A million people are expected to traverse the National Mall during the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which kicked off Wednesday and runs until July 6. With around 60 to 80 discrete events per day, plus all-day craft demos and food sales, the lineup can be overwhelming. If you want to do, say, five things this Friday, you have roughly 190 million possible activity combinations. We picked a few highlights from five categories, so now you have only about 6,000 options. Good luck! Don’t forget sunscreen!
National Mall, between Seventh and 14th streets NW; 11:30 a.m., Wed.-Sun., through July 6; 202-633-1000, festival.si.edu. (Smithsonian)
Each day of Folklife closes with the universal language: music. Here are five of the free concerts you shouldn’t miss.
Thursday: Sounds of the Southwestern Mountains
Last year, the Dimen Dong Folk Chorus of Southwest China sent youth performers to Folklife for a preview of 2014. This year, they return with songs inspired by nature, in which singers mimic the sounds of birds, insects and streams. Also on the bill: the Miao Music and Dance Group, which uses the lusheng bamboo mouth organ.
Moonrise Pavilion, 6-8 p.m.
Friday: Smithsonian Folkways Tribute to Pete Seeger, Citizen Artist
Though it doesn’t quite represent China or Kenya, it’s still worth catching this tribute to Pete Seeger, who died in January. With a guest list that includes Radmilla Cody, Anthony Seeger, Tony Trischka, Quetzal, Luci Murphy, and other performers from this year’s festival, the concert aims to capture the spirit of Seeger’s music and activism.
Ngoma Stage, 6:30-8 p.m.
Saturday: Taarab Classics and Pwani
Grooves from the Coast Kenya’s coastal region takes center stage in this showcase of the country’s bustling, beachside music scene. Performers include taarab-pop singer Nyota Ndogo, Afro-fusion folkie Idd Aziz and the coastal grooves of Mr. Bado, who melds Mwanzele, Taarab and Chakacha styles.
Ngoma Stage, 6-8 p.m.
Sunday: Crossroads China
American bluegrass musician Abigail Washburn, who tries to bridge U.S.-China relations using her banjo, performs her mix of Americana and Chinese folk music. As part of Diaspora Day, she’ll share the stage with The Shanghai Restoration Project, an electronic group that melds traditional Chinese instruments with hip-hop beats and R&B-style vocals.
Moonrise Pavilion, 6-8 p.m.
July 5: Benga Night
For the final night of concerts, celebrate the syncopated sounds of Benga music, a genre that grew out of Kenya between the late 1940s and early 1960s. Artists Bosco Mulwa, Winyo and Kenge Kenge will showcase the genre’s fast-paced, finger-picked guitar techniques.
Ngoma Stage, 6-8 p.m.
Tegla Loroupe was the first African woman to win the New York City Marathon, and leveraged her prominence to promote peace among warring tribes. Henry Wanyoike lost 95 percent of his eyesight, but went on to compete in races around the world with the help of his track guide Joseph Kibunja. All three athletes will share their stories during the festival in a series of 45-minute sessions called “The Long Distance Runner.” To get to know them even better, lace up your sneakers and meet them for a family-friendly fun run. They’ll start each morning at 10:30 a.m. on the gravel walkway outside the gate of the Kenya Mambo Poa program. (Where they go will depend on the group’s abilities.)
Don’t come hungry for funnel cake and corn dogs. In keeping with the themes, food offerings at Folklife will reflect customs in China and Kenya. Curated by a group of local purveyors, the concessions will take you on a tasty world tour. “Authenticity is something the festival prides itself on,” says Preston Scott, curator of the Kenya program for this year’s event. “People come to experience the culture and traditions of a particular country, and food is a big part of that.”
Chi Fan Le! Let’s Eat!
The menu, designed by Minh Restaurant in Arlington, is like a Chinese food greatest hits list: chicken or veggie lo mein; pork or veggie dumplings; and tofu mixed with pork, chili sauce and rice.
Wash down your meal with Chinese beers like Tsingtao Lager and Yanjing. Light bar fare like boiled peanuts tossed in salt, cinnamon, star anise and dried chili are also available.
The offerings — courtesy of Swahili Village in Beltsville, Md. — reflect dishes commonly eaten in the mountains of Kenya. Mmm, goat stew and grilled beef with cornmeal mash.
The Watering Hole
Complement your grub with a glass of Kenya’s Tusker Lager or Kingfisher Lager, popular in the East African country but brewed in Bangalore, India.
Spice Routes Cafe
The menu draws on ingredients plentiful along Kenya’s coastline. Items like chicken curry with coconut rice, ground beef or veggie samosas (fried pastry pockets) come from a collaboration of Kenyan caterers from D.C. and Las Vegas.
Unless otherwise noted, you can see these expert craftspeople do their things from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Here’s a small sampling.
In an hour or less, artist Zhang Baolin can transform plain old dough into an intricate, colorful likeness of an animal or human.
China, Through the Seasons area
Using H2O to write on pavement is a popular activity in China’s parks. Join in, then ponder the ephemerality of life as your work evaporates.
China, People’s Park, times vary
See hair-braiding expert Jane Wanjiru demonstrate her skills alongside two body decorators working with henna, a natural dye.
Kenya, Adornment Arts tent
Internationally renowned sculptor Elkana Ong’esa works with soft soapstone from Kisii, Kenya. If you miss him at Folklife, go to Paris and see his work outside the UNESCO building.
Kenya, Rock Art tent
Though there are a number of theatrical performances throughout Folklife, few are as visually arresting as the Chinese Theater Traditions performance. The Quanzhou Puppet Troupe and the Zhejiang Wu Opera Troupe will share the stage to present two enduring parts of China’s theater history. The former preserves a millennia-old puppetry practice by bringing beautifully crafted marionettes to life on stage. The latter mixes music, dance and acrobatics to showcase the 400-year-old wu opera form in both new and old works.
July 3, Moonrise Pavilion, 6-8 p.m.