There are few performance venues so amazing they are worth traveling a long distance to catch a concert. Outside of Washington, DC is one of those special places. Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, is one of the nation’s best concert venues. Hidden in the lush forest near Washington, DC is a gift from Catherine Filene Shouse, a highly decorated public servant. The park occupies 117 acres (47.3 hectares) and offers top entertainment all year long. Most Wolf Trap fans, myself included, love summer time at Wolf Trap the most.
Wolf Trap opened the Filene Center June 1, 1971, with performances from the National Symphony Orchestra, United States Marine Band, Van Cliburn, and others. Both performers and concert goers loved this venue from the start. Some performers say Wolf Trap has the best acoustics anywhere in the country.
Who runs the show
There are two entities that run the park. One is Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts and the other is Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts-the official partner to the National Park Service in providing concert and performance programming within Wolf Trap National Park. As a nonprofit organization, Wolf Trap Foundation is dedicated to creating excellent performing arts experiences for the enrichment, education, and enjoyment of diverse audiences. From what I saw the foundation is doing a great job.
From late May into September, the Filene Center hosts concerts like Sting, Buddy Guy, Lionel Ritchie, Diana Ross and more. With 7,000 seats, the Filene Center provides covered seating and very affordable lawn seating under the stars. They even rent lawn chairs if you don’t want to haul your own.
Wolf Trap has two other venues worth noting. The Barns at Wolf Trap has a more intimate feel with only 382 seats. These two 18th century barns were brought down from New York after Catherine Shouse bought them for Wolf Trap. All year long, the Barns feature a variety of performances like jazz, folk music, chamber music, and opera. Visit the Wolf Trap website to see what’s playing on any given week.
The third venue is the Children’s Theatre in the Woods. A trail along the creek leads to an intersection into the woods where dance, puppet, and music performances thrill children instilling a love for the arts. Who wouldn’t want to see a show titled: Squirrel Stole My Underpants by The Gottabees!
What you can bring in
There aren’t many venues in the U.S. where ticket holders can bring their own food and drink (alcoholic beverages included) to concerts of this caliber. Wolf Trap does limit the size of coolers, so don’t try and wheel in a keg of beer. Cooler size is limited to 15x15x22 inches or 48 quarts. So pack your beer, wine, or other favorite beverages and enjoy the show.
This summer (2019) ticket prices for lawn seating for Sting are a low 49 USD, and only 35 USD for Pat Benatar! That’s quite a bargain when you consider the ability to bring your own picnic dinner and drinks. Onsite food and beverages are provided at ballpark-like concession stands or at Ovations, a José Andrés restaurant serving a buffet dinner.
The buffet will run you around 45 USD plus tip, tax, and beverages for a feast that includes a salad bar table, hot food line, and dessert table. Ovations has a small, but excellent wine list with a rosé from South Africa and a Washington State cabernet sauvignon. The view from Ovations spans the forest, hillside, and native flower gardens. Many guests like the 20 USD picnic box option from Ovations with fried chicken, coleslaw, fresh fruit, chips, and choice of beverage. They also have smoked brisket sandwich, chicken Caesar wrap, or beefsteak tomato sandwich options. Take your picnic basket to one of several picnic tables in the shade of tall trees and enjoy the view. Order online and pick up the evening of the show.
To and from the show
Since driving can be a pain in the rear, it’s important to note the ways around heavy traffic on highway 267-the Toll Road. Uber and LYFT are good options to and from shows, or you can brave traffic and park close to the venues for free.
I asked Emily Stout from the Wolf Trap Foundation about taking public transportation and she said: “As for Metro, we have the Wolf Trap Express Shuttle bus, operated by Fairfax Connector that offers roundtrip service from the West Falls Church Metro Station (Orange Line) to Wolf Trap. The Express shuttle begins operating 2 hours prior to show time.”
The Fairfax Connector costs 5 USD roundtrip, and be aware that the parking lot at the West Falls Church lot charges 3 USD, except Sat, Sun, and holidays. When the show is on weekdays, the bus leaves by 10:30 to catch the last Metro. For Friday and Saturday performances the bus leaves 20 minutes after the show.
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Yet, it's a park too
As good as the concerts and other entertainment are at Wolf Trap, the park itself is a peaceful refuge from the D.C. area’s hectic pace. Deputy Superintendent Ken Bigley said: “Locals say this hillside next to the Filene Center is the best winter sledding hill in the D.C. area.”
Ken said the colors are spectacular in late October into November. All through the year Wolf Trap National Park hosts experiences in the woods like their First Sunday hikes where a trail volunteer or staff member lead hikes focusing on a variety of subjects. Learn about birds, history, wildflowers and more.
A First Day hike is offered on New Year’s Day each year. Or take a special event hike to learn about mushroom foraging, landscaping, wildlife and more. The park has the Wolf Trap Trail (appx. 2.5 miles/4.02 km) or the Wolf Trap Track Trail (appx. 1.5/2.4 km) to immerse visitors in the forest. Walk along the creek and let the babbling brook soothe your soul on a solo hike.
Far reaching educational programs
There is much more on the Wolf Trap website about their commitment to educational programs throughout the U.S. and beyond. Programs bring the arts to children in Kindergarten through high school in the D.C. area. You can find information on the website about internships, grants, classes, and workshops.
Now that you know about how amazing Wolf Trap is, come see a show before the summer season is over. You might even bump into me on the lawn at Sting in August. It should be an excellent performance!
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