater returns in February.
American Ballet Theatre returns in March with one unnamed full-length work and a mixed-repertory program.
The New York City Ballet brings two mixed programs to the KenCen in April.
The Scottish Ballet performs A Streetcar Named Desire in May.
England’s the Royal Ballet performs Don Quixote and a mixed program in June.

Joshua Bell performs in the Season Opening Ball Concert September 21.
The Washington National Opera presents Florencia in the Amazon in September.
David Zinman conducts pianist Angela Hewitt in October.
John Mauceri conducts Danny Elfman’s Music from the Films of Tim Burton in October.
Christoph Eschenbach conducts Midori October 30 through November 1.
Steven Reineke conducts an evening with Sutton Foster in November.
The WNO stages Puccini’s La Bohème in November.
The WNO Family Opera in December is Rachel Portman’s adaptation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.
Pianist Tzimon Barto returns in January.
Organist Cameron Carpenter performs February 4.
Emanuel Ax also stops by in February.
The WNO presents Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites in February and March.
Jason Moran performs In My Mind: Monk at Town Hall, 1959 in March.
The WNO revives Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman in March.
Dianne Reeves returns in April.
Violinist Leonidas Kavakos performs in May.

The Kennedy Center also announced a festival dedicated to performing arts from Spain and Portugal. Iberian Suite: Arts Remix Across Continents will take place from March 2 through 24, and will feature theater, music, dance, and more.

Posted at 12:39 PM/ET, 03/04/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Four film festivals take over Washington this month. Here’s what to expect, from the Environmental Film Festival to the Washington Jewish Film Festival. By Sophie Gilbert
Jamesy Boy—with Taissa Farmiga and, in the title role, Spencer Lofranco—opens the Annapolis Film Festival. Photograph courtesy of Annapolis Film Festival.

Washington Jewish Film Festival

February 27-March 9

At 14 locations in the District and Maryland, including the Washington DC Jewish Community Center, this festival presents 64 films from 18 countries. This year, its “visionary” award goes to Israeli filmmaker Avi Nesher, and there are films by actor John Turturro (Fading Gigolo), Canadian documentarian Alan Zweig (When Jews Were Funny), and more, as well as talks, a “cinematic pub crawl,” and other events. Single tickets ($12) at

Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital

March 18-30

This year’s festival, at multiple area venues, has the theme Our Cities, Our Planet, exploring urban environments in the 21st century. The 170 films range from Andreas Pichler’s The Venice Syndrome to Riri Riza’s The Jungle School. Events include post-screening discussions. Single tickets (free to $20) at

Bethesda Film Fest

March 21-22

For a second year, this festival at Imagination Stage screens five short documentaries by local filmmakers including Precious Lambert, Leah Edwards, Stephen Menick, and Scott Sowers and selected by a panel including George Mason University director of film and media studies Cynthia Fuchs. The screenings are followed by a Q&A both nights. Tickets ($10) at

Annapolis Film Festival

March 27-30

More than 70 films are on the slate for this festival at four venues. The opening feature is Jamesy Boy, a movie about a gang member with Taissa Farmiga, Mary-Louise Parker, James Woods, and Ving Rhames. Shot in Baltimore and Jessup, it’s directed by Trevor White and produced by Tim White, both of whom grew up in Annapolis. Events include a Q&A with Oscar-winning screenwriter David S. Ward (The Sting). Tickets ($12) at

This article appears in the March 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

Posted at 11:05 AM/ET, 02/27/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()