Smithsonian Kicks Off Annual Folklife Festival

The 50th annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival kicks off in D.C. on June 29. (JB Weilepp/festival.si.edu)
The 50th annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival kicks off in D.C. on June 29. (JB Weilepp/festival.si.edu)

The first day of the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival kicked off Thursday on the National Mall in D.C. with a lively evening of dance parties, circus stories and live performances.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, this year’s festival has a circus theme, with activities ranging from making circus puppets to storytime sessions with the UniverSoul Circus Clowns.

The day’s events concluded with a concert and dance party memorializing late D.C. folk musician Ralph Rinzler. Featured artists included BeauSoleil Quartet avec Michael Doucet and Los Texmaniacs.

On a short visit to the nation’s capital, Clifton Williams, 63, and his wife relaxed on the mall lawn, enjoying the evening concert after stumbling upon the festival while visiting nearby attractions. Enchanted by the good tunes and good weather, the event proved to be a welcome addition to their vacation.

“They have a bit of cajun music playing in the background and I love it,” Williams said. “The weather is absolutely wonderful to be out in today. Just the atmosphere. It’s a safe, pleasant environment.”

For Dennis Saunders, a festival staff member, such evenings remind him of the rich culture that D.C. has to offer.

“You get to meet people from other cultures and states here,” he said. “The world comes to you here in D.C. You don’t have to travel, it comes right here every year.”

Saunders, who has worked as a sound technician at the festival for 25 years, said each year brings new excitement and experiences to the city.

The festival is a tradition for many who look forward to new performers and activities.

Esther Oliver, a native of Fort Washington, was surprised to hear about the circus theme for this year but said she is enjoying the festival so far.

“This is my seventh year coming out to the festival and there’s always something new I get into each year,” Oliver said. “My grandkids love it and I get to hang out on the lawn and enjoy the music and the people. It’s always great.”

The festival runs from June 29 – July 4 and July 6-9. Featured activities include circus storytime sessions, juggling classes, beatboxing demonstrations, and performances by the Chuck Brown Band and the UniverSoul Circus. The events will be held in different locations on the mall.

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