During a typical year, late summer and early fall would see any number of stages at Wolf Trap bustling and busy – a plethora of plays, concerts, dances and more shared with audiences in real time. But with many venues completely shuttered, the Vienna, Virginia-based nonprofit is still bringing music to the public and musicians to their sprawling property – safely and socially distant, of course – for patrons near and far to enjoy online.
“As a nonprofit, we have always been set up to be a public resource,” says Arvind Manocha, Wolf Trap’s president and CEO. “Our biggest pivot has really been in thinking, ‘How do we continue to be a resource to the community?’ Everything we do now, even if we can’t do it in person, is still evaluated through the lens of, ‘What will benefit the community?’ It’s about providing art, education or resources for parents who have children at home. That continues to be our guiding light.”
The resources Wolf Trap now offers online free to all can be separated into three main categories that also reflect the programming you’d see from the park during a summer not turned inside out by a pandemic. Field Trip Fridays are available weekly to students, parents and teachers, providing educational resources. Their opera company was able to create a bubble similar to that of professional sports leagues, allowing them to be one of the only operas in the nation meeting in person this summer.
Wolf Trap’s Park Pop-Ups round out the nonprofit’s robust programming. The performances, created to combat the conditions created by 2020 and bring music to the people, are filmed onsite by artists in the surrounding D.C. area and then become available online.
“Our venue is owned by all of us, and by all of America as a national park,” Manocha says. “I didn’t want a whole year to go by with no music or art made on that property.”
Due to practical considerations, Manocha decided to focus on local bands that “we know and love, and in many cases, have been working with Wolf Trap for a while now.”
One such band you’d normally find on one of Wolf Trap’s stages is the locally based indie folk outfit Eddie From Ohio. When the venue reached out to ask if they’d like to participate in the Park Pop-Ups, guitarist Robbie Schaefer and the rest of the band thought it would be a great opportunity to play together for the first time since January and work with Wolf Trap. The band got together on a hot summer day to film their concert, now available to stream on Wolf Trap’s website.
“It was typical of Wolf Trap: well-organized with people who really knew their stuff and were well coordinated with one another,” Schaefer says. “The best part was the opportunity to get together as a band and perform as we have done for almost 30 years, and to do it at a place that’s as familiar to us as Wolf Trap. At a time when musicians are not performing, and if we do get to perform it’s mostly virtual, this just felt a little bit more human and a little bit more alive. We’re really grateful for that opportunity.”
As with any season at Wolf Trap, the shows available to stream are representative of a whole host of musicians, genres and crafts. In addition to Eddie From Ohio, you’ll find performances by the Natyabhoomi School of Dance, the U.S. Marine Band’s Free Country Acoustic Quartet, and even Wolf Trap’s own aforementioned opera company with videos known as Opera Untrapped.
“You’ll find Americana, jazz, Latin, the Marine Band, traditional Indian dance with two dancers – it’s a very broad spectrum,” Manocha says. “When people think about Wolf Trap, they often think, ‘Well, there’s a little bit of everything there.’ That was important for us to continue.”
Much like Schaefer is grateful for the opportunity to participate in Park Pop-Ups, Manocha feels the same toward the performers and others who have made this endeavor possible. And while both parties are also grateful the World Wide Web has made their respective efforts to share their art with the public even more accessible than before, they look forward to a future that includes in-person performances, whenever that may be. Wolf Trap is currently planning spring shows at The Barns and a huge celebration to honor the venue’s 50th birthday.
“One thing I think we’ve all learned in the business is how to be very, very flexible and work on very short timelines. Everyone is being kind to each other and saying, ‘We don’t know the answer, so all we can do is be good to each other,’ and that means being very flexible with each other. I think artists and venues together are going in with eyes wide open because we have to plan, [and] be optimistic and ready in case things get better.”
No matter what Wolf Trap and the world at large looks like next summer, it will be known that true to the park’s wishes, there was indeed music there this year. And while surely not the same as the real thing, seeing a familiar setting and hearing a familiar voice through a Park Pop-Up video is a testament to the resilience of venues, artists and every person who made such a project happen.
“We do what we can with what we have for now,” Schaefer concludes. “We’ll always look back on this time as being very memorable and difficult – and probably recognize that we were dealing with a lot of grief we didn’t even realize we were carrying back then, but that we hopefully managed to navigate.”
To enjoy a Park Pop-Up or other virtual experience from Wolf Trap and many artists in the meantime, visit www.wolftrap.org/sessions. Follow Wolf Trap on Twitter and Instagram @wolf_trap for the latest from the park. Learn more about Eddie From Ohio at www.eddiefromohio.com.