Everyone has traditions. You may have a family tradition where you play charades at every holiday, or burn the turkey every Thanksgiving. But have you ever thought about getting up on a stage and playing the spike fiddle or banging on the steel drums? Or how about cooking with goat meat for a change? I didn’t even know what a spike fiddle was until I attended the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival. We all have customs that may even go back to our international ancestor’s practices that we love and honor. For the next few days we have the chance to gain hands-on insight to some very unique national and international cultural traditions and ethnicities at the Folklife Festival.
Held at the National Mall, right off the Smithsonian Metro, the festival has a collection of outdoor tents, each which holds exhibits with something educational and enriching to share. Presented at each tent are variations of food, art, performances, public speakers and more, free of charge to all guests. The exhibits are organized by three different categories of presentations honoring certain aspects of the festival.
“Creativity and Crisis” is a collection of exhibits presented to honor the AIDS memorial quilt. You can make contributions to the quilt by making your own panel at the festival. Even if you aren’t personally affected by the AIDS/HIV virus, the quilt is an inspiring project to be a part of, and is a historical piece of artwork in the community.
The “Citified” section represents and honors those with Southern Heritage who migrated up north to Washington D.C. They celebrate through performances at various stages throughout the festival. These are authentic musical groups such as the East of the River Boys and Girls Steelband which was a band originally created as a prevention program for at-risk youth, and has turned into an outlet for success for many young adults. They, along with many other performances, can be found at the Panarama Room tent at different times each day.
There will also be additional tents that are labeled with universities, part of the “Campus and Community” portion of the festival. Each university has something unique to share, some including exotic plants, agriculture, fossils, quilting, and other projects. The schools are invited because they are a part of the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities which have a historical significance of being funded for research by the Morrill Act during the Civil War. Ultimately, their purpose is to maintain the land-grant tradition by continuing research in their specified fields, and presenting their knowledge at the Folkelife Festival.
Be sure to check out the “Test Kitchen” exhibit which holds hourly presentations of diverse food selections such as cooking with goat meat, crop cooking, and cooking with honey. Don’t miss “Douglass Hall’s” quilting workshop and arts activities, as well as “Kids Create” for the younger ones which includes crafting mini-quilts and doll making. Definitely worth checking out is the “Giving Voice” stage which includes influential speakers who have had experience with AIDS/HIV and are willing to open up and talk about their unique stories with Folklife Festival guests. Last, make sure you take a look around the marketplace where tons of unique and authentic items such as purses, clothing, jewelry, and homemade trinkets are sold.
In addition to the daily performances, exhibits, and speakers presented from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, there are some special events going on after 5 p.m.. The Morrill Performing Arts Center featured Azerbaijani Mugham music where a talented musician improvises on the spike fiddle. They will be back at 6 p.m. on July 5th.
The festival was closed June 30th due to damage from the recent thunderstorm but reopened on July 1st and plans to be on regular scheduling from July 4th to July 8th. Make sure to bring and drink plenty of water. There are water stands at the festival but bring your own thermos since they run out of cups fast.
Prior to going, visit the Folklife Festival website for a schedule of events. You can also get brochures with a schedule included at the information stands when you arrive. Enjoy your culturally diverse entertainment!