Local and Diverse Festivals Abound

Summer and Spring in Washington, D.C., Translates to Area Fun

Posted March 16, 2007 at 2:58pm

From the first diners braving the patio decks to those initial Frisbees sailing across the National Mall, Washington, D.C., residents are gearing up for spring.

And while many residents will be escaping to the region’s nearby beaches and other warm destinations, there’s plenty happening right here in the nation’s capital that is sure to meet the demands of any restless resident with spring fever. From a late-March kite festival to a summer barbecue battle, event planners across the city are contributing more than enough to excite and entertain as spring gives way to summer.

Rebecca Pawlowski, director of communications for the Washington, DC Convention and Tourism Corp., notes that this year “there’s seldom a week or weekend that passes in the Washington, D.C., spring calendar that there’s not something interesting going on.”

If the inevitable onslaught of tourist traffic is a fear, Pawlowski still concedes that “using public transportation is usually one of the best pieces of advice,” noting that, beginning March 26, the D.C. Circulator will have a new loop that will go around the National Mall, allowing easy access to many upcoming events without requiring the use of a car.

One piece of advice to D.C. natives for an unforgettable spring is to travel the unbeaten path.

“I would say try something new,” Pawlowski says. “There are lots of smaller street fairs, venues, neighborhood festivals, events that will start happening as we get into the spring and summer seasons, and if you haven’t ever been before, give it a try. It’s a great way to get to know the city.”

Even longtime D.C. residents are invited to get to know their hometown all over again.

“There’s really always an opportunity where you have a free weekend and want to play tourist in your hometown, or you’ve got company visiting. There’s always something interesting going on and there’s a great chance to discover things you may not have known about before,” Pawlowski says.

Pawlowski recommends two sites for staying abreast on D.C. events: www.washington.org and www.culturaltourismdc.org.

41st Annual Smithsonian Kite Festival,
March 31
With spring in the air and a giddy anticipation for cherry blossoms on the trees, visitors to the National Mall on March 31 will find themselves lifting their heads to the sky as the 41st annual Smithsonian Kite Festival takes flight. Held on the grounds of the Washington Monument from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., this year’s festival theme is “Tako Age Taikai” (Japanese for “kite festival”) and allows kite enthusiasts a full day of activities, including kite competitions in 36 different areas and a chance for 800 of the first youngsters who attend the event to receive a free kite.

Christine Cimino, public affairs manager of Smithsonian Associates, explains that this year’s festival and its Japanese theme is not only incorporated as part of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, but it also marks the start of a new Smithsonian cultural series.

“This year we are offering a new cultural series called Japan Wow, so that sparked the theme for this year,” Cimino says. “We thought it would be a great idea to have this become part of our whole series and have the kite festival actually be the kickoff.”

Besides the Kite Festival, the Japan Wow series will offer a number of programs “covering all different subjects and all different formats,” including traditional Japanese theater programs, lectures on history, culinary programs and studio arts, Cimino says.

As far as the high-flying festival, Cimino is anticipating a sizable turnout, noting that last year’s festival had anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000 visitors. Cimino attributes the large number of attendees to the fact that the event is “a sort of tradition in Washington D.C.” that “hits all different age groups.”

While many events included in the Japan Wow series come with a charge, the Kite Festival events are free. For more information on the Kite Festival or the Japan Wow series, visit www.smithsonianassociates.com.

2007 National Cherry Blossom Festival,
March 31-April 15
The capstone of spring in D.C., the National Cherry Blossom Festival is a Washington tradition that has drawn more than 1 million attendees in the past few years.

At a March 8 press event, NCBF representatives and individuals actively tied to the event, which will take place March 31-April 18, remarked on the highlights of this year’s festival.

Diana Mayhew, executive director for the National Cherry Blossom Festival, said that the festival will feature over 90 events and 200 cultural performances.

NCBF President Sue Porter described the festival as “two solid weeks of some of the most fun, memorable, culturally enriching events inspired by the close friendship of the U.S. and Japan,” noting that “this year is particularly exciting because we are celebrating the 95th anniversary of the gift of trees from Mayor Osaki to President Howard Taft in 1912.”

D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty (D) expressed aspirations to train for the festival’s annual 10-mile run (which will take place on April 1), but he also mentioned the $150 million worth of economic revenue the festival generates annually, praising the festival “not just because of the beauty, pageantry and the significance but also because, in the District of Columbia, hospitality is our big deal, it’s our big industry.”

Mayhew added that the festival is not a tourist-only attraction. “Although the Cherry Blossom Festival is a nationally and internationally recognized event, it is [also] a hometown event,” she said.

From the opening ceremony at the National Building Museum on March 31 to the parade on April 14, each day of the festival provides a diverse offering of activities and culture for all ages. Through events located all over the District, festivalgoers can participate in a sushi and sake tasting, take in fireworks from the Washington channel, walk through the nation’s largest Japanese street fair, and, most importantly, get an up close and personal view of the blooms of D.C.’s more than 3,000 cherry trees.

Parade spectators also will get a chance to brush with a number of celebrities including Bianca Ryan, vocalist featured on “America’s Got Talent”; Lauren Nelson, Miss America 2007; Ace Young of “American Idol” fame; and Mickey and Minnie Mouse, grand marshals for this year’s parade. Additionally, Yoko Ono will be presenting a number of art works and installations during the festival.

Regarding the possibility for floral flippancy of the trees, Porter admitted that there was apprehension surrounding the bloom date, especially after the mild weather of the early winter months.

“The January spring had people very upset that the trees were blooming and there wouldn’t be anything left for the festival,” Porter said. “We all know, thankfully, that isn’t the case, but many people had the blossom blues.”

Any doubts surrounding the absence of blossoms during the actual festival were put to rest after Rob DeFeo, chief horticulturalist of the National Park Service, delivered his bloom prediction date of April 4.

With the forecast made in the festival’s favor, Porter assured festival participants that she had no doubt that “this year’s festival will be budding, blooming and bursting … and it will be not only with blossoms, but with fun, friendship and fantastic events.”

For more information on the festival, including a full list of events and locations, visit www.nationalcherryblossom.org.

2007 Avon Walk for Breast Cancer
May 5-6
With Washington’s monuments as your backdrop, The Avon Foundation offers an opportunity to help those affected by breast cancer with its 2007 Avon Walk for Breast Cancer.

The D.C. walk kicks off an eight-city tour, which includes walks in Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. According to Susan Arnot Heaney, director of communications for the Avon Foundation, the 2006 walk raised $5.8 million from more than 2,500 participants who walked the 39.3 miles of the route.

And the numbers just keep on growing. Karen Borkowsky, program director for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, reports that more than 3,000 participants are already registered for the D.C. event. Borkowsky is an eight-year breast cancer survivor who has been involved with the walk since 2004 because “I’ve just met so many people who have been impacted by the disease, I haven’t been able to stop.”

The event begins with check-in on Friday night, while the walk begins on Saturday at the Kennedy Center. On Saturday night, participants are encouraged to visit the Wellness Village, a tent for all breast cancer survivors, family and friends and a “home away from home,” as Borkowsky points out, where participants can “hang out and relax and celebrate their accomplishments.”

Borkowsky quells any fears you may have about participating in the walk, noting that “people walk on their own,” composed of “all ages [and] all fitness abilities.” If the 39.1-mile trek is still daunting, you have the option to split the walk up into two trips on Saturday and Sunday.

According to Borkowsky, volunteers, no matter in what capacity, are always appreciated.

“We’re always looking for volunteers, and we can never have enough people cheering at the finish line when they cross both on Saturday and on Sunday,” Borkowsky says.

The backdrop of Capitol Hill makes participants especially eager to participate.

“D.C. has been an extremely successful Avon walk for us,” Borkowsky says. “I think just being in the nation’s capital … a lot of people will come from all over the country to see the Capitol and the monuments. We really try to give the walkers the experience of really seeing all the different aspects of each city, and D.C. is no exception.”

The easiest way to register for the walk, which includes a $55 registration fee, is to visit www.avonwalk.org, which will allow you to access registration information as well as learn about ways to volunteer with the walk.

Memorial Day Parade,
May 28
Traveling along Constitution Avenue and the National Mall, this year’s Memorial Day Parade will begin at 2 p.m. and marks the 60th anniversary of the United States Air Force.

According to Scot Christenson, public relations manager for the Memorial Day Parade who has been helping plan this year’s event, the parade will feature several prominent former airmen including aces, astronauts and celebrities. Additionally, Gary Sinese (CSI, Forrest Gump) and hall of fame pitcher Bob Feller will be participating in the parade.

Members of legendary air groups such as the Doolittle Raiders, Tuskegee Airmen and the Flying Tigers also will be part of the event, as well as re-enactors and veterans representing all 50 states and all major conflicts involving the U.S. The parade is free and open to the public.

Additional Memorial Day services include a wreath laying at Arlington Cemetery with President Bush and a ceremony at the Vietnam Memorial. For updated information on the parade and events, visit www.nationalmemorialdayparade.com.

Capitol Pride Festival,
June 2-10
This summer, members of Washington D.C.’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities as well as their friends and supporters will gather for the 32nd annual Capitol Pride Festival.

The theme for this year’s festival is “together we can, together we will.” Chip Lewif, media relations manager for the Whitman Walker Clinic and one of the presenters of the Capitol Pride events, says the theme “was chosen to show the unity of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and working towards full legal and social equality.”

Events held throughout the festival include a kickoff dance, bachelor and bachelorette auctions, interfaith service, Mr. And Ms. Capitol Pride Pageant, a Capitol Pride Parade held at 23rd and P streets Northwest, and a street fair at Third through Seventh streets Northwest.

While events such as the parade and street fair will be free of charge, other events, such as the dance, will charge admission. Lewif recommends checking the official event Web site, www.capitolpride.org, for updates on the events and their locations.

D.C. Caribbean Carnival,
June 23 and 24
On June 23 and 24, the streets of D.C. will be filled with Caribbean flair and, according to Loughton Sargeant, the “best-kept secret in Washington D.C.” Sargeant is a founding member and executive director of the D.C. Caribbean Carnival, which has been appearing every summer around Howard University for the past 15 years.

Beginning in 1993 as what Sargeant says was a “small-scale event,” the D.C. Carnival “just grew overnight.” Last year, the D.C. Carnival had more than 350,000 guests who came to witness the two-day festival that pays tribute to the Caribbean culture.

This year, Sargeant hopes the event will be even bigger and better. The carnival begins with a parade at 11 a.m. at Georgia and Missouri avenues Northwest. After the parade, a $10 admission ticket into Banneker Park offers access to “De Savannah,” which, as Sargeant explains, is the “name taken directly from the concept of the Trinidad carnival. The Savannah is a place where the heart of carnival happens — where you come and enjoy sights and scenes of the carnival.”

At the D.C. Caribbean Carnival, spectators can expect musical entertainment from steel bands and various DJs, as well as food and featured art works from national and international artists. The festivities continue in Banneker Park on Sunday from noon to 8 p.m. While Sunday does not include a parade, Sargeant encourages attendance because “it’s just a day of color and fun.”

Safeway 15th Annual 2007 National Capital Barbecue Battle,
June 23 and 24
If you’re looking for a finger-lickin’ good time in the District this summer, sashay your way over to the Safeway 15th Annual 2007 National Capital Barbecue Battle. This year’s event takes place June 23 and 24 on Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest. According to event publicist Suzanne Tubis, “it’s a very fun-filled, active festival.”

As Tubis explains, a ticket to the event, which runs $10 for adults, $5 for children 6-12 and free for children under six, allows access to the event’s main attractions, including 30 live bands on three stages — “Lots and lots of fantastic area talent as well as some nationally known artists will be performing on the stages” — and more than 40 free samples of all kinds of “summer treats” at the Safeway Sampling Pavilion and in other areas of Pennsylvania Avenue, including “anything from sausages, to chips, to ice cream, to kinds of special summer drinks.”

Of course, visitors also can witness the competitors in the National Pork Championship barbecue their way to more than $25,000 in cash and prizes split up in different categories in the two meaty days of the festival.

Tubis says the National Pork Championship competitors mean business, noting, “We usually have between 30-40 contestants … they are some of the top contestants in country. And we’ve had contestants come from as far away as California, Florida and Maine … and anywhere in between.”

A portion of the proceeds from the battle’s ticket sales go to 11 clubhouses of Metropolitan Police Boys & Girls Clubs. Tubis says the funds, which totaled $70,000 last year, account for the “largest annual fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Clubs in D.C.” and, besides helping to refurbish various parts of the clubhouses “so that the kids are able to stay in a positive environment and have the kind of support they need,” the funds also “[provide] lots of kids in Washington with an opportunity to go to summer camp who would otherwise not be able to have that privilege.”

As far as tips for a positive festival experience?

“Definitely come hungry,” Tubis offers. “Wear comfortable shoes, because there is a lot to see and people will want to cover the entire event site … there’s more than enough to do for an entire weekend, and certainly there is something for everyone of every age and it is a family event.”

For more information on the event or to purchase tickets, visit www.bbqdc.com.

Smithsonian Folklife Festival,
June 27-July 1 and July 4-8
Take a step back in time on the National Mall at the 41st Annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival. This year’s event will take place June 27-July 1 and July 4-8 from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., running between the Hirshhorn and American History museums.

The festival will feature three main exhibits, “Roots of Virginia’s Culture,” “Northern Ireland at the Smithsonian” and “Mekong River: Connecting Cultures.” Smithsonian spokeswoman Becky Haberacker explains that each exhibit has a specific purpose in teaching festivalgoers about various parts of national and world history and the impact on American heritage. At night, the festival grounds turn into a venue for various performers and evening concerts, beginning at 6 p.m.

The “Roots of Virginia’s Culture” exhibit will celebrate the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown and, according to Haberacker, will show “how the culture of Virginia has been shaped by the Native Americans who were here in Virginia at the time, the West Africans who were enslaved and brought over to the colony and how the English settlers … combined together to give you what you see now in Virginia.”

“Northern Ireland at the Smithsonian” will highlight the ties between the United States and the region. Haberacker notes that “the folks from Northern Ireland are very anxious for people to see their culture as very rich and very vibrant, and to help people to try and move past the stereotypes that they think of when they think of Northern Ireland, so these people can come over and tell their stories about their crafts, and their music, and their dance and their food.”

With 2 million people in the U.S. having ancestry in the region of the Mekong River, Folklife festival visitors who take in the “Mekong River: Connecting Cultures” exhibit will be able to learn more about the culture, food, traditions and stories from the area.

According to Haberacker, the festival will draw a number of foreign presenters from Northern Ireland, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos as well as several hundred volunteers who work on the Mall during the festival and help with different aspects of the event.

Running right into the nation’s birthday party, Haberacker believes the Folklife Festival is a perfect stop during the Independence Day holiday.

“I think all of it makes for a great experience in Washington on the fourth — to see the parade, come over to the Folklife Festival, hit the museums and then stay for the fireworks,” Haberacker says.

For updated information on the festival, check out www.folklife.si.edu.

America’s 2007 Independence Day Parade,
July 4

Celebrate the nation’s birthday with a parade. Beginning at 11:45 a.m. at Seventh Street and Constitution Avenue Northwest, the parade continues westward. Visit www.july4thparade.com for updated information.