Things to Do

15 Things to Do In DC This August

Ex Hex, fronted by DC native Mary Timony (center), is performing at the Rock & Roll Hotel for the venue's tenth anniversary. Photograph by Jonah Takagi.

1. Purity by Jonathan Franzen

Jonathan Franzen. Photograph by Watter Al Bahry.
Jonathan Franzen. Photograph by Watter Al Bahry.

Sixth & I, August 2

More than a few people have named Franzen his generation’s great American novelist, and at this appearance he’s signing copies of his most recent book, Purity, which comes out in paperback the same day. Decide for yourself if he deserves the title in his discussion with journalist Marcela Valdes, perhaps to defend the book that Gawker called “an irrelevant piece of shit” when it was published last year. $20 (book included).

2. American Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin

Jeffrey Toobin new book "American Heiress."

Politics and Prose, August 2

Patty Hearst was a college sophomore when she was kidnapped by a leftist revolutionary group in 1974. Months later, she adopted the nom de guerre Tania and joined the group, a plot twist that led to the largest police shoot-out in American history, the first breaking-news event broadcast live nationwide, and a wild courtroom trial that popularized the term “Stockholm syndrome.” At Politics and Prose, Toobin—a staff writer for the New Yorker—untangles the bizarre episode chronicled in his book. Free.

3. Jelly’s Last Jam

Photograph by Mark Meadows and Christopher Mueller.
Photograph by Mark Meadows and Christopher Mueller.

Signature Theatre, August 2–September 11

Jazz pianist Mark G. Meadows makes his acting debut as Jelly Roll Morton, telling the story of the composer’s odyssey from the back alleys of New Orleans to the dancehalls of the Jazz Age. Meadows, an acclaimed local musician, says he hadn’t been onstage without a piano since high school but found that the same principles applied: “You listen, you respond, you support, you bring energy. That’s what I always do.” $40 to $79.

4. Boris

Photograph via Flowerbooking, Inc.
Photograph via Flowerbooking, Inc.

9:30 Club, August 4

Heavier than any metal, catchier than lots of pop, and distorted enough to rip holes in the space-time continuum, Pinkthe tenth album from this Japanese experimental-rock trio—is one of those records that could be talked about for ages. Ten years after its US release, the band is playing the album in full for fans who want to enter that wormhole one more time. $20.

5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Photograph courtesy of Warner Bros./Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
Photograph courtesy of Warner Bros./Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Strathmore, August 5

This movie may not be the best of the J.K. Rowling adaptations, but it’s the one that most deserves to be seen with an orchestra. As the first of the series, the 2001 film debuted John Williams’s otherworldly, celesta-laden music, which would come to define the movies. Hearing the opening credits cued by the BSO is sure to be…magical? $35 to $75.

6. Summer Spirit Festival

Photograph by Marc Baptiste.
Janelle Monáe performs alongside go-go and soul acts at the Summer Spirit Festival. Photograph by Marc Baptiste.

Merriweather Post Pavilion, August 6–7

You typically don’t find many music festivals featuring go-go—which makes this one unusual in hosting artists such as the Chuck Brown Band and the local all-female ensemble Be’la Dona. There are myriad other genres as well, including soul, jazz, and R&B, performed by names from Erykah Badu to Janelle Monáe to the Roots. $52 to $225.

7. Star Wars Marathon

Warner Theatre, August 13

The Force Awakens might have blown audiences away last December, but for some Star Wars diehards, nothing compares with that first time. Nearly four decades after we met Chewbacca, the Alamo Drafthouse theater chain is taking episodes IV through VI on the road, with an all-day marathon of the classics alongside events such as trivia and costume contests. We hope it’s not too hot out for your Chewie outfit. $40 to $70.

8. SlutWalk DC

Lafayette Square, August 13

The SlutWalk movement began in 2011 after a Toronto police officer said that to protect themselves from rape, women should avoid “dressing like sluts.” Since then, more than 200 chapters around the world have marched in walks to reclaim the word “slut,” strip it of its power, and fight victim-blaming. Women and trans women, many of whom are victims of sexual assault, march alongside male allies and supportive onlookers to a rallying point with speakers and musical acts.

9. Alexandria Sidewalk Sale

Old Town and Del Ray, August 13–14

The streets of Old Town and Del Ray overflow for the seventh annual iteration of this sale, bringing together more than 50 shops with discounts as much as 80 percent off. Pick up footwear from Shoe Hive and Bishop Boutique, midcentury-design goodies from the Hour and Acme Mid-Century & Modern, and summer apparel from Coco Blanca and Sara Campbell. The deals extend even to parking: Old Town meters are free on these two days.

10. Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally

Photograph courtesy of Live Nation.
Photograph courtesy of Live Nation.

Warner Theatre, August 18

The volatile relationship between Offerman’s Ron Swanson and Mullally’s Tammy 2 on Parks and Recreation will go down as one of the most calamitous marriages in TV history. But in real life, the two are a belovedly raunchy married couple unafraid to share their private details. Their stage show, Summer of 69: No Apostrophe, is part singing, part storytelling, and all revealing of what makes their partnership function. $37.50 to $57.50.

11. Giant Panda Birthday Celebration

Bao Bao's first birthday. Photograph courtesy of the National Zoo.
Bao Bao’s first birthday. Photograph courtesy of the National Zoo.

National Zoo, August 20

Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays are close enough that we commemorate them on a joint holiday—so why should giant pandas be any different? Bao Bao, Bei Bei, and Tian Tian turn a year older within a week of one another, and to celebrate, the zoo is throwing a party where visitors can watch the bears adorably devour a frozen-fruit cake instead of their customary bamboo shoots. Unlike Presidents’ Day, though, the pandas’ birthday is not a federal holiday (yet).

12. Yoga Expo

Washington Convention Center, August 20

Summer is more than half over, and you’ll want one last good chill-out session before September. If your body can’t leave the city, at least let your mind take a vacation at the Yoga Expo, part of a nine-city tour that features classes and workshops for all levels of downward-doggers. $35.

13. Ex Hex

Rock & Roll Hotel, August 21

Ex Hex is fronted by DC native and Riot Grrrl pioneer Mary Timony, no stranger to the city’s punk past. The band’s blistering debut, Rips, recaptures that legacy, bringing a classic sound to the relatively young Rock & Roll Hotel, celebrating its tenth anniversary with seven nights of shows starting with this one. $25.

14. John Oliver

Photograph by Sean Hagwell.
Photograph by Sean Hagwell.

Kennedy Center, August 24–27

Last August, Oliver became a surprise hero in Washington when he devoted a 17-minute segment on his HBO show, Last Week Tonight, to ripping critics of the DC statehood movement and congressional meddling in city affairs. He’ll surely revisit these points during this eight-performance run, finally letting us laugh at “taxation without representation” instead of cry. $59 to $79.

15. “Harlem Heroes: Photographs by Carl Van Vechten”

Photograph courtesy of Van Vechten Trust/Smithsonian American Art Museum.
Photograph courtesy of Van Vechten Trust/Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Smithsonian American Art Museum, August 26–March 19, 2017

Van Vechten’s work could have been destroyed by now—his midcentury images of Harlem Renaissance figures were stored on brittle nitrate negatives. They were saved by a last-minute conversion to handmade gravure prints, allowing the Smithsonian to exhibit portraits of Ella Fitzgerald, Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois, and others. Van Vechten, also an author and social commentator, captured many of these legends in their youth before stardom.

This article appears in our August 2016 issue of Washingtonian.

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.

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Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute,, and Washington City Paper. He lives in Del Ray.

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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.

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Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.

Senior Writer

Luke Mullins is a senior writer at Washingtonian magazine focusing on the people and institutions that control the city’s levers of power. He has written about the Koch Brothers’ attempt to take over The Cato Institute, David Gregory’s ouster as moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, the collapse of Washington’s Metro system, and the conflict that split apart the founders of Politico.

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Greta started as an editorial fellow in January 2016 and joined as a full-time staff member that August. She now works as a web producer and writer. She was previously an intern at Slate and National Geographic and graduated from the University of Missouri’s Journalism School. She lives in Adams Morgan.