What Keeps Great Artists Coming Back to Wolf Trap?

What Keeps Great Artists Coming Back to Wolf Trap?
Jun 07, 2024

From recent returnee John Legend to seasoned entertainer Lyle Lovett, lots of artists travel back to the Filene Center to perform shows every year. While Wolf Trap holds memories for countless fans, it’s also a special place for many artists. Find out what keeps such fantastic performers returning year after year.

Returning Favorites

There’s a good reason why you’ll see artists popping up on Wolf Trap’s calendars time and again—artists love Wolf Trap and Wolf Trap audiences love them!

Here are just a few familiar faces returning for Summer 2024:

  • Indigo Girls – “Closer to Fine” at the Filene Center for 20+ shows
  • Alison Krauss – over a dozen concerts and collabs with bluegrass greats and more
  • Trombone Shorty – brings New Orleans’ music scene to Wolf Trap for an eighth time
  • Gladys Knight – the Empress of Soul conquers her fifth performance

But none of these artists compare to Lyle Lovett, who will soon celebrate his 31st appearance at the Filene Center! Having shared the stage with artists like Merle Haggard and Bonnie Raitt in the past, this summer he’ll perform alongside Preservation Hall Jazz Band—a group that debuted during Wolf Trap’s first season in 1971.

Rejuvenating and Finding Inspiration

The recently renovated backstage of the Filene Center is a relaxing haven for artists on the tour grind. With a meditation and workout room, game room, spacious dressing area, and even the ability to request puppies for stress relief, artists can unwind both indoors and in nature. Sometimes, that leads to artistic inspiration!

  • Waxahatchee (aka Katie Crutchfield), revealed to Rolling Stone that she composed “Right Back to It,” the lead single to her newest album Tiger’s Blood, while backstage at Wolf Trap.
  • Rumor has it that Sheryl Crow, a seven-time Filene performer, loves to loop the parking lots of the Filene Center on her bicycle. And four-time returnee Sting hiked the trails around the Park before his concerts.
  • Returning this summer, Nas said, “This has to be one of the most beautiful venues I’ve ever played in,” during his Filene Center show in 2019.
  • In a 2023 stage shout-out, Jason Isbell attested, “I don’t think there is a better place to play in [than Wolf Trap].”

Playing the Crowds

Artists play countless venues over the course of their career, but often their shows at Wolf Trap stand out as some of the best.

Pat McGee Band

Northern Virginia natives the Pat McGee Band have played four times at The Barns and make their ninth appearance (as part of NOVA Nites) at the Filene Center this summer. Pat McGee especially loves Wolf Trap shows because he can look forward to having his family, friends, and long-time supporters in the audience.

“Both venues have a homey vibe that feels like you’re having friends over for a house concert. I’m always honored to be part of the reason anyone chooses to get dressed up and make a night of it, whether it’s a group of friends reuniting, a date night, or a solo rollin’ fan,” said McGee.

“Our shows over the years have morphed from a college jam band that played AT the audience to a musical group that treats the audience as another band member. I feel very much at home and relaxed at both The Barns and Filene Center. This mindset gives me the confidence and support from the crowd to take our shows in so many different musical directions.” 

“The sheer size of both stages presents such a comfortable set up for my large band and, selfishly, I love launching myself off Wolf Trap’s many drum risers!”

Laura Benanti & Signature Theatre

Broadway’s Laura Benanti has graced The Barns with three intimate solo shows and claims “The Barns is one of [her] favorite venues.” She also previously performed at the Filene Center with the National Symphony Orchestra—an esteemed regular on the lineup, bringing classical repertoire, movie soundtracks, and more to Wolf Trap for over 50 years.

This summer, Benanti comes back as one of the headliners in Broadway in the Park, a collaboration with Signature Theatre. Known for large-scale productions in their 300-seat theater space in Arlington, Signature Theatre’s performances at Wolf Trap allow them to create even larger shows for musical theater-loving audiences and their talented artists.

Signature Theatre’s Artistic Director Matthew Gardiner says, “Any opportunity for an actor to perform with someone of the caliber of Laura Benanti or Jordan Fisher is always an exciting moment. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that all the performers Signature features in Broadway in the Park have had tremendous career highlights, ranging from the Broadway revival of Ragtime, like the incomparable Tracy Lynn Olivera, to being on tour right now with Disney’s Frozen, like the wonderful Katie Mariko Murray.”

Gardiner, who is a DC native, knows how special performing at the Filene Center is because as a kid he was cast in Casey at the Bat with the Boston Ballet at Wolf Trap.

“I remember taking in the vast open theater at Wolf Trap and being blown away. In my eyes I don’t think any space will ever feel as grand and huge as [the Filene Center] did to me at the age of seven. It is truly full circle to be returning for Signature’s fourth annual collaboration with Wolf Trap, Broadway in the Park.”

Fulfilling Long-Held Dreams

The Filene Center makes dreams a reality for many artists and companies, allowing them to achieve childhood fantasies and pull out all the stops for a sensational show. Some artists, like Jason Mraz or 25-time Filene performer Mary Chapin Carpenter, even attended Wolf Trap concerts as kids before making their Filene Center debuts!

Pilobolus & The Washington Ballet

Dance companies love the size of the Filene Center since it allows them to create their dream shows with expansive sets, live orchestras, and large troupes of dancers.

Modern dance rebels, Pilobolus fills the stage with theatrical, acrobatic feats and gravity-defying formations. For their eighth show at the Filene Center, the company performs re:CREATION, an intriguing collection of pieces. The “Symbiosis” duet is a masterclass in partnering and “Noctuary” uses billowing fabrics and ethereal imagery to create a mesmerizing dreamscape.

The Washington Ballet’s third production at the Filene Center is this summer! Their mixed repertoire performance contains George Balanchine’s Stravinsky Violin Concert—a “visual music” interplay between the orchestra and ballet dancers—and Murmuration by the Ballet’s new Artistic Director Edwaard Liang. Also included is a world premiere piece by Jennifer Archibald, a choreographer who often blends funk and street styles with ballet and contemporary dance.

Music in a Majestic Setting

Seth Avett of The Avett Brothers, a five-time Filene Center performer, sums up the experience of performing at Wolf Trap. He told WTOP, “We always refer to [Wolf Trap] as the Red Rocks of the East—the National Park, the natural beauty around, and the acoustic advantages are all very clear.”

“If you’ve been there, then you know. It’s just a beautiful space. It’s an inspiring space, which is helpful when you’re performing, to be inspired anew, to not just skate along on the inspiration that created the songs themselves, but to be inspired in the moment.”

Browse Wolf Trap’s calendar to see some of these returning artists and more this summer!