Sandy McCall is looking for a few more stilts people. Also, some wandering minstrels and magicians, a corps of jitterbuggers, another theater troupe or two. And definitely Thomas Paine.
They're all needed for "Main Street Millennium," the New Year's celebration the District will put on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. The family-friendly festival, details of which were released over the weekend, will be held along Constitution Avenue NW and is intended to showcase some of the best sights and sounds of the city at the local -- meaning real people -- level.
The extended block party will include two major performance stages, community exhibits focusing on the past and the future, and a "town hall" wall on which partygoers will post their hopes for Washington in the 21st century.
"This is a work in progress, but we have a very definite vision for these blocks," said McCall, a special assistant to Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) and the man charged with pulling everything together.
The 20-hour food-and-music festival is the city's counterpart to the three-day spectacle the White House and Smithsonian Institution are hosting on the Mall that weekend. Although the District is a declared partner in that event, officials in the Marion Barry administration had announced that the District would throw its own affair, too -- in part to kick off a year of celebrating Washington's bicentennial as the nation's capital.
Unfortunately, no one got around to any real planning or fund-raising until summer. And in any case, it would have been hard to compete with Will Smith and Steven Spielberg and the other, still unannounced, Hollywood celebs who will play the Lincoln Memorial as the final hours of 1999 count down.
Instead, a nine-person crew of mayoral staff members and contract consultants has opted for a more modest program offering entertainment and education, introspection and prognostication, neighborhood pride and unscripted fun.
"There's so much hype around the millennium now," McCall said. "We want simplicity."
For a cost of "less than $1 million," which organizers say will be paid for mostly through private donations, the simplicity will stretch from 10th to 14th streets NW. The big stages will be at both ends and will feature rhythm and blues, swing, jazz, gospel and even a mariachi band. Already confirmed are Nap "Don't Forget the Blues" Turner and Mary Jefferson and the Orioles, names that helped put Washington on the musical map during the '50s and '60s.
Seven heated tents, ranging from 4,000 to 10,000 square feet, will house exhibits and food booths. Through photos and archival documents, four of these pavilions will highlight the communities that make up each quadrant of the city, their history and development -- which could be, organizers point out, the first time some city residents get a true-to-life glimpse of other city neighborhoods. Another tent will present technology, another multimedia.
The food at the city festival may be the biggest draw for those who otherwise might only attend the Mall extravaganza, according to McCall, who talks of the "synergy" local planners are trying to achieve with White House and Smithsonian coordinators. "People are going to go back and forth to the Mall," he predicted.
At several spots along Constitution, "speakers corners" will be available for anyone wanting to step onto a platform and hold forth in public discourse a la London's Hyde Park. Wandering through the crowd will be the likes of patriot Paine, suffragist Susan B. Anthony and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, folks who will focus on reminding their audience of the rights and liberties for which other Americans have fought and died.
At least that's the idea, and organizers -- who will not disclose how much has been raised in contributions -- seem fairly confident that will be the case in 60 more days. They say about two-thirds of the musical acts are booked, nearly half of the historical reenactors secured and all the tents, generators and other necessary infrastructure under contract.
Still, acrobats continue to be sought, and performers who do their thing on stilts apparently are in short supply. McCall gave his business card to a saxophone player he chanced upon outside Union Station on Friday morning and asked him to call (202-727-8449). He's still waiting but hopeful.
The District's planners are not the only ones trying to book performers at this late date. Last week, a spokeswoman for the White House said additional details of the Mall celebration, including the nationally televised show that actor Will Smith will help host New Year's Eve, might not be released until late this month.
What that means for the scope of that gala is unclear. Definitely, the District's event will be a scaled-down party. Initial proposals were for a three-day festival that would have cost several times the current projected budget. In August, the city broke off negotiations with a prospective organizer. Last month, worried over possible complications because D.C. appropriations had stalled on Capitol Hill, the millennium staff decided the city would largely go it alone.
They moved forward because, as McCall put it, "This is what grown-up cities do. They celebrate incredibly rare experiences. . . . We are determined to be a grown-up city."
The first invitations have been printed. "Main Street Millennium," they read. "Friday, December 31st, 1999: 11 a.m. to 12 midnight. Saturday, January 1st, 2000: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. . . . Admission is free."
Blues singer Turner, who considers Washington his adopted home, expects the plans to work out fine and make for two fabulous days. "I'm honored to do it," he said Saturday. "It will be a good mechanism for pulling people together."