If you’re in Washington, D.C. during the two weeks bracketing the Fourth of July, you won’t want to miss the music, crafts, and food showcased at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Launched in 1967, the festival invites practitioners of folk traditions from across the country and around the world to the National Mall to demonstrate and discuss folk arts native to their regions. The festival is highly participatory–visitors are encouraged to dance, sing and interact with speakers–and has a loyal following among Washingtonians and tourists alike. More than one million people attend each year.
The festival is usually organized around a few regions or major themes. In 2009, for example, it offered programs on “Giving Voice: The Power of Words in African American Culture,” “Las Américas: Un mundo musical,” and “Wales Smithsonian Cymru.” Giving Voice, as its name suggests, included a variety of spoken performances—poetry, storytelling, comedy, theater, and radio. Las Américas gathered traditional musicians from across Latin America and the United States. Wales Smithsonian Cymru explored many aspects of traditional Welsh culture: music, building, language, cooking, weaving, woodcarving, pottery, and more.
Don’t miss the special concerts/dance parties offered at the end of each festival day; the Marketplace, inside the National Museum of the Native American Indian, where you can buy crafts and CDs by festival artisans; and the food concessions, which feature special dishes related to the festival’s themes.
The number and variety of programs offered in the course of one day at the festival can be dizzying. Visit www.festival.si.edu before you go and review the full schedule of events to plan your day (schedules are subject to change day-to-day). When you’re there, don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. Most of the festival participants are eager to talk about their folk traditions.
The 2016 Folklife Festival will take place Wednesday, June 29, through Monday, July 4, and Thursday, July 7, through Sunday, July 10. It will be located on the National Mall, between Fourth and Seventh streets, adjacent to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Admission to the Festival is free and hours are from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day, with special evening events beginning at 6:30 p.m.
This year the festival is going to be in front of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum, bringing more than 90 participants from the Basque country and more than 230 Basque Americans to the National Mall to share their culture with the public. They are also bringing nearly 70 musicians and culture bearers from California to showcase the diversity and rich musical traditions of California.
Some highlights include:
- A 26-foot long Basque ship and a 56-foot long fronton (handball court) on the Mall
- Performances by world famous musicians Kepa Junkera and John Santos
- Basque sports such as handball and stone lifting
- Basque language lessons and bertsolaritza (oral poetry contests)
- A Mixteco band and dance group from central California that keeps their Oaxacan community ties alive through music
Smithsonian Folklife Festival
Hours: 11 am to 5 pm, with special events taking place most evenings beginning at 6:30 p.m.
Parking: There is limited free, public, daylong parking available along Ohio Drive, SW, between the Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson Memorials. Metered parking on streets is restricted to two hours. You’ll find paid garages downtown, north of the Mall.
Metrorail: Blue and Orange Line to the Smithsonian stop or Green and Yellow Line to the Archives/Navy Memorial stop.