The Smithsonian Folklife Festival returns to the National Mall this weekend, but don’t expect this cultural tradition to achieve the same epic proportions this year that it has in the past.
The festival has brought a lot to D.C. in its 52 years, from live demonstrations of Catalan human towers to authentic Hungarian goulash served in Styrofoam containers to artisans demonstrating how to weave rugs, make pottery and construct fish traps.
The festival is traditionally held the 10 hottest days of the year in D.C. — usually around 4th of July — when the heat coming off the pavement on Pennsylvania Avenue is powerful enough to create a mirage of Democrats controlling the Senate.
In 2015, the festival was relegated to a corner of the Mall near the American Indian Museum and featured a single country — Peru — because the rest of the Mall was undergoing restoration.
This year, the festival has shrunk to two days — Saturday and Sunday, June 29 and 30.
The official word from the Smithsonian is that putting on the festival is expensive, money trickles down slowly from the government and it was impossible to overcome the blow dealt by the shutdown in time to put on a festival of typical scale this year.
But the Smithsonian says they will be back in full swing next year, featuring Brazil, Benin and the Baltics — three B’s on different continents!
But let’s hand it to festival organizers for pulling this one out of (ahem) the air by throwing together a show about the social power of music. According to festival director Sabrina Lynn Motley, “Performances and activities will explore music’s capacity to promote understanding, transcend differences and encourage social cohesion.”
The festival starts at noon Saturday on Freer Plaza in front of the Freer Gallery of Art with demonstrations by the D.C. Public Library Punk and Go-Go Archives, the Anacostia Community Museum, the Mayor’s Office on African-American Affairs, the National Park Service, #DontMuteDC, the DC Bluegrass Union Jam and more. A concert follows from 5 to 10 p.m. on the main stage on 12th Street between Jefferson and Madison drives, featuring:
- Go-Go Performance: The Royal Pocket Tour
- The Fierce Urgency of Now: Modern Troubadours, Poets, and Wordsmiths
- Ruby Ibarra
- Quetzal ft. Alice Bag and La Marisoul
- Kokayi ft. Jenna Camille
The festival picks back up Sunday at 10:30 a.m. with performances by local artists honoring the late Pete Seeger. Following will be workshops on drum circles, zine making, musical innovations and maracas making. The festival wraps up at 6:30.
Food trucks will be on hand; all activities a short walk from the Smithsonian Metro station, access to the Orange, Blue and Silver lines.