As any pedant will tell you, May is not technically summer. Still, for many Washingtonians, it’s the traditional beginning of the season. After the cherry blossoms and sudden April cold snaps, but before the crushing humidity arrives, we gather under the stars at outdoor movies or groove at after-work concerts and weekend festivals.
After the lost summer of 2020 and the chaotic summer of 2021, when the easing of coronavirus-related restrictions gave way to restaurant reopenings and the cautious, fitful return of some events, the next few weeks look — dare we even think about it? — as though things are heading toward something resembling normal.
The Around the World Embassy Tour and the European Union’s Open House day are high on the list of “only in Washington” events. Before the pandemic, dozens of embassies threw open their doors on consecutive Saturdays to welcome visitors for dance and music performances, tastes of traditional dishes, and cultural exchanges such as fashion shows and art exhibitions. About 40,000 people visited embassies from India to Cameroon to Argentina in 2018 and 2019, says Steven Shulman, the executive director of Cultural Tourism DC, which organizes the Around the World Embassy Tour, but the number of participating countries will be lower this year.
“Usually, we’ll have 50, maybe 55 embassies. This year, we’re probably going to be in the 35-to-40 embassy range,” Shulman says. Part of that is due to the three years between events, as Cultural Tourism rebuilds relationships with embassy staff who have cycled in and out of Washington, but “candidly, there are embassies that have made the decision that they’re not opening while the pandemic is still apparent, and we certainly understand that some of the embassies feel that way.” Instead, look for more activities to take place outdoors, in embassy gardens or on sidewalks.
The National Gallery of Art’s Jazz in the Garden concerts have been a D.C. fixture for more than two decades, a popular Friday night destination for music lovers as well as interns and young professionals who might be more interested the setting — spreading out picnic-style among works by Louise Bourgeois and Mark di Suvero and gossiping over pitchers of sangria — than listening to the featured band. The series was canceled in 2020, and 2021 brought an abbreviated schedule of four concerts — three of which were called off due to the weather. But Jazz in the Garden returns May 20, with a few restrictions, including limited capacity and advance registration for tickets. The schedule is more diverse, with bluegrass and “global psychedelia” in the mix, though jazz remains at the heart of everything, with a July 1 concert by the Delfeayo Marsalis Sextet one of the highlights.
If you need proof that May is bursting at the seams with events, just look at the calendar below. While not every favorite has announced its return — we miss you, Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival — there’s more than enough to remind you why this is the best month of the year.
National Harbor’s Movies on the Potomac: Warm summer evenings turn parks and squares into open-air cinemas. While the majority of weekly series get going in June and July,a few are underway in May, and be honest — you’d much rather spread out a blanket under the stars when there’s a chance of a chill than on a muggy August evening. National Harbor boasts one of the most attractive settings for outdoor films, with the Capital Wheel and the Potomac River serving as a backdrop for the 18-by-32-foot digital LED screen. National Harbor shows family movies on Sundays with “Babe” (May 8) and “The Lion King” (May 29) among the upcoming highlights, while Thursdays bring “date night movies” such as “Best in Show” (May 5) and “Must Love Dogs” (May 26). The selections follow a monthly theme: After May’s animal movies, June highlights travel, and July features food. May 1 through Sept. 29. Sundays at 6 p.m. and Thursdays at 7 p.m. nationalharbor.com. Free.
Broccoli City Festival and Black Change Weekend: Over the last decade, the homegrown Broccoli City Festival has showcased some of the biggest names in music — think Cardi B, Migos, Lil Wayne and Future — while also keeping a focus on health and mindful living. This year’s two-day event, back on the grounds of RFK Stadium after a brief visit to FedEx Field in 2019, has Summer Walker, Ari Lennox and 21 Savage atop the bill, but it’s about more than entertainment. The accompanying BroccoliCon features programs and panel discussions covering financial literacy and how to launch a small business, while the BC Fit Fest brings a 5K run, yoga sessions and other wellness activities to Anacostia Park before the festival begins. Festival: May 7-8 at 1 p.m. bcfestival.com. $109.50-$499.50. BroccoliCon: May 5-6. Free-$200. broccolicon.com.
Flower Mart: The first Flower Mart at Washington National Cathedral was held on the Pilgrim Steps in May 1939. After a two-year pandemic hiatus, the two-day festival is back, with vendors selling plants, cut flowers, plant-related accessories and other merchandise. For those who’d rather look at plants than grow them, there’s the International Floral Display, with designs sponsored by embassies from around the world. Thirteen participated in 2019; Ukraine is among the entrants this year. Flower Mart’s appeal extends beyond gardeners, though: There’s the 1890s carousel, with music from a brass-piped Wurlitzer; live music and dance performances; carnival games; food vendors; white elephant and book tents; and a concert performed on the cathedral’s 53-bell carillon. May 6 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., May 7 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. allhallowsguild.org. Free; extra charges for carousel and other rides.
Around the World Embassy Tour: Look at a map of the embassies that participated in the Around the World Embassy Tour in previous years and you’ll understand why Massachusetts Avenue is called Embassy Row. “Washington is so lucky that its embassies congregated” along and just off the boulevard, says Cultural Tourism’s Shulman. “The density helps us” by making it easier for visitors to spend an afternoon hopping between tightly clustered buildings, he says. “You can’t do this anywhere else in the world.” While Shulman says this year’s programming won’t be as packed as previous events, “there’s a lot of interest from countries that have not participated in this in recent years. They’re interested in, in effect, building relationships with Americans,” he says, pointing to countries like Algeria, a first-time participant. Each embassy is different, but music, dancing and fashion displays are common. After all, these countries are trying to make their best impression: If you have a good time tasting rum and learning bachata steps at the Dominican Republic, you might think about heading to the Caribbean island when planning your next vacation. Two important tips: Make sure adults have a photo ID, just in case, and bring cash. While many embassies offer free samples of food and drink, some charge for food or alcohol. May 7. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. culturaltourismdc.org. Free.
D.C. Funk Parade: The D.C. Funk Parade started as an anything-goes parade and celebration of U Street, with marching bands and conga lines and costumed dancers banging pots and pans. Before and after the parade, there were performances on outdoor stages and late-night parties at neighborhood clubs. This year, though, the parade itself is on ice. (Organizers the MusicianShip have already announced that the event is changing its name to the D.C. Funk Festival in 2023.) The Day Festival on May 7 features 17 artists, topped by go-go bounce beat trailblazers Critical Condition Band (CCB) and the Naptown Brass Band. The focus is on three “activation areas” with music and dancing along the heart of U Street: the main stage at the African American Civil War Memorial at Vermont and U, an “R&B/Soul Corner” at Lee’s Flower Shop at 11th and U, and a Community Culture Center at the Reeves Center at 14th and U. Before the festival arrives, there’s the release of the parade’s official beer, the Magic of Music blonde ale, at Right Proper Brewing on April 30 from noon to 4 p.m., and a free tour of U Street murals with historian Briana Thomas on May 4, with pop-up musical guests. Festival: May 7 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. funkparade.com. Free.
Kinetic Sculpture Race at American Visionary Art Museum: The most mesmerizing race on the East Coast features “human-powered, all-terrain, artful contraptions” rolling through downtown Baltimore, taking a dip in the harbor and slogging through mud and sand in Patterson Park. More than two dozen sculptures on wheels competed in 2019, including a giant pink poodle, a 35-foot-long crocodile and a hand-pump rail car with a giant tree erupting from its platform. The 15-mile race begins and ends at the American Visionary Art Museum, but there are viewpoints throughout the city, including Canton Waterfront Park, where colorfully dressed spectators watch the sculptures splash not so gracefully into the drink. May 7. Opening ceremonies begin at 9:30 a.m., and the race starts at 10. A rough schedule with viewing tips is available on the race’s website. kineticbaltimore.com. Free.
Union Market Drive-In: Pop-up drive-in theaters became a phenomenon during the pandemic, offering a socially distanced alternative to watching movies on your couch. Union Market has been offering a modern-day drive-in since 2013, letting customers watch from cars in its parking lot or the patio area outside the Northeast food hall. This year’s series, held on the second Friday of the month from May to October, is heavy on classics, such as “Space Jam” (May 13) and “Dirty Dancing” (Aug. 12), but also features newer family films, such as “Encanto” (Sept. 9). There are 175 parking spaces available for each screening; tickets are not required for those who bring lawn chairs or blankets and sit outside the market. Monthly from May 13 through Oct. 1. Movie times vary with the sunset. unionmarketdc.com. $20 per car; free for pedestrians.
European Union Open House: The European Union’s Open House, which launched in 2007, is the older of the two embassy days in D.C. It operates much the same as Around the World, only with a tighter geographic focus. Each country plays to its cultural strengths: Croatia offers tastes of its wine and talks up its scenic role in “Game of Thrones”; Hungary has a meet-and-greet with vizsla dogs; Finland, ranked as the world’s happiest country, promises to show “the building blocks of a happy, ordinary day in Finland” through nature, food and music. Lines are often longest at France and Germany’s joint celebration, held this year at the German Embassy on Reservoir Road NW, but with the always-popular British Embassy no longer participating, it will be interesting to see which countries attract the most visitors. The smart money is on Ireland, which is opening the ambassador’s residence for tours for the first time, or Sweden, with its rooftop deck on the Georgetown waterfront and exhibits covering women’s economic empowerment and art by Indigenous people. May 14. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. euopenhouse.org. Free.
Maryland Craft Beer Festival: The easiest way to explore Maryland’s craft beer scene without putting thousands of miles on your car, the Maryland Craft Beer Festival brings more than 60 breweries together for an afternoon on the banks of Carroll Creek in downtown Frederick. While big names like Union, Denizens and Flying Dog are all pouring, the reason to go is to sample breweries you don’t see everywhere, such as Sapwood Cellars and Nepenthe. Beyond beer, the day features music on multiple stages, a fleet of food trucks and a vendor market. VIP tickets add early entry for 90 minutes of extra drinking time. May 14. Noon to 5 p.m. mdcraftbeerfestival.com. $45-$65; $15 designated drivers; kids 12 and under enter free.
Jazz in the Garden: The good news is that the National Gallery of Art’s Jazz in the Garden concert series is back for a 10-week run. There are a few things to keep in mind: Everyone has to have a free ticket, which can be reserved on the gallery’s website at noon one week before the scheduled event. (For example, if you want to see jazz violinist Nataly Merezhuk on opening night, you should get online before noon on May 13.) Up to 5,000 tickets will be available, which is half the size of the average crowd in pre-pandemic days. Organizers expect the crowd to fluctuate throughout the evening as people come and go, so it shouldn’t feel as crowded as in previous years — but if you have a favorite spot in the grass near Roy Lichtenstein’s “House I” or around the fountain, you still might want to arrive early. Finally, while the name says “Jazz in the Garden,” the schedule includes sounds as diverse as Hawaiian ukulele virtuoso Daniel Ho (June 10) and bluegrass band Sideline (July 22). That’s something else to discuss over a pitcher of sangria. May 20 to July 22. Fridays from 5 to 8:30 p.m. nga.gov. Free.
Fiesta Asia Street Fair: The Asia Heritage Foundation’s street festival, running since 2006, boasts that it has more than 1,000 participants representing 20 cultures — “truly an amalgamation of the diverse Asian cultures and heritage,” as the website says. Recent years have included Indian and Nepalese dance troupes, Indonesian and Chinese musicians, Thai martial arts demonstrations, Korean barbecue food trucks, parades of cultural organizations, hands-on crafting for children and a marketplace in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue NW, just a few blocks west of the Capitol. May 21. 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. fiestaasia.org. Free.
Bourbon and Bluegrass at President Lincoln’s Cottage: Abraham Lincoln’s summer escape was a modest house on the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home. Spend an afternoon there, with a picnic blanket spread on the grass, listening to bluegrass and folk music and sipping a whiskey cocktail or two, and it’s easy to understand why he so loved the place. The annual fundraiser for Lincoln’s Cottage is once again in person after last year’s virtual concert with Dom Flemons. It has returned to the pre-pandemic format, with three artists performing per day — Driftwood headlines both Saturday and Sunday — as well as bourbon and beer tastings, guided tours, lawn games and, appropriately for an event celebrating Lincoln, a beard grooming station. Food from Timber Pizza, Rocklands Barbecue and Goodies Frozen Custard is available for purchase. May 21-22. 1 to 5 p.m. both days. lincolncottage.org. $35-$80; free for children ages 6 and younger.