Folk Life Festival Journal: Day 5

The Folk Life Festival is one of the greatest local events in D.C. in my opinion. As a geography major in college, who’s read more about the world in books than seen it firsthand, this might be the closest I get to seeing the Mekong River Delta in Southeast Asia, North Ireland and um…Virginia? Yes, that’s correct. This year, in honor of the 400th Anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, Virginia is one of the three regions being featured this year. I would be critical of the fact that since the real McCoy is just a a couple miles and river crossing away, there’s not much appeal to seeing an exhibit of it on the mall. But since I am a very proud native of the state, I’m kind of excited to learn more about it and have the world learn a little more about it as well.

I went to the Festival today and plan to keep a diary of my travels. Today, I went straight to the Virginia part.

First, I saw an exhibit on Falls Church. A town of just two square miles, I’ve always thought of Falls Church is a quaint little gem in the middle of the suburban sprawl that we call Northern Virginia. One of the display boards spoke of Falls Church as resembling a quaint little New England town and many settlers from New England even settled there after the Civil War. I also learned that when Falls Church brags about being over 300 years old, they just mean that one guy settled there. I suppose that’s how towns start: one family at a time. I had the naïve idea that towns started with at least a few families at one time. Then the town wouldn’t get lonely.

I also saw a very fascinating exhibit on a group of 12 people who are retracing John Smith’s journey around the Chesapeake Bay on a shallop (what they call an Open Boat). They’re stopping at several cities along the Chesapeake Bay to educate people. You can see their website at

You could also see a guy constructing an old-fashioned Virginia Log Cabin before your eyes. On already the fifth day, quite a bit of progress has been made. I asked one of the guys working on the log house where he would have got the nails from in the old days and he said they made the nails themselves out of smelting (did I get that word right?) horeshoes and other pieces of metal.

It was then time for the evening concerts. The program in the Virginia tent was a tribute to the Hispanic culture in Virginia. The first group, “Los Tecunais” hails from Mexico originally and currently resides in Manassass. It was a very large group of children and adults in cool costumes that apparently were all related to each other by blood. Earlier, I had seen this group running around the festival in their costumes that looked like a mix between what a college mascot might wear and what a tricker-treater might wear on Halloween, and they were having fun with a lot of the tourists on the mall. On stage, however, they just sort of spun around, hit the floor with whips and clapped a lot. It wasn’t much of a show. The second group, however, “La Chanchona de los Hermanos Lobo” from El Salvador/Northern Virginia was much better. They are a seven-piece ensemble with violins, guitars, percussion and bass and played lively music that got the crowds dancing.

I then moved on over to the performance tent at the Mekong Festival. The first group was a fairly large orchestra with two singers playing. One’s instrument resembled a xylophone, one’s instrument resembled a dulcimer, and one person was playing some type of recordsr, but they all sounded so different to our music that it becomes a little jarring to listen to. Particularly, the two singers. But maybe that’s what’s great about folk music. If these people could play music that’s familiar to our ears and we love it, than it won’t be folk music anymore. It would be pop music and some producer would go to the Mekong Delta and sign the most talented dulcmer/xylophone/recorder orchestra to a recording contract and the music wouldn’t belong to the Mekong anymore. This music might not be familiar to ears but it has beauty in its own way.

The next act was really something incredible. I definitely want to be able to try to get his name and post it on here because the Smithsonian was selling one of his CDs. After a 10-piece ensemble, came just a single guy on stage with a flute. He played very beautifully and the flute also contained its own harmony. It sounded like there were two or three flutes playing. One of the volunteers told me that his flute reed is split between different bamboo so he could harmonize his melody. One other thing that impressed me from the Asian tent was four kids who went into two large dragon costumes. Through clever choreography they enacted a sort of mating dance between the two dragons with drum beat accompaniment.


One Response

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