While the business side of Washington tends to slow down during the summer, outdoors the city does anything but. Outdoor activities abound in D.C., with tried and true favorites such as the Memorial Day weekend and Fourth of July celebrations, but D.C. has plenty to offer more adventuresome folk in the way of outdoor festivals and activities.
Washingtonians and visitors have a plethora of options to choose from during Memorial Day weekend.
The National Symphony Orchestra kicks off the festivities May 25, Memorial Day eve, with PBS’ 14th annual National Memorial Day Concert featuring music and a special Sept. 11, 2001, segment saluting America’s heroes and a special tribute to the troops in Iraq. Hosted by World War II veteran and actor Ossie Davis, the theme of the concert comes from President Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address: “Let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.”
“This is the first event since the war was over that we are going to remember the
dead and the people that have sacrificed for the country,” said Jerry Colbert, the concert’s executive producer.
The event attracts around 350,000 people on the West Lawn of the Capitol and is broadcast to about 10 million viewers on PBS and to more than 135 countries by the American Forces Radio and Television Network. Stars such as Renee Fleming, Joe Mantegna and Lonestar will perform, and the concert will also include dramatic readings and archival footage.
On Memorial Day, visitors can head to Arlington National Cemetery to see the presidential wreath-laying and memorial tributes at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
More than 4,000 people usually attend the wreath-laying and the ceremony afterward in the Arlington National Cemetery Amphitheater, said Kerry Sullivan, public relations officer for Arlington National Cemetery.
Because Members of Congress often travel during the summer, those attending the ceremony are not confirmed until closer to Memorial Day, Sullivan said.
Slightly closer to the Hill, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial also has a ceremony with wreath-laying, speeches and music.
In another traditional outdoor event, Washington lights up for the Fourth of July, celebrating America’s independence with neighborhood celebrations and outside events galore.
Celebrating America’s 227th birthday, the National Park Service will host a parade on Constitution Avenue between Seventh and 17th streets Northwest that will include national marching bands, more than 60 floats, and national figures.
The National Symphony Orchestra also performs in its annual Fourth of July Celebration on the West Lawn of the Capitol.
“It will be a very big, rousing Fourth of July celebration,” said Colbert, also executive producer of the Fourth of July concert.
This year’s concert, themed “A Capitol Fourth,” will be hosted by veteran actor Barry Bostwick and Dolly Parton. The concert will feature Parton’s singing along with patriotic medleys and a tribute to composer John Williams. The National Park Service will launch fireworks from the Washington Monument grounds.
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival, a favorite for Washingtonians and visitors, adds to the July Fourth festivities, running June 25-26 and July 2-6. The 37th annual festival, held on the National Mall, will feature the music and heritage of Appalachia commemorating the 75th anniversary of “Bristol Sessions,” the performances and demonstrations of Scotland’s heritage, and the traditions of Mali.
Last year the Folklife Festival attracted about 1.3 million visitors, according to Smithsonian spokeswoman Vicki Moeser.
“It’s a great atmosphere,” Moeser said. “It’s very family-oriented — always activities for kids, lots of music.”
This year’s Appalachia program is centered on music and recordings, including the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers in the Tennessee-Virginia border town of Bristol. The Appalachia groups will have a “pickin” porch for participants to play bluegrass, gospel or ballads, and let the visitors join in.
Ralph Blizard, an 84-year-old fiddler and recipient of the National Heritage Fellowship, and guitarist Phil Jamieson are two of the featured Appalachia performers. The two play venues around North Carolina but venture out to larger gigs a couple times a year.
“We’re right in the heart of things where a lot of music comes from,” Jamieson said. Jamieson makes his hobby his profession as a professor of mathematics and Appalachian music at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, N.C.
“It’s a great event,” Jamieson said of the Folklife Festival.
Both are repeats from the 1980s Folklife Festival that featured Tennessee music. Blizard fiddled with Jamieson as his accompanist.
Aside from national holidays, Washington has an array of outdoor activities. If it’s eating you’re interested in, the National Barbecue Challenge offers patrons a little bit of everything and a whole lot of ribs. This year’s festivities are larger than ever, encompassing four blocks along Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest on June 21 and 22.
Contestants from around the country fill the streets, all vying for the ultimate prize in the national cookoff that benefits the Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls Clubs, D.C. Double Dutch League and DARE.
“There is a tremendous amount of activity at the Challenge,” Public Relations Director Suzanne Tubis said.
In its 11th year, representatives from 14 different states will participate in the cookoff. The teams are reviewed by certified judges who in the past have included local officials such as Washingtonian magazine food critic Robert Shawsner and D.C. Circuit Court judges.
Here’s a list of some outdoor events taking place this summer in Washington, D.C. All events are free unless noted.
National Symphony Orchestra Memorial Day Weekend Concert: 8 p.m. May 25 on the West Lawn of the Capitol.
Shakespeare Free For All: May 29-June 8, Carter Barron Amphitheatre, 16th Street and Colorado Avenue Northwest. Nightly performances of Shakespeare’s masterpieces, including “Hamlet.” www.shakespearetheatre.org
Jazz in the Sculpture Garden: 5 p.m. Fridays from May 31 to Aug. 30, National Gallery of Art. An eclectic mix of jazz.
Capital Pride Festival: June 1-8. The fourth-largest gay pride event in the United States will feature a parade and a variety of events. www.capitalpride.org.
Dance Africa D.C.: June 7-8 at Dance Place, 3225 Eighth St. NE. Performances (some free, others require admission), visual arts and workshops explore African culture. Outdoor vendors and traditional dance performances. www.danceplace.org
Dupont-Kalorama Museum Walk Day: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. June 7, 1-5 p.m. June 8. Eight-museum consortium with free shuttle bus service provided. Not all museums open both days.
Georgetown Day: June 7, throughout Georgetown. Tours and programs are offered in celebration of this historic neighborhood.
D.C. Caribbean Carnival: 1-8 p.m. June 28-29, various locations. Mardi Gras-style parade at noon June 28 on Constitution Avenue Northwest. Food and craft vendors will supplement the live Caribbean entertainment on Pennsylvania Northwest between 10th and 13th streets. www.dccaribbeancarnival.com
Fete de la Musique: June 20-22, throughout D.C. Music will be everywhere you turn during this festival, which will be held for the first time this summer. Enjoy concerts and spontaneous performances by amateur musician. www.dcarts.dc.gov.
National Capital Barbecue Battle: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. June 21 and 11 a.m.-7:30 p.m. June 22, Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest from Seventh Street to 13th Street. Live music and lots of barbecue. Admission is $7, $4 for ages 12 younger, free for ages 4 and younger.
Live! On Woodrow Wilson Plaza: Each weekday from noon to 1:30 p.m. June 20 through the middle of September, Ronald Reagan Building. Talent that ranges from poets and comedians to salsa bands and talent competitions.
U.S. Air Force Band Summer Concert Series: 8 p.m. Tuesdays June through August, Capitol West Lawn. Performances by various performing units from the U.S. Air Force bring visitors sounds from jazz to classic country.
U.S. Navy Memorial Naval Heritage Summer Concert Series: 8 p.m. Tuesdays June through August, U.S. Navy Memorial, 701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. The U.S. Navy Band performs during a series of concerts.
U.S. Army Twilight Tattoo: 7 p.m. Wednesdays June 4 to July 30, Ellipse. Members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry (The Old Guard), the U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” Fife and Drum Corps and the U.S. Army Drill Team will perform an hour-long sunset military pageant.
U.S. Marine Concerts: 8 p.m. Wednesdays from June to August, Capitol Lower West Terrace. Patriotic tunes and standard military marches are the usual fare, with the perfect backdrop: a sunset across the National Mall.
Farragut Sounds in the Square: Noon Thursdays from June 12 to Aug. 7, Connecticut Avenue and K Street Northwest. Jazz, blues and classical music performed by area musicians.
U.S. Air Force Band Summer Concert Series: 8 p.m. Fridays from June to August, Sylvan Theater, Washington Monument grounds. Performances by various performing units from the U.S. Air Force bring visitors sounds from jazz to choral music.
U.S. Army Band Summer Concert Series: 8 p.m. Fridays from June to August, Capitol West Lawn. Be inspired by free weekly performances by the U.S. Army Band, “Pershing’s Own,” a 65-piece traditional concert band.
U.S. Marine Evening Parade: 8:45 p.m. Fridays from June to August, U.S. Marine Barracks, Eighth and I streets Southeast. A universal symbol of the professionalism, discipline, and esprit de corps of the U.S. Marines.
Bascilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Summer Recital Series: 6 p.m. Sundays from June to August, 400 Michigan Ave. NE. Summer organ recital series.
U.S. Marine Concerts: 8 p.m. Sundays from June to August, Sylvan Theater at the Washington Monument.
Smithsonian Folklife Festival: June 25-26 and July 2-6 on the Mall. Featuring crafts, customs and food from Mali, Appalachia and Scotland. www.folklife.si.edu/CFCH/festival2003.htm or (202) 357-2700
Independence Day Celebration: July 4 on the Mall. Parade and the National Symphony Orchestra performances on the West Capitol steps. (202) 619-7222
Bastille Day: July 14, at 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest. Celebrate French Independence Day with food, music and live entertainment.
Waterlily Festival and Founders Day: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. July 19, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, Anacostia Avenue and Douglas Street Northeast. See water lilies in peak bloom and enjoy gardening workshops, entertainment and tours. www.nps.gov/-nace/keaq
Screen on the Green: Begins about 9 p.m. Mondays beginning July 15 for five weeks, Washington Monument grounds. Classic cinema.
Live on Penn: 1 to 11 p.m. Saturdays from July 5 to Sept. 6, Pennsylvania Avenue between Third and Fourth streets Northwest. Downtown D.C.’s summer concert series.
Minnesota Avenue Day: Aug. 9, Minnesota Avenue between Benning Road and Ames Street Northeast. Enjoy performances and and family entertainment in celebration of the diverse Ward 7. (202) 396-1201 ext. 115
St. Sophia Greek Festival: Sept. 26-28, Massachusetts Avenue Northwest at the corner of 36th Street. Enjoy live Greek music, cathedral tours, arts and crafts, and authentic Greek food.