Things to Do

Music Venues May Be Open, but Outdoor Concerts Are Still Big

Covid forced many venues to move shows outside—and for now, that's where many are staying.

Outdoor stage: State Theatre. Photograph courtesy of State Theatre.

Jammin Java, a music club in Vienna, turns 20 this year, and it’s celebrating—just maybe not in the way it originally imagined. It’s hosting almost all of its concerts in the parking lot.

Being entertained outdoors isn’t exactly a radical concept—Wolf Trap and Merriweather Post Pavilion have been doing it for years (and both have a slate of shows for this summer). But across Washington, venues such as Jammin Java and the State Theatre in Falls Church have set up microphones and amps outside only because of Covid. Sure, the acoustics may not be the same, and a dreamy ballad may be drowned out by a honking car, but the shows are going on. Even normally buttoned-up Strathmore has launched its Patio Stage, with socially distant tables and acts such as Wynton Marsalis and Livingston Taylor.

Because many musicians aren’t on national tours, the way venues find talent to fill some of those bills has changed, too. The acts playing at Jammin Java, says director of operations Lana Mahmoud, are local perform­ers who might ordinarily have had trouble getting a slot. Another plus: The club’s outdoor shows are free. Musicians ask for donations for charity, while the restaurant has a two-item minimum per person. (You can order pizza from its on-site Union Pie.)

Some shows are in spots that may be more appealing than a concert hall. You can enjoy Bach or Billie Holiday amid boxwoods at performances put on by Classical Movements in the Secret Garden of the Rectory on Princess Street in Old Town. The lineup includes choral music, cabaret, jazz, opera, tango, and more.

Although many festivals aren’t returning this summer, the Kennedy Center is filling the void: All summer, it will host free mini-festivals on the grounds of the Reach, with its sculpture-dotted lawns and plazas. Each Thursday and Friday evening and all day Saturday, visitors will find a mix of entertainment and activities—including dance performances, live and DJ music, film screenings, and yoga.

This article appears in the July 2021 issue of Washingtonian.

Editor in chief

Sherri Dalphonse joined Washingtonian in 1986 as an editorial intern, and worked her way to the top of the masthead when she was named editor-in-chief in 2022. She oversees the magazine’s editorial staff, and guides the magazine’s stories and direction. She lives in DC.