A Parade of Fair Weather, Finally, and Friendship

Performers from Tamagawa University in Japan were part of an international lineup for the National Cherry Blossom Parade along Constitution Avenue.
Performers from Tamagawa University in Japan were part of an international lineup for the National Cherry Blossom Parade along Constitution Avenue. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 15, 2007

A year after being booted off "American Idol," Ace Young got lots of love yesterday.

Young lip-synced his song "Scattered" as the Washington Wizards dancers strutted behind him. When he was done, several girls in the crowd screamed his name. Young smiled and waved, his shoulder-length brown hair blowing and bouncing as he headed along Constitution Avenue NW in the National Cherry Blossom Parade.

The fragile pink and white blossoms on the 3,700 cherry trees in the Tidal Basin area are pretty much history because of recent rain and a windy cold snap. But the festival and parade still drew thousands to downtown Washington.

For many, it was the first spring day in a while that actually felt like spring. Residents and visitors jammed the parade route to see nationally recognized acts, such as Young and Sweet Honey in the Rock, and local attractions, including the D.C. police motorcycle team and D.C. High School All-City Band.

"This was on my list of the things you want to do before you die -- come to the Cherry Blossom Festival," said Dana Robertson, 57, of Nashville, Ind., who was standing next to her friend Marcia Flaherty of Richmond. "I just want to find one blossom."

But not everyone was happy about the parade, particularly motorists trying to wend their way through clogged intersections and a maze of closed streets. "There was quite a load of traffic on H and 17th," said TedsonMeyers, 78, who spent an hour, rather than the usual 15 minutes, getting from his appointment downtown to his home in Crystal City. "People were cussing and . . . making illegal turns."

The parade was one of the final big attractions of the 16-day festival, which ends today. Organizers say it is becoming the event of the spring, having grown into this big blowout, when as recently as the early 1990s it was half as long as it is now. But they have even bigger plans -- to make the event nationally recognized and televised, on par with the Rose Bowl parade.

"This conveys a more human and regenerative view of the city," said Rich Bradley, executive director of the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District. "We want to raise the profile of the event. We hope it grows."

Besides serving as a rite of spring, the event commemorates the friendship between two nations. In 1910, the Japanese, in a gesture of goodwill, donated cherry trees to Washington. But the trees, planted in what was largely swampland, were diseased and had to be burned. Two years later, the Japanese sent another shipment of trees to replace the ones that were destroyed.

"The blossoms represent not only beauty but the spirit of the Japanese people," said Sonoko Kudo, director of the Japan Cherry Blossom Association, who traveled from Tokyo to attend the festival.

In Japan, the cherry blossom festivals signal "a new beginning and a time to get to know each other better," Kudo added. "Under the cherry blossoms we can make many new friends."

And that's what happened with 220 marching band members who bonded with one another despite rivalries among their seven D.C. public high schools. They had been brought together recently by a band instructor trying to highlight the need for more funding of school music programs.

After a thundering drum cadence, the band in its seven sets of uniforms rounded the corner from Seventh Street NW onto Constitution Avenue before sliding into "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

"I enjoyed interacting with the different bands," said Teresa Myers, 18, a trumpet player at Dunbar Senior High School in Northwest Washington. "I was surprised everybody got along."

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