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.

Today Washington DC Became Capital of the United States

The U.S. Capitol as it appeared circa 1800, when DC became capital

The U.S. Capitol as it appeared circa 1800 when DC became capital, in a watercolor painting by William Russell Birch (Image Courtesy of Library of Congress)

On June 11, 1800, DC became capital of the United States, leaving the country’s former capital of the previous decade, Philadelphia, to the fate of Pennsylvanians. While Washington, DC, was a young upstart, Philadelphia was the largest city in America at the time, with nearly 50,000 residents.

George Washington never saw the city named after him become the capital of the new nation; he had died more than six months before – his last words: “Tis well.”

In 1800, the U.S. Capitol building consisted only of the Senate’s north wing. The Senate and House members shared this wing until a temporary wooden pavilion was built for House members. Their south wing was finally completed in 1811, but the House members didn’t wait – they left their pavilion and moved into the unfinished wing in 1807.

At this time of the capital move from Philly, there were only about 125 federal employees newly bound for DC, and official documents and archives were transferred by ship via inland waterways.

President John Adams had to move, too, but the “President’s Palace” – which wouldn’t be called the “White House” until 1811 – was still under construction. Instead, Adams took a room over Tunnicliff’s, a Capitol Hill tavern at the corner of 1st and A NE. Good to know that our first DC resident President lived over a bar…

Holding Out for Some Heroes

(Photo By: heydayjoe)

(Photo By: heydayjoe)

On Friday, DC’s Awesome Con, a self-described “comic-con that embraces all aspects of geekdom and pop culture,” attempted to break the Guinness World Record for most assembled costume players photographed at one time. The clarion calls went out through social media, microphones and bullhorns for all superheroes (and villains) to meet at noon at the Reflecting Pool in front of the U.S. Capitol. The goal was to beat the current world record held by China’s World Joyland, the Chinese equivalent of Disneyland, which gathered 1,530 costumed characters on April 19, 2011.

There must have been a confluence of worldwide calamities yesterday, because only 237 superheroes showed up – and most of them were under four feet tall.

Heyday DC was there on the National Mall to witness this grand fizzle of a nonhistoric non-event. Click on the photos below to see some of our favorite costumed crusaders.