Folklife and Style: Smithsonian Folklife Festival Highlights

June 29, 2011


It’s summer, and even the Smithsonian wants to get outside. We’ve rounded up our favorite offerings at this year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival — and dreamed up programs we’d like to see next year.

» National Mall between 7th and 14th streets; Thu. through Mon., and July 7 through July 11, 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; free; Festival.si.edu.

THE PEACE CORPS: 50 YEARS OF PROMOTING WORLD PEACE AND FRIENDSHIP
The Peace Corps turns 50 this year, which means the first optimistic kids who signed up to solve the world’s problems are now cranky conservatives in their 70s. But, seriously, we love anyone who devotes a few years of their life to making the world a better place. “The Peace Corps: 50 Years of Promoting World Peace and Friendship” will reunite former volunteers who served together and showcase the cultures of countries where volunteers have been stationed: Ghanaian women will make traditional cosmetics from shea butter, and people from the Republic of Georgia will demonstrate winemaking. It’s not all beauty and booze, though — you’ll also learn how volunteers built schools in Guatemala out of plastic bottles and introduced pedal-powered cell phone chargers in Zambia.


THE RALPH RINZLER MEMORIAL CONCERT: ELIZABETH MITCHELL
It’s almost a public service when indie rock bands procreate, because rockers’ having kids often leads to better kids’ music also coming into the world. Elizabeth Mitchell, of New York dreampop band Ida, has been recording children’s music since 1998, with help from her husband, Daniel Littleton, and friends such as Levon Helm (former drummer for ’70s supergroup the Band) and Jon Langford (of ’70s British punk band the Mekons). Mitchell had a special guest star on her latest record, 2010′s “Sunny Day”: Two songs were written by her 9-year-old daughter, Storey. This annual concert series pays tribute to Smithsonian Folklife Festival co-founder Ralph Rinzler, who died in 1994.

» July 9, 5:30 p.m., on the World Stage, National Mall between 7th and 14th streets.

COLOMBIA: THE NATURE OF CULTURE
This year, Folklife will also focus on Colombia, not to be confused with the District of Columbia. “Colombia: The Nature of Culture” focuses on the South American country’s variety, highlighting the country’s six different ecosystems — which include highlands, plains and rain forests — and its three major cities. There will be crafts, canoe-building demonstrations and traditional foods on offer, made with an outdoor oven built just for the fest. There will also be dancing and plenty of coffeecoffeecoffee to keep you going for the events ahead.

RHYTHM AND BLUES: TELL IT LIKE IT IS
From Mississippi bluesman Robert Johnson’s legendary deal with the devil back in the
1930s to the modern-day pop stylings of Usher, R&B has a long and storied history. In partnership with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Folklife Festival presents a lineup of performances by and discussions with artists who have shaped R&B history. Catch a set by pianist Nat Dove — who played with Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton — and celebrate love with ’60s girl group the Dixie Cups, right, famous for their 1964 hit, “Chapel of Love.” Don’t miss legendary trombonist Fred Wesley — who played with James Brown and with Parliament-Funkadelic — and his band the New JBs. Feel like dancing? The D.C.-based National Hand Dance Association will demonstrate this distinctly D.C. style of R&B dance.

MAYBE NEXT YEAR
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival goes above and beyond to bring the arts and culture of far-flung lands to our nation’s backyard. Here are some themes we’d like to see explored at future fests.

» Cheesy Cuisines of The Middle Midwest
Every country has its regional specialties, but when it comes to American cooking, flyover country is always overlooked. No more! We want to celebrate the Midwestern reliance on cream-based soups, and casseroles topped with potato chips.

» Edible Rodents Of South America and The American South
From squirrels to guinea pigs to nutria, we celebrate traditional furry rural delicacies that D.C. denizens should reconsider.

» Great Accents Of Boston, Baltimore and Brooklyn
This examination of our phonetic heritage begins in Boston, where nevah a hahd “r” is heard, and continues through Balmur, Maryland’s most bustling port city. The linguistic tour finishes up in Brooklyn, where Joey Tribbiani still wants to know, “How YOU doin’?”

Photos courtesy of the Peace Corps. and Smithsonian
Written by Kristen Page-Kirby, Fiona Zublin and Shauna Miller (Express)

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Marc Silver · June 29, 2011