If you enjoy live music, there’s nothing quite like a folk festival. Stroll into the riffs of the blues, find some soul around a corner, and tango down a hill. At the Washington Folk Festival, set for noon to 7 p.m. on June 4 and 5 in Glen Echo Park, visitors can do just that. Through song, spoken word and dance, more than 500 musicians, storytellers and dancers from around the region will gather in the historic park to show and tell the traditions of folk art across the world.
More than 40 years ago, The Folklore Society of Greater Washington (FSGW) saw a need for a folk music festival, that, unlike the Smithsonian’s annual event, showcased solely musicians based in the Greater Washington area. This year, the 36th annual festival features a Cuban duo, a Hungarian Ensemble, a Swedish flur, a fiddle showcase, a songwriter showcase, Persian-Flamenco fusion, a family dance–and much more.
Festival-goers are invited to bring along their musical instruments of choice to join in a gathering in the grove. Many visitors play the day away, even staying on into the evening, says Charlie Baum, FSGW vice president, who sings ballads and has attended folk festivals throughout the country. He says the D.C. area is particularly cognizant of preserving its musical traditions from its melting pot of cultures.
“This area offers multiple opportunities to make and hear music,” Baum said, naming the The D.C. Blues Society, Songwriters of Washington and the Capital Area Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Association as a few examples of organizations that promote diverse musical expression.
While the meaning of “folk” music often takes on different interpretations, a folk festival is really just an amalgam of music that formed the foundation of a particular culture’s music “Folk is hard to define and has different definitions,” Baum said. “Some think of singers/songwriters, some of field recording, banjo and ballads. Our festival encompasses all of that.”
Such a meeting of rhythms and words is bound to create some unlikely connections, and it’s that dynamic that draws about 10,000 people to the festival each year. “The thing I enjoy most is that groups of people meet who would never get together normally, such as an Iranian fiddler and an early-music violinist, or Celtic mixed with boom box,” Baum said. “It creates a great energy.”
Yenobis Delgado, of Duo Blanco y Negro from Cuba, said he and his partner are a good example of how this area embraces newcomers in the music world. Delgado, who works for an intercultural exchange program based in Silver Spring, and his partner moonlight at Cuban restaurants. Their performance at the Washington Folk Festival will focus on traditional Cuban riffs, which he defines as the tunes that reached our ears in the ’60s, ’70s, and even the ’80s.
“It hasn’t changed. It’s the same beautiful music of the oldest Cuban traditions,” Delgado said. “Over time, it has been enriched, by adding in electronic instruments and such, but the classics are still the classics. They are just not well-known in the United States.”
Duo Blanco y Negro is intent on promoting their music–both the classics and their own more contemporary compositions. It was at one of their gigs at a local Cuban restaurant that they met a Washington Folk festival organizer and were invited to perform.
“We are here to spread the word and show what Cuba is on the inside,” Delgado said. “That which does not show up in the news, the natural Cuba that has nothing to do with politics or government.”
So far, their efforts have been successful. “We have been so well received by the Washington area; we are honored and grateful to be a part of the Washington Folk Festival,” Delgado said.
Admission to the festival is free; it will be held rain or shine. Visit www.fsgw.org for more information.