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What can I do in the D.C. area right now? Live music, theater and drive-in movies are coming back.

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 4/8/2021 Fritz Hahn
a birthday cake: (Fernando Cobelo for The Washington Post) © Fernando Cobelo /for The Washington Post (Fernando Cobelo for The Washington Post)

At this time last year, we were under stay-at-home orders. Restaurants and museums were closed. Parents wondered whether kids could bring the coronavirus home from the park.

But now, the sun is shining, temperatures are rising and spring has, at long last, returned. Increasing vaccination rates and knowledge about the coronavirus mean that more businesses are opening their doors, and favorite activities are returning to rivers and parks.

Of course, the virus is still with us, and you need to mask up, whatever your vaccination status, and practice social distancing. Expect virtual events to continue alongside those in the real world for the foreseeable future. But the next few months, full of festivals, sports, and outdoor fun, promise a safe, and cautious, return to something better.

This story will be updated.

a crowd of people in front of a building: Wolf Trap is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and will host concerts with limited capacity. (Photo by Tracy A Woodward/The Washington Post) © Tracy A Woodward/THE WASHINGTON POST Wolf Trap is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and will host concerts with limited capacity. (Photo by Tracy A Woodward/The Washington Post)

What’s happening with live music?

After staying silent through 2020, some of the Washington area’s most prominent music venues are gearing up for a return of socially distanced outdoor concerts.

After a series of free concerts for health-care workers, educators and volunteers at the end of June, Wolf Trap marks its 50th anniversary on July 1 with a concert featuring the National Symphony Orchestra, award-winning actor and singer Cynthia Erivo, and soprano Christine Goerke of the Metropolitan Opera. A full slate of July concerts, including New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band (July 17), D.C. go-go legends Big Tony and Trouble Funk (July 18) and Broadway star Norm Lewis with the National Symphony Orchestra (July 30-31) goes on sale on May 7. Concertgoers will be required to purchase tickets for socially distanced “pods” of two to eight people; no single tickets are available. Performances for August and September will be announced later.

Merriweather Post Pavilion roars back to life over Independence Day weekend with M3, a three-day hair metal festival headlined by Kix, Queensryche and Night Ranger. The calendar is light in July, but August includes Luke Bryan (Aug. 12), Wilco and Sleater-Kinney (Aug. 20) and the Dave Matthews Band (Aug. 21). “We’re selling tickets as we always have, as we expect things to be back to normal by the time these shows play,” Audrey Fix Schaefer, the communications director for Merriweather’s IMP, wrote in an email. “But, of course, we will address the situation should they not be to maintain the safety of our guests, artists, and staff.”

Strathmore unveils its Patio Stage — an outdoor concert space with only 31 tables and 124 socially distanced seats — on May 30 with Wynton Marsalis leading the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Septet for two shows of Duke Ellington, Count Basie and other classics. Customers are required to buy out all four seats at the table, which costs $340 to $480, to prevent groups from mixing. The JLCO concert is on the high end of Strathmore’s lineup, which runs through September: Tables at a tribute to Stevie Wonder (June 3) cost $104 to $152, while a night with Dar Williams (July 3) is $144 to $192 for up to four.

The Kennedy Center’s 50th anniversary season kicks off after Labor Day with “a grand reopening of its stages” featuring the National Symphony Orchestra’s “Concert of Remembrance” (Sept. 10) and two weekends full of free concerts, art and National Dance Day (Sept. 11-12 and 18-19). But live music will return to the performing arts center well before then. Beginning May 27, the Millennium Stage is hosting “mini outdoor festivals” every Thursday through Saturday at the Reach, with free performances by groups including Step Afrika!, the National Theater for the Deaf and the D.C. Legendary Musicians; film screenings; yoga classes; and family activities. Additionally, the National Symphony Orchestra and music director Gianandrea Noseda are performing twice in the Concert Hall: on May 28 for a concert featuring pianist Daniil Trifonov performing Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 1, and on June 3 for what the Kennedy Center calls “a surprise program.” Tickets for the NSO concerts go on sale May 4.

Of course, venues that hosted outdoor concerts last summer are bringing them back. Jammin Java’s schedule is heavy on bands performing in the Vienna club’s parking lot Wednesday through Sunday, with some “indoor and distanced” shows mixed in. The State Theatre’s lineup mixes cover bands and comedy at its free shows, held Wednesday through Sunday outside the Falls Church concert hall. Near Nationals Park, the Bullpen plans to host concerts this summer for fans seated at picnic tables, including local favorites White Ford Bronco.

Live music continues indoors, as well: The Birchmere, JV’s Restaurant and Rams Head On Stage welcomed bands throughout the winter, and continue to do so now. D.C.’s Hamilton Live is taking a hybrid approach: In April, the downtown venue began offering concerts for a small number of seated fans, but it is also live-streaming events for those who feel more comfortable watching from home.

D.C. loosened rules on May 1 to allow more venues to host live entertainment, but the regulations — including a 12-to-18-foot gap between the stage and the audience, depending on whether musicians are wearing masks, even outdoors — might make it difficult for more bars to resume shows.

Elijah Jamal Balbed, on a mission to 'mob the city with live music' a group of people sitting at a train station: An F/A-18 Hornet jet used the Navy’s Blue Angels at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, which will reopen May 5. © Matt McClain/The Washington Post An F/A-18 Hornet jet used the Navy’s Blue Angels at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, which will reopen May 5.

When will the Smithsonian reopen? What about other local museums?

Washington’s museum scene is going to feel much closer to normal by the end of May. Seven Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo will open over the course of three weeks, joined by the National Gallery of Art on May 14, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum on May 17. By June 1, the only major attractions still closed will be the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and the National Air and Space Museum, which are expected to open as early as this summer, and some entities overseen by the federal government, such as the National Archives, Library of Congress, U.S. Botanic Garden and the Washington Monument.

The Smithsonian museums begin to reopen May 5 with the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va. The National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Portrait Gallery, the Renwick Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum follow on May 14. The National Museum of American History, National Museum of the American Indian and the National Zoo reopen on May 21. All locations will operate at 20 percent capacity and require free timed-entry passes, which can be reserved one week before the individual museum reopens. (See the Smithsonian website for more details.)

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The National Gallery reopens May 14, following the same safety protocols used last fall, with timed entry and limited capacity. Passes will be released every Monday at 10 a.m. for the following week, beginning May 10. Most galleries in the West Building will be open, except for galleries “that do not allow for social distancing,” according to the museum. The East Building remains closed for renovations. When the Holocaust Museum returns on May 17, it will also required timed tickets, and limit access to 250 people per day.

Outside of the museums on the Mall, most regional institutions are open. The Phillips Collection, National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Kreeger Museum and Planet Word are among the attractions that have reopened since the beginning of March; the National Building Museum and Tudor Place joined them in early April.

The Smithsonian and National Gallery of Art are reopening soon. Here's where you can go now. a bench in a park: Mini-golf courses have reopened around the area, including the one at East Potomac Park. © Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post Mini-golf courses have reopened around the area, including the one at East Potomac Park.

What outdoor activities are available right now?

Health experts agree that outdoor activities are safer than those indoors, which might be why there are so many ways to enjoy the fresh air. Nature centers are reopening, along with hikes and events for all ages; Montgomery County has reinstalled basketball hoops in parks, more than a year after it took them down to prevent players from gathering; and Arlington and Fairfax counties have resumed dance classes at community centers — holding them outside instead of in studios. Here’s a sampling of some other things you can do right now and in the weeks ahead.

Boating in D.C., which manages eight locations on the Anacostia and Potomac rivers, including the Key Bridge, Fletcher’s and National Harbor boathouses, has fully reopened. In Prince George’s County, canoe and kayak rentals are available at the Bladensburg Waterfront Park and Patuxent River Park. Guided kayak tours have also returned to Patuxent River Park.

Miniature golf courses at Bohrer Park in Gaithersburg and Watkins Regional Park in Largo opened on May 1, joining the mini-golf courses at East Potomac Golf Center and Upton Hill Regional Park in Arlington, which have been up and running.

Indoor and outdoor pools in D.C. were allowed to reopen at 50 percent capacity as of May 1, while splash pads can operate at full capacity. The water features in Yards and Canal parks will be operational by Memorial Day. Other water parks will come out of hibernation later this month, including Great Waves Water Park in Cameron Run and Ocean Dunes at Upton Hill, which open May 29.

D.C.’s outdoor fitness classes are making a comeback: The Hustle bike classes are back on the water taxi pier at the Wharf on Saturdays and Sundays. The Fitness at the Front series, previously held in Canal Park and Yards Park, returns in May, with exercise classes offered three times per week. Around Union Market, the Rise and Thrive festival, which runs through May 16, includes rooftop yoga and outdoor zumba.

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What’s the status of outdoor festivals, wine tastings, etc.?

As we saw with this year’s National Cherry Blossom Festival, event organizers are walking a tightrope, mixing a series of virtual events with safer, in-person activities. The seven-year-old Funk Parade is adapting this hybrid approach: The main festival on May 8, with performances from area musicians, dancers and artists, will take place online instead of filling clubs around U Street NW. The celebration also includes in-person events, such as a guided tour of U Street murals on May 5.

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival will be virtual again this year, instead of returning to the National Mall, but festival director Sabrina Motley is hopeful that “special pop-ups with some of our artists” could take place later in 2021.

Others are pushing back their events in hopes that the situation will have improved by the fall: DC JazzFest, usually held over Father’s Day weekend, is again scheduled for the first week of September, when organizers plan to host a mix of in-person and streaming concerts. Capital Pride has postponed its traditional June celebrations and vows that “we will work with the city to identify the safest ways to celebrate and create new traditions this October” while still hosting some online events in June.

Annual summer events are hit-or-miss: The popular Delaplane Strawberry Festival “has been suspended until further notice,” according to its Facebook page, but the Strawberry Jubilee Festival at Great Country Farms in Bluemont, Va., held over the weekends of May 22-23 and 29-31, is going on as scheduled, with rules about social distancing and indoor mask-wearing in place.

The Mount Vernon Summer Wine Festival, which offers free-flowing tastes of Virginia wines, is going ahead from July 16-18, with tasting tents reconfigured for social distancing and visitors encouraged to spread out on the lawn rather than sit close together at tables.

Snallygaster, Washington’s biggest annual beer festival, will return to several blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue NW on October 9, though the finer details are still up in the air — after all, who can guess what the world will look like five months from now?

a man driving a car: The Union Market Drive-In, shown here in 2019, is returning this month. © Marlena Sloss/The Washington Post The Union Market Drive-In, shown here in 2019, is returning this month.

Where can I go watch movies? Are outdoor movies happening this year?

On May 1, Washington became the last local jurisdiction to open movie theatres, which can operate at a 25 percent capacity. However, most of D.C.'s independent theaters, such as the Avalon Theatre and the E Street Cinema, remain closed.

Drive-in theaters were the surprise retro hit of 2020, offering a socially distanced alternative to the packed, popular outdoor neighborhood movie series that draw crowds in town and around the suburbs. It seems they'll be back for a second straight summer of watching from the comfort of your own car.

The Drive-In at Union Market has become one of the area’s hottest tickets, with audiences filling the parking lot to watch movies projected on the building’s facade and filling up on snacks from the market’s vendors. Films, shown on the first Friday of the month from May 7 to Sept. 3, include “Inside Out” (May 7), “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” (June 4) and “Crazy Rich Asians” (Sept. 3). The drive-in will also once again welcome carless viewers to purchase a ticket and perch on chairs and blankets in front of the market.

The Alexandria Drive-In, which made a splash last summer, returns to the vast parking lot of the Victory Center on Eisenhower Avenue on Fridays and Saturdays, with movies ideal for families (“E.T.” and “Shrek”), and food sold from food trucks. The Capitol Riverfront Drive-In Movie Series, which launched in a parking lot south of Audi Field in the fall, returned April 23 for a six-week run, including “Remember the Titans” (May 14) and “Bridesmaids” (May 28), with proceeds benefiting local charities.

Don’t have a car? Not a problem. The National Landing Business Improvement District is hosting in-person, vehicle-free outdoor screenings in May, sectioning off “social distance circles” in a softball field at Virginia Highlands Park, near Pentagon City. Preregistration is required for Movies in the Park — there’s already a wait list for “Moana” on May 7 — and groups of up to four are allowed for films including “The Secret Garden” (May 14) and “Bill and Ted Face the Music” (May 28). Last summer, the Evening Star Cafe in Del Ray converted its rear parking lot into an attractive, turf-covered area dubbed “the Back Yard” to increase its outdoor dining space. A weekly movie night began in the fall: a chance to hang out and watch “Top Gun,” “Big” or “The Incredibles” on Wednesday nights. (There are a dozen tables, including four cabanas, so reservations are suggested. There is no cover charge.)

a harbor filled with lots of traffic: The Bullpen beer garden will host movie nights, concerts and other events this spring and summer. (Photo courtesy of The Bullpen) © The Bullpen/The Bullpen The Bullpen beer garden will host movie nights, concerts and other events this spring and summer. (Photo courtesy of The Bullpen)

When are live theater and comedy coming back?

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s recent orders allow theaters to offer live entertainment starting May 1, subject to a 25 percent capacity limit, or 500 attendees, whichever is smaller. GALA Hispanic Theatre — which hosted in-person performances of “El Perro del Hortelano” in the fall as part of D.C.’s entertainment pilot program — was the first major theater to announce dates for live productions. “Tía Julia y el escribidor” (“Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter”), based on the novel by Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa, runs through May 9, followed by “Aliens, Immigrants, & Other Evildoers,” which opens May 14. Only 50 tickets are sold for each performance, putting the theater at 18 percent capacity, with patrons at every fifth seat.

The Shakespeare Theatre’s “Blindness” is less of a play than an “actor-less installation” telling the story of a pandemic, but allows an audience of 40 people, sitting in socially distanced pairs on the stage, to don headphones and listen to the show, which runs without an intermission.

The Kennedy Center’s theater season begins Oct. 13, when “Hadestown” opens in the Opera House. Most other theaters, such as Signature, Woolly Mammoth and Arena Stage, are committed to virtual theater seasons.

Comedy, meanwhile, is coming back strong. The D.C. Improv, the city’s most notable comedy club, reopened April 15, and features headliners Thursday through Sunday, as well as some midweek events. Only 50 tickets are available for each performance. For those who don’t want to gather inside, the Improv offers an outdoor showcase at the Bullpen on May 19.

In Virginia, the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse is back in business, hosting comedians who have been featured on “Last Comic Standing,” Comedy Central or late-night talk shows, while operating at 30 percent capacity. (Its sister D.C. venue, Drafthouse Comedy, closed permanently in December.) The Improv has been organizing shows with local talent at the Tally-Ho Theater in Leesburg since January.

a person riding a horse drawn carriage on a city street: Bethesda has closed off portions of streets to allow for outdoor dining. (Photo by Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post) © Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post Bethesda has closed off portions of streets to allow for outdoor dining. (Photo by Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

What’s happening with outdoor dining?

Outdoor dining is much more appealing now that we’re free from plastic igloos and greenhouse-style huts. Because restaurants across the area are operating at a fraction of their indoor capacity, most jurisdictions are continuing outdoor dining programs that proved popular last summer. From Alexandria to Bethesda to Rockville, streets have been closed to make room for additional dining, though it’s worth checking before you go: Old Town Fairfax has not brought back its City Square program, and Annapolis’s Recovery Zones have changed which streets are closed on which days.

In Montgomery County, the Picnic in the Park program features nine parks, including Wheaton Regional Park and Silver Spring’s Acorn Urban Park, where visitors can scan a QR code to order meals from local restaurants, which are brought to the park’s designated “delivery zone.” One fun new option for D.C. residents: Fainting Goat’s Picnics at Logan Circle pop-up allows customers sitting in the grass beneath Gen. John Logan to order a picnic basket, sandwiches or appetizers, which is delivered by bike Wednesday through Sunday.

Reservations are the new must-have at D.C. bars. Here's how to make the most of them. Five thousand fans were in attendance during Opening Day action between the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. (Photo by Jonathan Newton /The Washington Post) © Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post Five thousand fans were in attendance during Opening Day action between the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. (Photo by Jonathan Newton /The Washington Post)

How can I watch in-person sports?

After starting the season with just 5,000 fans in Nationals Park, the Washington Nationals are playing in front of socially distanced crowds of up to 10,000 after D.C. officials approved the increase on April 9. Tickets are sold in “pods” of 1 to 6 people, and the Nationals say they will “continue to prioritize our Season Plan Holders while our seating capacity remains limited,” meaning that while tickets for single games have gone on sale, they are not easy to come by. Bowser has indicated that the city will consider raising the capacity again in the future. If you just want to see baseball, and you don’t mind a drive, the Baltimore Orioles have single-game tickets available through the end of May, including home stands against the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

The Bowie Baysox, the Orioles’ Class AA affiliate, have “between 25 to 30 percent capacity” at the 10,000-seat Prince George’s County Stadium for the team’s May 11 home opener, according to assistant general manager Phil Wrye. Tickets for single games through the end of May are available, and additional tickets will go on sale after each week-long home stand ends. For example, the team’s first home stand finishes on May 16. Tickets for June’s first home stand, which begins on June 15, become available May 17.

D.C. United can have up to 5,000 fans at Audi Field, but, as with the Nationals, that number is a fraction of the team’s season ticket holders, and no single-game tickets are on sale. Leesburg’s Segra Field, home to USL Championship club Loudoun United, a DC United affiliate, is allowed to have up to 1,000 fans at matches. Tickets are on sale in four-match “mini-plans,” which include the team’s May 18 home opener against New York Red Bulls II.

The NWSL’s Washington Spirit splits its home games between Audi and Segra fields, with its opener against the Houston Dash at Segra on May 26, followed by the Orlando Pride at Audi Field on June 6. The team announced in late April that “due to current regulations, single match tickets will go on sale roughly two weeks before each match.” Fans can place deposits with the team to guarantee presale access.

Indoor sports are a different proposition. After much back-and-forth between the D.C. government and Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the owner of the Capitals and the Wizards, Capital One Arena finally opened in late April at 10 percent capacity, or around 2,100 fans. The Entertainment and Sports Arena, home to the Washington Mystics, will also open at 10 percent, or 450 fans, for the 2019 WNBA champions’ preseason game on May 5, and home opener on May 15. Single game tickets are not available.

This story was originally published April 8, 2021. It has been updated.


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