There is an abundance of musical talent in Northern Virginia, and summertime provides an opportunity to enjoy live performances absolutely free! In Fairfax County, you can enjoy live, and professional, music performances almost every evening from mid-June to late August at a variety of park venues. Log in to www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/performances for a complete schedule of concert programs. My favorite, of course, is Spotlight by Starlight, the thrice-weekly concert series at Mason District Park (6621 Columbia Pike in Annandale) that has been held since 1985.
Nestled in the woods above the playing fields, the Newton Edwards Amphitheater is the best venue in the county. The broad stage can accommodate bands and orchestras of nearly 60 people, or a solo singer. A cantilevered roof covers about two-thirds of the stage, but the performers can enjoy the fading summer sky along with the audience. That roof has come in handy a few times when rain interfered after a concert began. Performers moved to the back or side of the stage, concert-goers moved under the roof, and the show went on, almost an intimate coffee house scene.
Newton Edwards was a member of the Fairfax County Park Authority, who was instrumental in obtaining the former pony farm that now is Mason District Park, in 1977. The master plan for the park included a performing space, but the amphitheater was not constructed until 1984. The structure was dedicated on September 29, 1984, during the then-annual Mason District Park Festival. Mr. Edwards was quite ill, but was able to attend the dedication of the amphitheater named for him. Sadly, he passed away a few months later and was never able to enjoy a concert on that stage.
The original amphitheater was struck by lightning in October 2004, and burned to the ground. The sun was just rising when I visited the site, which still had pockets of smoldering timbers, and firefighters on site. It’s been nearly 20 years, but I still remember tearing up over the empty space and muddy ground. Several trees and audience seating benches were destroyed, but the Park Authority still had the original architectural plans, and a new amphitheater was constructed in record time, expanding the roof forward by a couple of feet, and creating better backstage facilities. The fire also provided an opportunity to build a permanent sound booth and a ramped handicapped seating area. The 2005 concert season started only a week late, but with great fanfare as the “new” amphitheater that rose from the ashes was re-dedicated to Mr. Edwards. I treasure the shadow box presented to me by the Park Authority – a photo of the burned-out stage, a piece of charred lumber, a gold ribbon from the ribbon-cutting, and a miniature blueprint.
The Newton Edwards Amphitheater is the best venue in the county; performers always comment about the acoustics and the setting. Although the pandemic caused cancellation of the 2020 season, concerts and audiences have rebounded. We’ve already hosted Tom Paxton, the Army Blues, and the Johnny Artis Band, but still on the schedule are the Navy Band Commodores (July 28), the Washington Balalaika Orchestra (August 6), and John McCutcheon (August 18), and a host of others. Concerts are held on Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings at 7:30. Performances last about an hour (a little more with encores). Free parking is available on site, you can bring your pets on a leash, bring a picnic dinner, and cushion for the wooden bench seating. Many people bring lawn chairs, too. Bring the family, bring a date, bring a visitor, and support the arts. It’s the best deal in the county, and one of the best things we do as a community.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.