The first notes of summer festivals will ring out in May with the return of the Sweetlife Festival, but it’s also a month in which it’s also possible to hear live music outdoors without having to swat mosquitoes. At the Kennedy Center, the most prolific female performers in jazz will have their day in the (figurative) sun, while the Rock & Roll Hotel brings in a new-wave rapper whose fashion sense is as notable as his menacing rhymes. Get tickets for these shows soon.
The outdoor yoga, slate of hip restaurants and conspicuous recycling can make Sweetlife’s brilliant genre-crossing bill easy to overlook. Passion Pit’s epic electro-pop will be the perfect danceable foil to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ moody art rock and rapper Kendrick Lamar’s beat-driven jams. California’s dreamy neo-hippies Foxygen, once on the verge of breaking out, might redeem themselves since canceling their European tour. But all eyes will be on Solange, the younger, arguably edgier sibling of pop queen Beyoncé. Solange has played a slew of sold-out dates, but it’s Sweetlife that could prove whether her sugar-coated pop songs and noticeably thinner voice can command audiences that rival her sister’s.
Buzz factor: The festival, 8. Solange, 10.
Likelihood of a sellout: Low.
May 11 at Merriweather Post Pavilion, 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy., Columbia. 410-715-5550. www.sweetlifefestival.com. $75-$150.
Listen: Solange, “Losing You”
Forget the idiosyncratic nasal flow, skinny jeans and button-pushing asymmetrical shock of hair. Detroit’s oddball rhymer Danny Brown has more in common with the menacing raunch of the Ol’ Dirty Bastard-era Wu-Tang Clan than he does with today’s flock of conflicted, sensitive-guy rappers. His single “Grown Up,” delivered with the swaggy, braggy glee of a high school bad boy suddenly flush with cash, is a catchy breath of fresh air. Seeing it performed live is sure to be the highlight of his show at the Rock & Roll Hotel.
Buzz factor: 7. Brown’s razor-sharp album, the aptly titled “XXX,” landed on many a best-of list in 2011, and he was one of just a few rappers tapped for this year’s Coachella festival.
Likelihood of a sellout: Medium.
Listen: “Grown Up”
May 4 at the Rock & Roll Hotel,
1353 H St. NE. 202-388-7625.
When pop-rocker James McCartney slips into a strip-mall coffeehouse in Vienna for a solo acoustic show, it will be a far cry from the concert his father — you might know him as Sir Paul or, more affectionately, Macca — will put on for 40,000 swooning fans at Nationals Park this summer. But give the younger McCartney credit for making his own way in the industry. The 35-year-old, who looks uncannily like dad and sounds like the late Elliott Smith, got a late start in the family business, but his prodigious guitar work suggests time well spent honing his craft.
Buzz factor: 5. McCartney is releasing his debut full-length album, “Me,” in late May, so he’s just beginning to attract notice.
Likelihood of a sellout: High. (Did we mention he’s a McCartney?)
May 25 at Jammin’ Java, 227 E. Maple Ave., Vienna. 703-255-1566. www.jamminjava.com. $15-$18.
Drummer Cindy Blackman may have provided slamming beats for Lenny Kravitz and gotten hitched to rock legend Carlos Santana, but at her core, she’s a jazz drummer. She closes the three-night Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival at the Kennedy Center with her band, Explorations, featuring Marc Cary on keys and Rashaan Carter on bass.
Buzz factor: 5. Blackman Santana will return to Washington less than a month later for a round of shows at Blues Alley with Buster Williams, should you prefer to see her perform at a more intimate venue.
Likelihood of a sellout: High. The Kennedy Center’s annual women in jazz festival is a popular draw.
May 18 at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, 2700 F St. NW. 202-467-4600. www.kennedy-center.org. $38.
The Forward Festival, a locally grown, weeklong celebration of electronic dance music, predates the current mainstream appreciation for thumping house and lurching dubstep. Now, such Washington DJ-centric venues as U Street Music Hall and Tropicalia book EDM acts nearly every night, so it makes sense that Forward is moving, well, forward. This year, the fest abandons its format of featuring a single genre each night and instead will showcase bass, house and techno, live performers and DJs every night.
Buzz factor: 4. Highlights include Los Angeles-based producer Eskmo, pictured, and Magic Mountain High, among others who don’t frequent Washington.
Likelihood of a sellout: Low.
Listen: Eskmo, “Cloudlight”
May 15-19 at four venues: Tropicalia, Eighteenth Street Lounge, U Street
Music Hall and 2052.
www.forwarddc.com. Prices vary.