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Taking In the Rhythms of Summer

Local Venues Provide Outdoor Outlets for Music

Summer is that time of year for music lovers to bust out their lawn chairs, lighters and coolers. Musicians hit the road for performances under sunny skies, creating the perfect opportunity for barefoot dancing to favorite tunes on green lawns.

But for those in Washington, D.C., it’s hard to find the time to look for fun festivals and concerts outside the Beltway. So, below are details of some of the popular summer concerts and concert venues so you can start planning and packing for summer fun.

For the Family

If you’re looking for some family fun, the Bluemont Concert Series might be for you.

Bluemont, established in 1976 to bring high-quality performers to Virginia, holds concerts in 11 cities across the state. Peter Dunning, president of Bluemont, said the concerts are focused on family and community.

From rock to jazz to bluegrass, Dunning

said there is something for everyone at Bluemont’s summer concerts. Because the concerts are outdoors on long stretches of lawn, concert-goers can set up picnics or lawn chairs to enjoy the music.

“We don’t bring … Willie Nelson because we can’t afford it, but we do some high- quality stuff,” Dunning said.

Concerts last year featured such performers as the Junkyard Saints, a D.C./Baltimore-based group performing a blend of New Orleans R&B, zydeco, Latin, ska, jump blues and Mardi Gras funk; Susan Greenbaum, a Richmond singer and songwriter; and Huancara, a group that combines Argentinean folk music with jazz, pop and classical music.

From October to May, Bluemont also hosts old-time country dances at the Purcellville Skating Rink in Purcellville, Va. The dances are preceded by beginner lessons, and dancers are encouraged to bring cooked dishes for potluck dinners. First-time admission is $5. It’s $6 for students and seniors, $8 for adults and $10 for families.

“The kinds of people you see and meet at these events really tend to be a picture of the communities on a Saturday night,” Dunning said. “They’re really nice affairs.”

The summer 2008 concert schedule is not up yet, but later this spring, check out Bluemont’s Web site at bluemont.org for more information on ticket prices and performance schedules and locations.

A Faraway Feel Without the Drive

For people with more diverse tastes, Wolf Trap National Park will offer a wide lineup of performances.

“Part of our mission is to provide a really broad range including pop, rock, jazz, dance, musical theater, children’s performances — something for everybody,” said Chris Guerre, spokesman for the venue.

Through different artistic and educational programs, Wolf Trap has been a leader in providing accessible and affordable art programs. The Filene Center at Wolf Trap usually boasts about 90 performances from the end of May to September.

Wolf Trap was founded when Catherine Filene Shouse donated 100 acres of Virginia farmland to the U.S. government for the construction of a 6,800-seat indoor and outdoor theater.

The outdoor theater allows for picnicking and free parking.

Although Guerre said the list of performances would not be officially announced until March 17 on Wolf Trap’s Web site (wolftrap.org), the lineup is already looking impressive.

So far, Guerre said some of the most popular plays in musical theater will be heading through Wolf Trap, including “Les Misérables” and “Rent.” He added that the summer season will be kicked off with “A Prairie Home Companion,” which he said is one of the area’s hottest tickets.

Heading Back in Time

Those looking for musical flair and a M’lady fair could try the Maryland Renaissance Festival taking place weekends and holidays from Aug. 23 to Oct. 19. In addition to knights and princesses, the festival lays claim to an assortment of medieval music.

Carolyn Spedden, artistic director for the festival, said most people think the festival features only traditional Renaissance music; however, Celtic and Eastern European music is also well-represented.

Since 1977, the fair has grown to employ 600 people and entertain about 1,300 participants and 280,000 guests per season.

The festival typically follows a storyline from the Middle Ages. Last year’s theme revolved around the story of King Henry and his political marriage to Anna, princess of Cleves.

At the 2007 festival, about 35 musical and dancing acts performed on 10 stages spread over 25 acres, enabling music lovers to see multiple shows in one day. And while musicians perform, others wait in the wing where guests can talk to them about their music or instruments.

“I always get a kick out of people watching a band for the first time because they just become mesmerized,” Spedden said.

Admission is $18. For seniors it’s $15 and for children ages 7-15 it’s $8. Two-day passes are available for $28 and “fairever” passes are $80. The fair also offers special group rates. For more information, visit the festival’s Web site at rennfest.com

A Picturesque Setting

For the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival, it’s all about music and nature lovers. The festival is a series of concerts over the span of a few summer weekends in Orkney Springs, Va., which boasts an outdoor pavilion, historic mineral springs spa and resort hotel.

In the early 1900s, the hotel was known as an escape for people from the bigger eastern cities.

“It’s an absolutely gorgeous setting,” said Dennis Lynch, executive director of the music festival. “It’s kind of like 90 miles and 90 years from D.C.”

Because of its location, the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival has developed a reputation over 45 years as a place to escape busy cities and enjoy music in a picturesque countryside.

Although the list isn’t finalized, performers thus far include Paul Gambill of Orchestra Nashville, who will be guest conducting the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra; Edwin McCain, the roots rocker who is famous for his chart-topping hit “I’ll Be;” Grammy Award-winner Ricky Skaggs and his band, Kentucky Thunder; and opening act two-time Grammy Award-winner Kathy Mattea.

To offer a reprieve from what is likely to be hot weather, there will be ice cream socials before the performances.

All in all, Lynch said the special part of the event is the paradox of the setting to the music.

“It’s a step back in time because of the property, but great contemporary music in a historical setting,” Lynch said.

For information on ticket prices, call the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival Office at 540-459-3396 or visit musicfest.org.

Local Bluegrass

If you enjoy home-grown bluegrass music, the Watermelon Park Fest Sept. 18-20 in Berryville, Va., is the concert series you’re looking for.

According to its Web site, the Watermelon Park Fest is focused on giving local bluegrass, country and acoustic musicians the chance to perform. Although more nationally recognized acts also perform, the focus is getting people together to enjoy quality music.

In the 1960s and ’70s, the event was “the queen” of bluegrass festivals, priding itself on being the first multiple-day festival and most diverse festival of its kind.

Musicians and music lovers run the festival. And all they want is to help local musicians, who must split their time between a day job and their true passion.

“We’re just fulfilling our part of the symbiotic circle,” the Web site reads. “People need music, we need to play it!”

Dwayne Brooke, the festival’s organizer, said the park offers more than just music. It is on the Shenandoah River, and it’s not unusual to see eagles flying by. There are Civil War sites nearby, and the park doubles as a campground.

A few details are still being worked out for this summer’s concerts, but check back soon at watermelonparkfest.com or at 540-539-2054 for more information.

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