"Freedom Sounds: A Community Celebration," organized in part by a curator of the Smithsonian's annual Folklife Festival, will celebrate several aspects of African American culture, including dance and spoken-word performances, storytelling and live muraling. It will be central to the weekend's events, a waiting room for those who will later make a heady first visit to the museum, and stomping grounds for those who simply want to take part in the moment.
While concert stages will feature nationally recognized talent representing hip-hop, go-go and even heavy metal, the rest of the festival is about "bringing the unknown" to visitors, said Mark Puryear, a festival curator whose experience includes putting together the annual Folklife Festival.
Taking place on the Washington Monument grounds between 15th and 17th streets NW, the festival will feature daytime performances by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and singer Jean Carne, Sweet Honey in the Rock and Dom Flemons, one of the founders of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Legendary bass player Stanley Clarke will lead a bass lesson; the former musical director of the KanKouran West African dance company will guide the crowd in a drum circle; and poet Sonia Sanchez will regale the crowd with words.
Visitors will be able to purchase food on the grounds, including barbecue and soul food, po' boys, Kenyan curry and Caribbean fare, all selected to reflect the cultures represented in the event and inside the museum.
The festival will stretch over five stages, including the Sylvan Theater (renamed the Gil Scott Heron stage for the weekend). A new stage, erected at the edge of 15th Street and Constitution Avenue NW, will host the big evening shows.
Public Enemy, rockers Living Colour and the Roots will perform from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday. Experience Unlimited, D.C. native Meshell Ndegeocello and Grammy Award-winning singer Angelique Kidjo will perform in the same time slot Sunday night. Each artist will have about 45 minutes of stage time.
In many ways, the performers in the festival will connect back to the displays within the museum, even the headliners: Public Enemy's Chuck D designed the iconic Public Enemy banner that hangs within the museum, and, in the museum's Musical Crossroads exhibit, a quote from Roots drummer and author Questlove plasters one of the walls. Go-go commands a section of the music display, complete with a drumhead from E.U., perhaps one of the city's biggest breakout go-go acts, thanks to the memorable track, "Da Butt," which long ago cracked the Billboard charts.
Freedom Sounds Sept. 23 and Sept. 25 from noon to 5 p.m. and Sept. 24 from 1 to 5 p.m., with concerts Sept. 24-25 from 6-9 p.m. Entrances at 17th Street at Constitution Avenue NW and Independence Avenue SW, and near the Sylvan Theater, at Independence Avenue SW near 15th Street. A fourth checkpoint at 15th Street and Jefferson will open Saturday only after the museum's dedication concludes, sometime after 1 p.m. nmaahc.si.edu. Free.