Things to Do

18 Things to Do in DC This May

The original tiny houses, direct from London. Photograph courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum.

1. “Small Stories: At Home in a Dollhouse”

National Building Museum; May 21–January 16, 2017

This traveling exhibit from London’s V&A Museum of Childhood, on its only US stop, is as much a history of architecture as it is a collection of dollhouses. Unfortunately, the standard museum rule still applies to these over-the-top playthings, which include a 19th-century English manor, the bright-hued Kaleidoscope House, and a 1960s high-rise: no touching. $10.

2. Greek Festival

things to do in dc this may

Get ready for the big fat Greek Festival at Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral (May 13–15), with a Greek marketplace, children’s games, cathedral tours, and an absolutely epic gyro. Free admission.

3. Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival

things to do in dc this may
Photograph of Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival by Amanda Lowe.

Make your way to Reston Town Center for the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival (May 21–22), with a menagerie of paintings, ceramics, jewelry, photography, and more artful creations. $5 suggested donation.

4. Sweetlife Music Festival

things to do in dc this may
Photograph of Sweetlife by Benjamin Lozovsky/BFA.

Clean out your ears and your salad bowl: You’re going to Sweetlife (May 14), Sweetgreen’s music festival at Merriweather Post Pavilion. The lineup includes Blondie and recent phenom Grimes; food is by José Andrés and Erik Bruner-Yang. $100 to $150.

5. Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival

things to do in dc this may
Photograph of Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival by Duane Heaton.

Get that lawn chair ready because the Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival (May 21–22) is calling. Fourteen bands descend on Annapolis’s Sandy Point State Park for a weekend of bluesy rhythms. $70 to $160.

6. Hop Along

things to do in dc this may
Photograph by Shervin Lainez.

Black Cat; May 12

Just two albums in, Hop Along has come scorching out of its native Philadelphia with a startlingly attention-grabbing sound. Singer Frances Quinlan’s voice is coarse but melodic, a jagged bolt of energy between loud guitars and fast drums. Her vocal power is sure to bring a spine-tingling performance to 14th Street. $15.

7. Panic at the Pump by Meg Jacobs

things to do in dc this may
Meg Jacobs flashes back to “oil shocks” and violence. Photograph of Jacobs by Zoran Jelenic.

Politics and Prose; May 10

For months on end in 1973 and 1979, US drivers encountered some of the first ominous consequences of our dependence on oil—long lines, gas rationing, and even violence. The “oil shocks” were bookends to a decade when Americans largely gave up on the federal government, says Princeton professor Meg Jacobs in her new book about the crises and Washington’s ineffectual response. Writer James Michael Causey talked with Jacobs.

Q: It sounds like the Wild West on those gasoline lines, with gun-toting Americans protecting their supply.

A: It’s almost impossible to conceive today. From putting locks on gas tanks—to prevent siphoning—to fistfights, shootings, even murders. In 1973, the most serious violence came during an interstate-truck strike to get more supply at lower prices. Strikers dropped bricks from overpasses, sat on the side of highways and shot at trucks not obeying, and littered highways with nails. The chaos is stunning. President Nixon was distracted by Watergate. Incredibly, at the height of the violence, there was no statement from the White House for several days.

things to do in dc this may
Photograph of Jacobs by Zoran Jelenic.

Q: The new House of Cards season has a subplot showing lines at the pump and a spike of $6 per gallon. Are the oil shocks embedded in America’s psyche?

A: I think they used that plotline to tap into today’s economic anxieties, an uneven recovery, and a sense we’re being kicked around on the world stage. Whether it’s the nuclear deal with Iran or something else, it reflects a sense of impotence. It’s a nostalgic way to trigger those fears again.

Q: Could it happen today?

A: It might be harder to imagine because we live in an age of an American oil glut. However, taking the long view of the oil market since World War II suggests there’ll always be volatility. We know this, but maybe we haven’t fully absorbed the message.

8. Passport DC

things to do in dc this may
Photograph of Passport DC performers by Donovan Marks.

Various venues; May 1–31

The monthlong cultural festival returns with glimpses into our city’s diverse international communities. Popular events include the Around the World Embassy Tour (May 7), where more than 45 foreign missions let visitors explore their corner of the world; the Washington National Cathedral Flower Mart (May 6 and 7), a 77-year tradition of botanical beauty; and the National Asian Heritage Festival (May 21), a street fair near the Mall featuring food, dance, martial-arts demos, and more. Most events free.

9. Buzz Aldrin

things to do in dc this may
Photograph of Aldrin by Rebecca Hale.

Sixth & I; May 16

Forty-seven years ago, Buzz Aldrin became the second person to walk on the moon, just steps behind Neil Armstrong. Since then, the outspoken astronaut has advocated for a manned mission to Mars, punched a moon-landing conspiracy theorist in the face, and written a new book, No Dream Is Too High, enumerating his 13 guiding principles, which he shares at this talk. Among them: “Second comes right after first.” $23.

10. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

things to do in dc this may
Photograph of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros by Laure Vincent-Bouleau.

Wolf Trap; May 25

Is there any band more uniquely patriotic than Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros—an LA folk-rock group that plays songs about falling in love in the American heartland? Probably not. Will songs like their 2010 mega-hit, “Home”—which includes the lyrics “Hot and heavy pumpkin pie / Chocolate candy, Jesus Christ / Ain’t nothing please me more than you”—sound exquisite under a warm, spring sun-set at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center? Absolutely. $25 to $50.

11. Comedy Bang! Bang! Live!

things to do in dc this may

Lincoln Theatre; May 9

The podcast Comedy Bang! Bang! is a sort of Howard Stern Show for millennials: irreverent and centered around inane celebrity interviews and nonsensical conversations. The show has already made the leap to a TV version, but you should still attend this taping, as host Scott Aukerman and partners Paul F. Tompkins and Lauren Lapkus are especially hilarious up close. $35.

12. “Linn Meyers: Our View From Here”

things to do in dc this may
Photograph of Meyers by Cathy Carver.

Hirshhorn Museum; May 12, 2016–May 14, 2017 

Most art exhibits are confined to a single wing or gallery of a museum—not this one. DC artist Linn Meyers’s newest work encompasses the entire circumference of the Hirshhorn’s second floor with a drawing stretching across the walls of the inner galleries. Meyers (above) has been working on the sprawling, intricate design for some 600 hours since February, well aware of its fleeting nature: After a year, the museum will paint over the flowing, 400-foot-long creation.

13. The Ring of the Nibelung

things to do in dc this may
Photograph of The Ring of the Nibelung by Cory Weaver.

Kennedy Center; April 30–May 22

A massive event is coming—The Ring of the Nibelung, Richard Wagner’s four-part, 17-hour opera ($75 to $515). Despite its being arguably the most celebrated opera of all time, the average person’s exposure to the work probably isn’t more than a passing familiarity with its central piece, “Ride of the Valkyries.” (Remember the helicopter scene in Apocalypse Now?) So what exactly is The Ring of the Nibelung, and why do some call it the greatest work of art ever? Here’s Washingtonian’s explainer.

Q: Okay, so what’s the big deal?

A: There’s always been a cultish mania surrounding the work, written by the German composer over 26 years of his tortured life. It was first performed in its entirety—meaning all four operas played in a “cycle”—in 1876. Each of those—The Rhinegold, The Valkyrie, Siegfried, and Twilight of the Gods—runs 2½ to 5½ hours and tells a single story across multiple generations. Because of that breadth, productions are challenging for companies that take on the full work.

Q: And what is that story?

A: We don’t have a lot of space, so let’s stick to the setup: A dwarf steals some gold and forges a magic, world-conquering ring, which is then stolen by Wotan, “King of the Gods.” Some giants force Wotan to hand it over in exchange for building his home of Valhalla, setting in motion a grand scheme to seize back the ring. Along the way is a tale of forbidden love, dragon-slaying, and an apocalyptic battle for the fate of the world.

Q: Why is The Ring so important?

A: Much of the modern perception of the genre—what we think of when we think of “opera”—is derived from it. You know that cliché image of a rotund, winged woman in a Viking helmet singing an aria? Well, that started here—it’s Brünnhilde, a fierce Valkyrie cast out of Valhalla for disobeying her deity-father. But beyond that, the work revolutionized storytelling in general and influenced art for a century and counting—you didn’t miss those Lord of the Rings parallels in the plot description, did you?

Q: What’s unusual about this production?

A: It’s the first full Ring Cycle at the KenCen since the ’80s and the first local performance of it by the Washington National Opera. Director Francesca Zambello is highlighting themes of greed, political corruption, and environmental destruction that she believes are especially meaningful in the nation’s capital. Each section is being performed three times, so you can see one or return for all four.

—Michael J. Gaynor

14. When January Feels Like Summer

things to do in dc this may
When January Feels Like Summer illustration by T. Chase Meacham.

Mosaic Theater Company; May 19–June 12

Burger-flipping high-school students becoming crime fighters. A woman struggling with the decision to pull the plug on her comatose husband. Her brother trying to pay for a gender-reassignment surgery. These complex characters intersect in the unlikeliest of situations during one oddly warm winter in Cori Thomas’s romantic comedy, directed by Serge Seiden. $30 to $60.

15. Donna Karan

things to do in dc this may
Photograph of Karan by Ruven Afanado.

Naval Heritage Center Burke Theater; May 24

The “DK” in DKNY, fashion designer Donna Karan made headlines in June when she stepped down from her company, announcing that she would focus on the Urban Zen Foundation, her philanthropic venture to improve health care. At this event, she discusses her new book, My Journey, about her rise from intern to international name and, finally, her recent spiritual awakening. $35 to $45.

16. Happy Hour

things to do in dc this may
Photo via iStock.

Spooky Action Theater; May 12–June 5

Not your average happy hour. Modeled on “room escape” games, this interactive theater performance—in a space at Universalist National Memorial Church (1810 16th St., NW)—pits two teams of audience members against each other to guide their human avatars through a series of puzzles. A bartender hands out drinks and clues in this premiere by the German outfit Machina eX. $30 to $40.

17. Bowie & Queen

things to do in dc this may
Photograph by Dean Alexander.

Kennedy Center; May 4–15

Coming just four months after David Bowie’s death, this Washington Ballet production combines music of the famed space oddity and rock legends Queen in dance interpretations of their songs. If you ever wanted to see ballet dancers move to “Another One Bits the Dust,” now’s your chance. Below, dancer Corey Landolt as Bowie. $32.25 to $130.

18. Bike to Work Day

things to do in dc this may. Photograph by Flickr user James Schwartz.
Photograph by Flickr user James Schwartz.

May 20

Metro might be a little emptier when as many as 17,000 commuters trade transit and cars for two wheels in this Washington Area Bicyclist Association event. By registering for free on the website, you get access to 83 pit stops around the region that are offering prizes and refreshments. Newbies can also find a convoy or buddy to ride with if they’re nervous about hitting the road for the first time.

This article appears in the May 2016 issue of Washingtonian.

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Questions or comments? You can reach us on Twitter, via e-mail, or by contacting the author directly:
Staff Writer

Michael J. Gaynor has written about fake Navy SEALs, a town without cell phones, his Russian spy landlord, and many more weird and fascinating stories for the Washingtonian. He lives in DC, where his landlord is no longer a Russian spy.

Associate Editor

Caroline Cunningham joined Washingtonian in 2014 after moving to the DC area from Cincinnati, where she interned and freelanced for Cincinnati Magazine and worked in content marketing. She currently resides in College Park.

Jennifer Ortiz
Editorial Fellow
Staff writer

Amanda joined Washingtonian in January 2016. She has written about Maryland brewery Flying Dog’s First Amendment fight, pored over Hillary Clinton’s emails, and come clean about owning too much stuff. She lives on H Street.