Funk Brothers, 2011 Folklife Festival, Washington, DC
Funk Brothers, 2011 Folklife Festival, Washington, DC

Yesterday I attended the opening ceremonies of the Smithsonian Institution’s annual Folklife Festival which the attention of returning back to my desktop by 2 PM. I didn’t get back until 5. There was no way I was going to miss the Funk Brothers, the Motown studio sessions band. Where do you think the Motown sound came from?

The Funk Brothers are part of the Rhythm & Blues living exhibition co-presented with the National Museum of African American History and Culture which has curated pop up exhibits leading up to the completion of its final home in 2015. “Why wait?” is the programmer’s mantra these days, especially where culture’s concerned. Two of the original Funk Brothers are in wheel chairs. Time flies.

Rhythm & Blues is one of 3 focuses on the mall. The Peace Corps is celebrating their 50th anniversary. The Folklife Festival is serving as a reunion of sorts for former Peace Corps volunteers. The program was started in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy who appointed his brother-in-law the late Sargent Shriver as its first director.

Colombia is the country feature on the mall covering its diverse regional and ethnic cultures. If you’re a salsa fan, not a bad place to be. Don’t forget the cumbia. See, hear, experience what you didn’t get in the press when the only running stories were about drug lords and guerillas, unless you were reading the magical realism of Gabriel Garica Marquez. Like a Marquez novel, the exhibit emphasizes how nature influences culture. It was two years ago I noticed Colombia making a major marketing push for tourism.

On the foodways, R&B has a barbeque stand; and Colombia has a Colombian chef from the Casa Oaxaca in D.C.’s Adams Morgan. The Peace Corps exhibit has the most extensive foodways with cooking demonstrations and two concessions offering South Asian and African food from local restaurants. Washington Post food critic (and self described snob) Tim Carman pretty much nails it when it comes to foodways at the Folklife Festival. Demonstrations do not include sampling, but you can sniff to your heart’s content. Imagine what the Food Network will be like when they introduce aroma-vision.

What makes this one of the best Folklife Festivals is more music. How many years have the kings and queens of R&B have left? This is not to be missed. And CDs are available for sale in the Market Place.

The festival runs through July 4 then reopens July 7 – 11. It’s located on the National Mall facing the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Castle.

Full schedule here.