The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Nightlife in the DMV may never get back to normal, but we’re getting closer. Here are highlights of the spring season.

Olivia Rodrigo, Sons of Kemet, Koffee and Ohio Players are among the concert standouts

(Sonny Ross/Illustration for The Washington Post)

If it isn’t obvious by now, there will be no post-pandemic restart on the American concert circuit. Instead, our nightlife will (hopefully) continue to flicker back in fits and starts while audiences (hopefully) continue to respect one another by wearing masks inside the listening rooms where they convene. Maybe it’s been a while, but if you’re finally heading back into clubland this spring, remember that it’s not just to hear big sounds in dark spaces. You’re going out there to share the communal joy of music with other people. Honor them, honor the musicians, honor the venue staff, honor yourself. Mask up.

Jazmine Sullivan

It’s been 14 months and change since this Philadelphia-raised R&B singer dramatically expanded her music’s truth-telling capabilities with her fourth album “Heaux Tales,” a collection of heart-bruised songs rendered with exhilarating candor and a heightened attention to detail. The only way for Sullivan’s music to feel more real is to hear it sung in 3D.

Jazmine Sullivan March 20 at the Anthem.

Sons of Kemet

This propulsive British group — an unorthodox quartet with two drummers and two horn players, one of which is the intrepid saxophonist-clarinetist Shabaka Hutchings — stood near the center of London’s accelerant jazz scene at the start of the pandemic, then did its best to keep things moving last spring with the release of its bustling fourth album, “Black to the Future.” Wherever Sons of Kemet are headed next, they’re likely moving fast. Don’t blink.

Sons of Kemet March 27 at Union Stage.

Lido Pimienta

Pimienta’s music frequently unfurls over the traditional folk rhythms of her native Colombia, but the Canadian pop singer’s sense of melody and timbre conjure an almost otherworldly sense of gravity and light — maybe even for her. “They’re airy, they’re uplifting, extremely feminine, extremely soft, but so strong, like the brightness of the sun,” Pimienta said of her newer songs in a chat with Rolling Stone last year. “I can only really describe it in metaphor.”

Lido Pimienta April 5 at Songbyrd Music House.

Tenille Townes

I “know it’s supposed to happen naturally,” Townes admits on her terrific new single “When’s It Gonna Happen,” but the Canadian country singer still knows she’s asking a question for the ages. She’s written a when-will-I-find-love song that speaks to the wider anxieties of temporal existence, where the “it” can serve as a placeholder for all kinds of hopes and wishes. It’s a broad and generous idea, delivered with personality and precision.

Tenille Townes April 29 at Union Stage.


Koffee made the history books twice at last year’s Grammy Awards by being the first woman and the youngest artist to win the trophy for best reggae album. The refrain of her easygoing follow-up single, “West Indies,” felt rightfully proud and aptly celebratory: “I wanna just party.”

Koffee May 3 at the Fillmore.

Olivia Rodrigo

When the pandemic’s big breakout pop star finally gets to hit the road in support of her magnetic and massive debut album “Sour,” it’ll be fun to hear if her no-longer-brand-new songs — including last year’s chart-devouring “Drivers License” — are built for the long ride. Go, Olivia, go.

Olivia Rodrigo May 4 at the Anthem.

070 Shake

“I don’t know if I’ll be here tomorrow,” 070 Shake sang on her early-2020 single “Morrow,” but thankfully, here she is. Fatalism and perseverance have been reliable themes for this New Jersey native, whose bright ideas about hybridizing rap and pop once provided some necessary sparkle to Kanye West’s dimmest album, 2018’s “Ye.” Four years later, the bright lights still beckon.

070 Shake May 15 at the Fillmore.


The annual bluegrass-and-more festival is back on in Western Maryland, headlined by its namesake, Del McCoury, who recently turned 83. That might give the Del McCoury Band seniority on this three-day festival’s sprawling bill, but there’s no shortage of heavies appearing at DelFest 2021, including banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck, Maryland-born bluegrass heroes the Seldom Scene and more.

DelFest May 26-28 at the Allegany County Fairgrounds.

Ohio Players

This pandemic has made you older, but has it made you wiser? Has it invited you to contemplate the fact that even the most legendary of bands will not exist forever, and for that matter, neither will you? Has it reminded you that funky things sometimes get funkier with age? Has it made you want to peel your tired body off the couch and dance to some of the most reliably locomotive American music ever made? Okay then.

Ohio Players May 27-28 at the Birchmere.

Aldous Harding

Whether she’s squeezing her airways into new shapes or just speeding up the tapes, the artful New Zealand songwriter’s voice seems to have shot up an octave on her latest single, “Lawn,” suggesting a reverse puberty, a return to innocence or maybe something else. Harding’s songcraft continues to skew toward the transformative, but into what remains up for grabs.

Aldous Harding June 11 at Miracle Theatre.