SUMMER DAYS in Washington may produce summer daze, but the nights tend to be cool. Particularly if you're in the right place at the right time and find yourself looking at the stars -- both those overhead and those on the stages of Washington's outdoor venues.
We're luckier than many cities, which make do with one great summer facility. We have three: the Carter Barron Amphitheater, the grande dame, closing in on the end of its fourth decade; the Merriweather Post Pavilion, now in its late teens; and Wolf Trap, the youngster, but already in its second skin.
There's also Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, which has a show every once in a while: like this Saturday, when Patti LaBelle, Maze, New Edition, Ashford and Simpson and Freddie Jackson head up a day-long soul caravan. But its biggest show of all is July 6 and 7, as Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers pitch camp.
And Bull Run Regional Park in Manassas will host its annual Country Music Jamboree July 27 with an all-star cast: Reba McEntire, Lee Greenwood, the Forester Sisters and Mel McDaniel.
Outside of the traditional explosive fireworks program, this year's 4th of July on the Mall will be lower key. The Beach Boys managed to leave a bad taste in the National Park Service's mouth last year, resulting in a wholesale program change: no more extravaganzas, no special gargantuan stages, no sitting in the sun all day to get a closer look at aging beach bums.
The accent this year is military: The Air Force's Spectrum, Concert Band and Singing Sergeants (with special guest Toni Tenille) will hold forth at the Air and Space Museum at 4 p.m. At 6:30, the Army Blues, Army Chorale and Air Force Tops and Blues will perform at the Sylvan Theater. At 8, the National Symphony Orchestra, with Mstislav Rostropovich conducting, will be at the Capitol steps. The special guests are vocalist Sarah Vaughan and pianist Andre-Michel Schub; the program includes the world premiere of Henry Mancini's "Salute to the Services," commissioned for this concert and featuring the combined armed forces bands and choruses. Later, of course, come the fireworks.
Off the Mall, not all the seats are under the stars: The best seats at both Post Pavilion and Wolf Trap are covered, which leads those sitting on the lawn to a lot of praying for good weather.
With close to 50 shows on its current schedule, the Pavilion (capacity 12,000) in Columbia is the busiest of the busy. Its expansive palette is evident in this quick list of highlights:
*Singer-songwriters Jackson Browne (June 18-19), Jimmy Buffett (July 2-3) and Joe Jackson (July 12).
*Country superstars the Judds (July 6), Hank Williams Jr. (August 28), Willie Nelson (September 11) and Barbara Mandrell (September 13).
*The new Princess of Soul, Whitney Houston (July 26), along with Billy Ocean (June 28), the Temptations and Four Tops (July 5), the always sizzling Pointer Sisters (August 7) and Kool and the Gang (August 9).
*Jazz styles ranging from New Age (Andreas Vollenweider, August 14) and fusion (Chick Corea's Electrik Band, Wayne Shorter and Al DiMeola on June 26 or Jean-Luc Ponty with the Stanley Clarke Band, August 3) to vocalese (Manhattan Transfer, August 15).
*Other big shows: INXS (July 20), the Moody Blues and the Fixx (July 22); the Beach Boys (August 17), celebrating a quarter century in the business (funny, it seems longer); the return of Steve Winwood (August 28); and the Eurythmics (September 3). Also look for coming dates (they're still not settled) with Elton John, Bob Seger, Lou Reed and John Fogarty (if he finishes his album and gets rid of the cold feet about touring for the first time in 11 years).
Wolf Trap, with its rebuilt Filene Center (capacity 7,000), certainly put Vienna on the concert map. The menu here is a bit more varied than the Pavilion's, with dance, classical and full-scale musicals a part of the mix. And there can be great variety within a single week.
Like next week, which kicks off with Johnny Cash and June Carter on Monday; rock legend Roy Orbison and Johnny Rivers on Tuesday; Washington's own Emmylou Harris and one of the hottest new country acts, Dwight Yoakam, on Wednesday; longtime favorite Bonnie Raitt and the Del Fuegos on Thursday; and America, Steve Stills and Tom Chapin on Friday. In some venues, that would be a season in itself.
Wolf Trap continues to be very, very good to such regulars as Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie (July 12) and Ella Fitzgerald (July 17). Other highlights include smoothies Smoky Robinson (June 23) and Johnny Mathis (July 7); the eclectic, elusive Van Morrison (July 9); Joan Armatrading (July 22); Harry Belafonte (July 29-30); the Ian and Sylvia reunion, with some very special, but for now secret, guests (August 5); the Everly Brothers (August 10); and Bruce Cockburn (August 20).
The Carter Barron Amphitheater (capacity 4,200) is not quite as busy as it was two decades ago, when it was the finest, in fact the only, major outdoor concert venue in the area. With the arrival of the Pavilion and later Wolf Trap, a lot of its old-line customers stayed out in the suburbs. The facility has been booked and run in recent years by the National Park Service, which means not quite as many superstar acts, but the best ticket price in town ($6); concerts are Saturdays and Sundays.
Among the season's high points: the Washington debut of Brazil's top musician and songwriter, Milton Nascimentos (June 22); the very hot Stephanie Mills with local hero Carl Anderson (June 28); the Nighthawks' farewell-for-now (July 5); Annapolis' Starpoint and Sly Foxx (July 12); Cherrelle, Alexander O'Neal and Cashflow (July 13); the legendary duckwalker and rock legend Chuck Berry (date to come); the O'Jays (August 2-3); Miles Davis (August 9); the dance rhythms of the Miami Sound Machine (August 10); the smooth pop jazz of George Howard (August 23) and a gospel fest finale headlined by the Wynans (August 24).
The National Park Service also presents free big-band concerts every Wednesday at the Sylvan Theater and free weekend jazz concerts at the Fort Dupont Summer Theater. Highlights of the Fort Dupont season, which kicks off next week with Noel Pointer and Dave Valentin (June 20-21), include Ahmad Jamal and Crossing Point (June 27-28), Herbie Mann (July 11-12), New Orleans' wonderful Dirty Dozen Brass Band (July 18-19), the Horace Silver Quintet (July 25-26), a Motown revue with Jr. Walker and the Allstars and the Marvelettes (August 1-2), and a blues bash with Jimmy Witherspoon and Johnny Copeland (August 15-16).
In addition to these sites with the big names, a host of other outposts -- the C&O Canal, Fort Hunt Park, Arlington's Lubber Run Amphitheater and Wheaton and Cabin John regional parks, to name just a few -- provide easy listening under the open sky. (A roundup of locations and concerts appears below.)
Among the most impressive of the non-stellar events will be the 20th anniversary of the Festival of American Folklife on the Mall (June 25-29, July 2-6). The festival remains one of the most educational, entrancing and engaging events on Washington's cultural landscape. The focus this year is on the state of Tennessee (Memphis, Nashville, blues, country, gospel, rock and roll -- American music would sound a lot different absent its Tennessee roots and strains) and Japan.
There'll be the traditional emphasis on American crafts and the less familiar occupational folk traditions of trial lawyers (crying the blues again?). Outside of the usual day-long fare of concerts, there will be concerts by outstanding musicians from previous festivals. As always, all events here are free, though you'll probably feel like paying more taxes next year.