Folklife Festival 2014 Features “America’s No. 1 Enemy” and “Obama’s Birthplace”

Folklife Festival Kenya thatch hut

Peeping Tom at the Kenyan thatch hut (Photo By: heydayjoe)

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is the annual event in which America feigns interest in cultural traditions that are not her own, typically from countries we consider to be our pals. But not this year. Throwing caution to the five winds, organizers decided to fulfill the most paranoid delusions of the Tea Party faithful – that Obama is a Muslim, Kenyan-born, kowtowing Commie – by bucking tradition and featuring the cultural folklore of Kenya and China. (Congratulations, China, on surpassing Iran this year as our No. 1 enemy!)

Launched during the Summer of Love in 1967, the free-of-charge Folklife Festival is the largest cultural event in DC, drawing more than 1 million visitors to sweat together under tents each year.

Held outdoors on the National Mall for two weeks every summer, Folklife over the years has brought more than 23,000 artists, musicians, performers, craftspeople, cooks, workers, storytellers and others to the Mall to demonstrate their creative traditions. To help us remember America’s still No. 1, though, the festival always overlaps the Fourth of July. (NOTE: Our tradition of eating BBQ, drinking beer, wearing the American flag and blowing sh*t up will always trump your quaint costumed dances and soapstone hippo carvings.)

Folklife has featured tradition bearers from more than 90 countries and is “an international exposition of living cultural heritage,” according to its producer, the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. It’s a chance for Americans to see other cultures without having to leave America, like visiting Chinatown or going to the Bronx.

Folklife Festival Tian Tian Xiang Shang Gateway

Danny Yung’s comic figure Tian Tian points to his Tian Tian Xiang Shang Gateway. Yung is the founder of avant-garde arts group Zuni Icosahedron and is revered as the “cultural godfather” of Hong Kong. (Photo By: heydayjoe)

Programs at Folklife are usually divided into a nation, region, state or theme. Some are more exotic than others. Topics have included Workers at the White House, King Island Eskimo Dancers, Streetplay, Portuguese-American Fado Musicians, Iroquois Confederacy, American Trial Lawyers, Meat Cutters and Butchers, Unfolding the AIDS Memorial Quilt, Bhutan: Land of the Thunder Dragon, Gateways to Romania, Organ Builders and Iowa: Community Style.

To bring these programs to life, the Festival has built an array of cultural re-creations, including an Indian village with 40-foot-high bamboo and paper statues, a Japanese rice paddy, a New Mexican adobe plaza and a horse racetrack that stretched from the Washington Monument to the U.S. Capitol Building.

This year, Folklife constructed the enormous Tian Tian Xiang Shang Gateway at the western entrance to the festival, to remind festivalgoers that China has a lighter side, one that it plans to employ when it crushes America with its growing economic power. Rather than showing off its more recent traditions of cultural repression and citizen intimidation, China instead featured such cultural customs as clay sculpture, traditional Inner Mongolian music and kite-making. If you want a taste of real Chinese economic influence, visit DC’s new Walmart at 1st and H Street NW.

The video below features Inner Mongolian ensemble Ih Tsetsn performing at the Moonrise Pavilion on July 5. The band’s name means “broad, inclusive and wise” in the Mongolian language, and their music was just that – showcasing the morin khuur (horse-head fiddle), topshuur (two-stringed plucked instrument), long song and khoomei throat-singing. We dare you not to belch along.

The Kenya programs at Folklife featured natives dressed like Marion Barry during his African-garb phase, wild booty-shaking percussion music and fantastic huts made of recycled bottles, tin, bottle caps, broken tiles and glass.

The video below features Makadem, a Kenyan artist specializing in Benga music, performing with his band at the Ngoma Stage on June 29.

Check out the photos below for more highlights of the Folklife Festival 2014.

Click here to see more 2014 Folklife Festival videos on Heyday DC’s YouTube channel.

J. Edgar Hoover Ends FBI Legacy Behind Bars

J. Edgar Hoover's gravesite at Congressional Cemetery (Photo By: heydayjoe)

J. Edgar Hoover’s gravesite at Congressional Cemetery (Photo By: heydayjoe)

J. Edgar Hoover, longtime Director of the FBI – the man who spent his life putting others behind bars – spends his eternity behind bars at Congressional Cemetery on the west bank of the Anacostia River in Southeast Washington.

The only civil servant to be honored with a state funeral, Hoover served as the head of the FBI for 48 years, from 1924 until his death in 1972. Though his legacy is tainted because of the illegal methods of infiltration, planted evidence and burglaries he condoned, his name is carved in stone at the FBI headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue.

A master of blackmail (not to mention bigotry), Hoover loved illegally wire-tapping people to get dirt on them, especially those he detested. He spent countless agent hours and taxpayer dollars snooping on Martin Luther King, determined to prove him dangerous by proving him immoral. And he hated author John Steinbeck so much (convinced that he was a red Communist) that he had the IRS audit him every year.

To J. Edgar, the highest realms of patriotism and virtue were reflected in his personal prejudices and wholesome lifestyle.

J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson enjoy a ride in Atlantic City, NJ.

J. Edgar Hoover and Clyde Tolson enjoy a ride in Atlantic City, NJ.

A lifelong bachelor and creature of habit, J. Edgar ate lunch at the same hotel restaurant every workday for 20 years with the same companion, his lifelong friend and FBI protégé Clyde Tolson. (The Mayflower Hotel’s restaurant is now named Edgar Bar & Kitchen in his honor.) He never strayed from his daily order – chicken soup, white toast, half a grapefruit, cottage cheese and Bibb lettuce – and he never tipped back a martini. A teetotaler, Hoover forbade the use of intoxicating beverages by any FBI agent, on or off the job.

In his quest to get “subversive” Americans, J. Edgar didn’t have time for frivolity. Even a party song like the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie” aroused suspicion. For two and a half years he had his underlings investigate the song to find hidden sexual messages. The process included interviews with author Richard Berry and members of The Kingsmen as well as repeated listenings of the song at various speeds. The verdict: The study found no evidence of obscenity, concluding that the song was “unintelligible at any speed.”

A DC native, J. Edgar was reportedly born in 1895 at 413 C Street SE, later known as 413 Seward Square SE and now the site of the Capitol Hill United Methodist Church. We say “reportedly” because, unlike his two siblings, there is no record of his birth. As a teen, he competed on the debate team and sang in the school choir at Central High School, now known as Cardozo. He later obtained both his law degree and his Masters of Law at George Washington University.

From 1940 until his death in 1972, J. Edgar lived at 4936 30th Place NW (Forest Hills), where he kept files on Supreme Court justices, members of Congress and U.S. presidents. When the current owners moved in, they had the bulletproof-glass windows removed.

When Hoover died, Tolson – his lunch buddy, life partner and possible lover – inherited his estate and moved into the house. Tolson is also buried at Congressional Cemetery, a few yards from J. Edgar.

Burial sites are still available to the general public.