Wolf Trap Celebrates 50 Years in Style
October 1, 2021 @ 12:00pm
Sara Jaffe tells it like it is.
“Most galas in town are very stuffy. You’re eating corporate rubber chicken and two people dance.”
Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts‘ vice president, development is drawing a line in the sand between what many black tie affairs in the D.C. area are like, and what she and her team are doing differently.
“This is elevated in every way. What I love is it is a place where people can be themselves.”
We’re chatting in mid-September, 11 days before Wolf Trap’s 50th anniversary gala on Saturday, September 25 where the music venue raised over $2 million.
When I speak with Jaffe, it’s clear she and her colleagues are amped to throw a different kind of party. This year, they shed their black tie persona and invited patrons of the arts to celebrate five decades of Wolf Trap in a more unique way — especially in light of how Covid has shaped our lives and well-being over the 18 months.
“We were figuring out, ‘How do we celebrate Wolf Trap’s 50th anniversary and do so safely? What is our goal here?’ And really, Wolf Trap is all about community, music and being outdoors. We said, ‘Instead of doing our ball onstage where 1,000 people are packed together, which doesn’t sound safe, let’s celebrate the entire park. Let’s celebrate some new spaces we built during Covid. Let’s celebrate music and what Wolf Trap means to everyone, every day of the year.”
What Jaffe and her team created felt like the real-life set of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” although it was admittedly a refreshingly crisp fall evening. Every open-air pavilion and events space at Wolf Trap was lit up like a series of starry, magical tree houses, casting a glow across the national park’s space that felt both ethereal and glamorous.
From a charming cocktail hour complete with bubbly served from a vintage airstream to a sit-down dinner spread across multiple outdoor locations to distanced groups of seated guests at a private concert in the Filene Center with Grammy Award nominees The Avett Brothers, the projected 800 guests clad in eclectic attire offered ample people-watching opportunities from a distance that felt perfectly safe during the ongoing pandemic.
“It felt tone deaf to have a formal event right now,” Jaffe says. “We were so delighted because we wanted this Wolf Trap concert chic look and feel, and for people to wear whatever they feel best in when they come to a show. It’s going to feel like a really gorgeous, high-end seated dinner and reception and private concert with The Avett Brothers. It doesn’t get better than that or more American, too. We love them for many reasons, but really, their music embodies so much of what Wolf Trap is.”
Following dinner, guests enjoyed a nearly two-hour set from the folk rock band, before which Wolf Trap President and CEO Arvind Manocha, the gala co-chairs, and Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and Virginia First Lady Pam Northam gave opening remarks. The audience also learned the very exciting news that the gala marked the start of the foundation’s Next Chapter fundraising initiative, aiming to raise $50 million in honor of Wolf Trap’s 50 years of live music. As of the night of the gala, Wolf Trap had raised $35 million.
What followed was a high-energy set that included a fantastic cover of Harry Belafonte’s “Jump in the Line,” an insanely captivating solo performance from fiddle player Tania Elizabeth, and some of the band’s biggest hits like “I And Love And You.” I may or may not have gotten choked up listening to Scott Avett sing “Murder in the City” solo, which was beautiful it in its rawness.
Post-show, we were invited to try an assortment of desserts and sweet treats including the buzzworthy little green apples before stepping onto a dance floor straight out of Studio 54.
“It will have a different feel where you can exhale, relax, sit back and just feel like you’re [having] an experience where the organization really cares about you,” Jaffe adds. “Your experience and the mission is so tied into every piece of the event.”
Her predictions couldn’t have been more spot on. From stem to stern, the foundation’s 50th anniversary celebration felt like a homecoming of sorts — a return to the sense of community we so desperately need and a resounding support for the arts that gives the DMV its sterling reputation.
Learn more about what Wolf Trap has in store for the upcoming season at The Barns, which is currently celebrating its 40th anniversary, in our recent coverage and on the Wolf Trap website. Check out photos from the 2021 gala here.
Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts: 1645 Trap Rd. Vienna, VA; 703-255-1800; wolftrap.org // @wolf_trap
Enjoy this piece? Consider becoming a member for access to our premium digital content. Support local journalism and start your membership today.