When naturalist John Muir took Teddy Roosevelt camping in 1903, could he possibly have known that the National Park Service they’d hatch would, a century-plus later, be commemorated by Ricky Martin singing “Shake Your Bon-Bon” under the stars?
The Puerto Rican pop star kicks off a celebration of the Park Service’s centennial with a two-night gig Wednesday and Thursday; Bonnie Raitt and the Richard Thompson Trio play on Saturday. (Aretha Franklin was scheduled for Friday but had to cancel due to “doctors’ orders.”)
“We’re working with old friends, people who’ve been part of the tradition,” says Arvind Manocha, CEO of the Wolf Trap Foundation, which programs the country’s only national park dedicated to the performing arts. Martin, he says, “is new to the tradition,” but the artists are “complementary and reflect the diversity of our audience.”
Wolf Trap became a national park in the late ’60s after department-store heir Catherine Filene Shouse donated farmland she owned in Fairfax to the US. It’s always been a slightly rough fit for NPS—a 1983 Park Service history called operating it a “burdensome responsibility” and noted that the agency was for many years “ill-equipped by experience and institutional temperament to deal with its performing arts purpose.” But since its inception, the artistic mission has been run by the Wolf Trap Foundation, with NPS handling more quotidian affairs like parking. This summer’s season has set sales records, Manocha says, and has presented highlights such as the only US stop of Indian pop star Asha Bhosle’s farewell tour.
“Because we’ve created a park for the performing arts, we’re saying art and the creation of art is what makes us Americans,” Manocha explains. “We’re mindful that the parks are owned by the people, and we are part of a system that’s part of what America is.”
This article appears in our August 2016 issue of Washingtonian.
Note: This article has been updated to include news of Franklin’s canceled date.