All Rise for Ron Swanson

Nick Offerman, the comic actor best known as the myopic libertarian dummy Ron Swanson from “Parks & Rec,” is bringing his new one-man show to the Kennedy Center for one night only, and it looks like he’s living up to his character’s famous advice to “never half-ass two things; whole-ass one thing.”

All Rise” is billed as “an evening of deliberative talking and light dance that will compel you to chuckle,” and according to early reviews, it’s all that and more. Offerman does some singing, some dancing, some joke-telling and some political commentary.

Lucky for us, he whole-asses everything, exuding his signature charm while performing crowd favorites (yes, he plays “5000 Candles in the Wind”) and dropping hilarious non sequiturs like, “So, have you guys heard about guns?” (Yes, yes I have.)

Offerman’s well-honed schtick is that of the self-important dunce who’s too self-absorbed to realize everyone’s laughing at him. In that sense, he’s more the American heir to Ricky Gervais’ David Brent than the dopey Steve Carell ever was.

It’s a male archetype we all know well, whether from awkward Thanksgiving dinners, horrible entry-level retail jobs or newspaper headlines. Is our fascination with this figure due to the fact that we’re waiting for them to be felled by our derision, or that we’re jealous of how they’re able to soldier on obliviously, shrugging off consequences along with insults?

Offerman’s talent isn’t so much how well he’s able to depict this regressive male narcissist, but how he’s able to convey, through a twinkle of the eye, that, yes, you’re right, and he agrees with you.

“All Rise,” 7-9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 1, Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW; tickets, $39-$69

Lend Your Ears to Jay Som

Jay Som, the Filipino-American one-woman-band from California, describes her music as “headphone music,” which sort of describes all music in 2019 just by default, but still. The lush, layered compositions she painstakingly creates in her bedroom (literally) certainly lend themselves to close, solitary listening; you miss two-thirds of the music if you play it on your laptop or car speakers. But it’s headphone music in another sense, too.

People today listen to their headphones (or, yeah, Airpods or earbuds) everywhere, all the time, as a sort of counterweight to the boredom of waiting in line, the rudeness of the typical commute, the drudgery of the treadmill at the gym. So music meant as a palliative has to fulfill certain requirements.

One, it has to be emotionally evocative, to counteract the desolation it’s being deployed against. Two, it has to be short and catchy, to hold your attention. And just as a matter of practicality, it should be sonically dense, so you get a nice wall of sound/white noise effect to blot out the guy talking on his phone next to you at the pharmacy, the woman coughing on the back of your neck on the bus, etc.

Jay Som’s music fulfills all these requirements in spades. If it sounds that life-changing on your earbuds, imagine how good it’ll sound blasting out of the world-class sound system at the Rock & Roll Hotel.

Jay Som, 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 30, Rock & Roll Hotel, 1353 H Street NE,  $18.


Scary Stuff, eh Kids?

No offense to Laurel, MD, but there aren’t a whole lot of reasons to make the drive out there, unless you’re into thrifting or historic Arby’s signs. But for a few weeks around Halloween, Laurel is home to what is arguably the DMV’s best haunted house.

Laurel’s House of Horror has been doing their thing in an abandoned movie theater since 2014, and it’s one of the only haunted houses in the area that’s guaranteed to make you go bug-eyed and stupid.

They do the evil clown thing, the hair-over-her-face-Japanese-girl thing, the sneak-up-behind-you-and-scream thing. All clichés, but a welcome sort of cliché, if only because they still make your adrenalin levels redline.

No matter how cynical and tough you think you are, you’ll scream, you’ll jump, you’ll squeeze your partner’s hand so hard they’ll hiss at you to let go, and you’ll be immensely relieved — euphoric, even — when you finally get to the end of the 30-minute circuit.

Where else can you get that kind of jolt for only $25? It’s the last weekend before Halloween, so act now … if you dare.

Laurel’s House of Horror, 935 Fairlawn Ave, Laurel, MD, through Nov. 2, $25-40

Is it Arthritis? Stiff Little Fingers at Black Cat

Stiff Little Fingers is probably the most important punk band you’ve never heard of, unless you have heard of them, in which case I apologize for making unkind assumptions. (Be honest, though – you’ve never heard of them.)

Their debut album, Inflammable Material, came out in 1977, which was a monumental year in punk history; other bands who debuted that year include the Sex Pistols, the Damned, Wire, Suicide and the Clash.

Stiff Little Fingers has actually been described as “the Irish Clash,” a flattering comparison that was probably never actually that accurate. The Clash gestated in the London music scene, whereas SLF was formed in Belfast during the Troubles — no track on the Clash’s debut approaches the ferocity of SLF’s “Here We Are Nowhere” or “Alternative Ulster.”

You could also argue that SLF has been the more influential band; no one’s yet produced anything like “Sandinista,” or “Combat Rock,” while every wave of punk revival since ’77 has had a handful of SLF acolytes.

Yes, the band is getting up there in years (in punk years, they’re about 350 years old), and yes, these reunion tours can be depressing affairs, not only because the band’s so old, but because the audience, i.e. you, is too. But maybe watching some elder statesman snarl and strut for an hour will inspire you to dig deep within yourself and dredge up the last of your adolescent defiance.

“After seeing Stiff Little Fingers in concert,” you’ll type on your Blackberry on the Uber ride home, “I’ve decided that you should take this job and shove it, effective immediately.” (“Please disregard, I was hacked!” you’ll email the next morning after you sober up.)

Stiff Little Fingers, 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 23, the Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW; tickets $25-$30


Take a Peek at Pico Iyer Saturday at Politics & Prose

In college, I took a course in semiotics, mostly because it sounded easy. (It wasn’t.)

I struggled with the readings, which were either incomprehensible or boring. But the professor, a Ph.D. candidate with an anarchic streak, said that any student who, uh, went to the bathroom in the main atrium of one of the banks downtown, during business hours, would get an automatic A. Facing a possible F, I seriously considered it, even going so far as to scout one of the bank lobbies, trying to figure out how to make a getaway before the security guard got to me.

Then we started reading Pico Iyer, whose visionary writings on travel and globalization (before globalization was even a term) are infused with the kind of insight that shifts your worldview on contact. I devoured his books, wrote my final paper on them, salvaged a B, and avoided the embarrassment of being arrested with my pants around my ankles.

Born in England, and raised in California and the U.K., Iyer has taught at Harvard, traveled from North Korea to Paraguay, and now lives in Japan. In the early ’90s, he was already writing about “a world that is itself increasingly small and increasingly mongrel.” If he felt like that then, what in God’s name could he possibly think about the internet and social media?

Ask him Saturday night at Politics and Prose, where he’ll discuss his new book, “A Beginner’s Guide to Japan: Observations and Provocations.”

Pico Iyer, Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave NW, 6-7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19. Free.

See Pres. Bush Paintings on Exhibit at Reach

During the recent Ellen/Dubya online melodrama, a meme made the rounds depicting a futuristic sci-fi utopia, complete with flying cars and transparent spiral skyscrapers, with the text, “If That Shoe Had Hit Bush.”

The reference is to the December 2008 incident when an Iraqi man threw his shoe at President George W. Bush during a press conference. (Throwing your shoe at someone is a grave insult in Arab culture.) The meme can be read as either pure absurdism, or as a sly commentary on the ultimate futility of such gestures, and the raw emotion that motivates them.

You could say something similar about Bush’s paintings, on display at the Kennedy Center.

What makes these straightforward, somewhat bland, portraits interesting is that they were done by someone who was once the most powerful man in the world. The portraits are of 98 wounded military veterans, a group that Bush has done much for through his Bush Institute Military Service Initiative.

No matter your political inclinations, you can appreciate these paintings, as objects of sincerity or reconsideration.

Kennedy Center REACH, Studio K, 2700 F St. NW; through Nov. 15; Free.

Get to All Things Go This Weekend

The continuing social relevance of music festivals is that they’re a one-stop shop for everything that people who go to music festivals are into: food, weed and — most importantly — Instagrammable backdrops. Oh, and music. The organizers of the All Things Go Fall Classic — happening this week at Union Market— clearly understand this.

In past years, the festival has had slow-motion photo booths, spray paint walls and virtual reality booths, so who knows what they’ll dream up for this weekend? At the very least, the other festivalgoers will begrudgingly hold you up during your requisite crowd-surfing selfie, if only because they’re trying to surreptitiously slide your wallet out of your pocket.

For music, the festival offers two days of lineups that start at 12:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and conclude at midnight, or whenever each night’s headliners (Chvrches on Saturday, Melanie Martinez on Sunday) feel like wrapping things up, or when the cops shut them down, whichever comes first.

Festivalgoers can also take in daytime performances by everyone from Oakland-based Chinese-American bedroom pop artist mxmtoon, to “Whorey Heart” R&B crooner TeaMarrr, to local post-punk minimalist Sneaks.

On the food front, there’s Shake Shack, Nando’s, Takorean, Arepa Zone and many more, so make sure you skip breakfast.

And on the weed front, there’ll be about 35,000 dudes with fanny packs trying to make eye contact with you every time you look away from your phone. Don’t be afraid to haggle — even weed dealers are subject to the law of supply and demand!

All Things Go Fall Classic, Union Market, 1309 5th St. NE, 12:30 p.m. to midnight Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 12 and 13; tickets, $70-$249, one- and two-day passes available, general admission + VIP (includes private lounge, snacks, dedicated bar, close-up viewing area and more)

Get Thee to the Renaissance Festival!

If you’ve never been to a Renaissance Festival — that’s right, other states besides Maryland have them — you should go, at least once. I went twice, which may have been a mistake, but we all know people who go every year. Heck, some of us know people who go every weekend of every festival.

These people are the reason other people go to the fest — to gawk at them. Sure, we enjoy mead and turkey legs and watching grown men ride at each other on horses at top speed wielding sharp objects, but that’s not why we go. We go to gape at people who own more than one Renaissance costume to wear to the festival. We go to see boobs thrust up to a height seen nowhere else in public, to see men in kilts and all genders adorned in outfits that allow fleshy nuggets that rarely see the light of day to pooch out of unexpected openings.

And they haven’t even started drinking yet.

Fully clothed, I started with a Fi-Fi, which was a combination of mead, cider and raspberry wine. As I watched the wench empty bottle after bottle into my big plastic cup, I was taken back to the iconic Steinbeck novel, Cannery Row, in which the bartender empties all the drinks patrons don’t finish into a bottle he saves for a group of winos he feels empathy for.

It was tasty!

I was lucky to get the drink so quickly and easily, as this day, full of bright sunshine and blue skies and an uncommonly comfortable 58 degrees, brought huge crowds. People packed the dusty streets, waiting their turn to ride the elephant (wait, I thought we freed the elephants!), throw a hatchet or climb a rock wall, which I don’t think is something they did during the Renaissance, but whatever.

With a plethora of carnival games such as drench-a-wench and darts, for a minute, you wonder if you’ve wandered into the county fair by accident. But then you see a guy dressed from head to toe in armor and a plague mask, and you remember where you are.

By the way, if a corset, bustier or chastity belt is not part of your regular wardrobe (and make no mistake, it is for a lot of these Renn enthusiasts), the fair will rent you a costume for the day.

Dozens of shops sell all types of crafts and clothing, so if you love souvenirs you have come to the right place. Expect lots of leather and metalwork, garlands, ribbons, dragons and fairies.

A big draw at the Renn Fest is the shows, specifically the jousting tournaments. The arena also is home to archery and raptor demonstrations. Other stages throughout the fairgrounds showcase actors, comics, magicians, musicians and more. Performers stroll throughout the fairgrounds juggling, performing hoop tricks and otherwise entertaining fairgoers.

While the fest is famous for the turkey legs, soup in a bread bowl, mugs of mead and steak on a stake, take heart if you’re fussy: They also have chicken nuggets and fries (the condiment bottle is labeled “ye olde ketchup”).

A few tips if you’ve never been:

  • It’s dusty. Your shoes and clothes will get dirty.
  • There’s a lot of walking and the ground is uneven and hilly in many places.
  • The toilets are port-a-potties.
  • It kinda sucks in the rain, but it’s crowded when the weather is nice. Early in the season can be excruciatingly hot.
  • If you bring your kids and let them play games and buy them souvenirs and food, the day is probably going to run you about $200.
  • Parking is in an open field. There are no markers. When you go back to your car, it will be one of thousands surrounded by identical trees. Make use of your panic button.

Maryland Renaissance Festival, 1821 Crownsville Road, Annapolis, MD; open weekends only through Oct. 20, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; adult tickets $27, special prices for seniors, children, groups and multi-day passes.


Indulge at the Unite the District Fest

The feeding frenzy at the Unite the District Fest is sold out for tonight, but take heart, you can still get tickets for tomorrow.

With all you can eat and drink for a mere $35, this party proves to be an even better deal than the all-you-can-eat-seats at baseball stadiums, where for the same price you’re limited to ballpark food (hot dogs, popcorn, peanuts, and no alcohol).

More than 20 local restaurants and 10 breweries are participating in Unite the District, held on D.C. United’s Audi Field, so you get upscale food. Plus, alcohol is included!

What kind of food, you ask? Participating restaurants and breweries include:

  •       3 Stars Brewing
  •       ANXO Cidery
  •       Bardo Brewing
  •       Beefsteak
  •       Bluejacket
  •       Captain Cookie
  •       Captain Morgan
  •       Chaia Tacos
  •       Chicken + Whiskey
  •       Chloe
  •       Crimson
  •       DCity Smokehouse
  •       Denizens Brewing Co.
  •       Duvel
  •       Founding Spirits
  •       Fruitive
  •       Furlough Cheesecake
  •       KIND
  •       La Vie
  •       Lagunitas
  •       Peruvian Brothers
  •       Pinstripes
  •       Provision 14
  •       Public Bar Live
  •       RASA
  •       Right Proper
  •       Salt Line
  •       Sauf Haus
  •       Tarara Winery
  •       Terrapin Brewing
  •       The Brighton
  •       The Queen Vic
  •       Valor Brewpub
  •       Whaley’s
  •       Willie’s BBQ

 Not all these breweries and restaurants will be at the fest both days — check the website if you have a favorite you don’t want to miss.

Unite the District is not just a gastronomical fest — it also includes an art gallery, cooking demos and live music. Dance to the rock and hip-hop rhythm of local favorite Black Alley on Friday, and on Saturday, enjoy the popular ’90s cover band White Ford Bronco.

Unite the District Fest, 7-10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 4 (21+ only) & 2-5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5 ($20 for ages 3-17)