Archive for the ‘Folk Life Festival’ Category

Folk Life Festival: Day 7 Journal
July 6, 2007

Today I stopped by the folk life festival again. I had actually spent the morning interviewing one of the staff members at the hotel where the participants stay.

The festival was difficult to get to because of the brief afternoon showers but it was still on and when the rain cleared, the Mall filled up again.

I started out in North Ireland end and first went to a pavilion where I learned about North Ireland sports. In North Ireland, they play Gaelic football, which is a lot like handball although you pass it using a volleyball. Unfortunately, because of the rain, the demonstration was closed. There is also just regular football (or as we call it soccer), which Northern Ireland has a team that’s about to go into World Cup qualifying. Members of the coaching staff were on hand to field questions and there was a poster showing us that George Best, the famous Manchester player was actually a North Ireland team member, so they have one very good player, at least. They also have two quarterfinal appearances in the world cup. One staff member lamented to me that, “Folk games are lost in this country. When you ask a kid what games they like to play it’s usually football or baseball and not something like red rover.”

I then went to the music pavilion, where they were doing a dancing demonstration and were looking for volunteers. I don’t know how but I got sucked onto the dance floor for a couple of reels. So if you don’t like dancing and you go to the festival, beware. I’m not much of a dancer of any sort, but this was kind of fun and a decent form of exercise. The instructions for the two dances that I did were so random, I was wondering if maybe the lady just made them up as she went along. In all seriousness, while I doubt she was making them up, I do wonder who made up the rules to these folk dances in the first place. I can understand a folk tune being orally passed on through generations but a folk dance with specific steps and procedures?

I also learned how Irish Whiskey was made.

I then skipped over to the Virginia Pavilion where there was a couple from Senegal showing their farming storage thingie. I can’t remember what it was called, sorry, but it stores food from….on second thought, I can’t remember why they need to store food if there’s no winter. I’ll make an effort to look into it next time I go or better yet you can go patronize the folk life festival and find out why they need to store food above ground if there’s no winter. Or maybe you’re wondering what Africans are doing in the Virginia section of the festival, to which I know the answer: The festival is exploring the Native American, British and West African traditions that contributed to Virginia culture. In this case, the Senegalese farmers at the stand grew peanuts as their cash crop, and peanuts were brought over to Virginia’s plantations from Africa. I did not know this offhand, so don’t feel stupid. I learned this from some Virginia peanut farmers at the stand who showed me how complicated peanut farming is. There are something like 12 grades of peanuts and you can learn more about them at You’ll also get a free pack of peanuts over there.

I then went to an exhibit sponsored by the Mariner’s Museum at Newport News. There website is and they have a full-scale recreation of the USS Monitor and artifacts from the actual ship.

Lastly, I sat down, relaxed and listened to some music. The one act I saw, it took a while for them to set it up, was Brian Fein on the banjo and David Arthur on the guitar, banjo, and accordion. What was interesting was that they both played bluegrass, but Brian Fein is from Patrick County, Virginia and David Arthur is from Kent, England. One thing I learned this week is that England isn’t just a country of violinists but also of fiddlers. An exhibit panel said that fiddle music came to America from England, so it made more sense than I realize that David and Brian are on the same page. The two mostly took turns, though, and each gave a little background on the song before playing them. Brian told us about his personal history and said that one of his ancestors fought along side General Stuart’s Raiders. Both were good musicians, and I was impressed by how David could create such a lively pace when he picked up the accordion.

One more website to give out: This is the heritage trail that’s been created through Southwest Virginia to commemorate Bluegrass music and it has news of all the upcoming concerts in the area if anyone is travelling to that region of the state


Folk Life Festival Journal: Day 5
July 2, 2007

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.