- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 15, 2005

If you’re a Washingtonian, you’ll have guessed by now that it’s time for another Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the Mall, brought to you by the folks at the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.

Thousands of visitors, perhaps as many as a million, are expected to attend the 10 days of the festival — which is springing up tent by tent, banner by banner, stage by stage on the National Mall in anticipation of its opening next week. The festival will run from June 23 to June 27, and from June 30 to July 4.

Its themes this year center on the Middle Eastern nation of Oman, on music in Latino culture, on the work of the U.S. Forest Service and on “food culture USA.”

That breadth means you can move among a kaleidoscope of people and still not stray too far from home.

You can rub shoulders with celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse and with experts on tofu and spices. You can consort with camels, with calligraphers from Oman and musicians from El Salvador playing their homegrown Chanchona music, and with expert bird callers and smoke jumpers. And you can listen to the sound of a group called the Fiddlin’ Foresters, the official old-time string band of the U.S. Forest Service.

You can luxuriate in the aroma of barbecue and the new-style American cooking, and meander through a new-style garden called “The Edible Schoolyard.” You can roam through an “Interactive Forest,” watch how boat-builders from Oman recreate the vessels that once ruled the Indian Ocean, and listen to the many strains of Latino music.

“Year in and year out, it’s never, never boring,” says festival director Diana Parker. “Every program, every theme, is full of opportunity.”

• • •

The Smithsonian’s Folklife and Cultural Heritage Center has always seen the festival as a place where cultures — America and its states and regions and the people of every country in the world — come together and exchange views.

It’s a kind of large, popular but educational show-and-tell, one where the bearers of tradition come together with local scholars and Smithsonian curators to share their enthusiasms with the public. And always, there’s food and music.

Founded in 1967, the inspiration and passionate life work of the late Ralph Rinzler, the center’s first director, the festival debuted with two tents and a music stage plus a performance area at the Museum of History and Technology. The first festival had 84 participants.

It grew by leaps and bounds — it ran for three months during the bicentennial year of 1976 — and continued to focus on nations, cultures, states, regions and occupations. The Silk Road, the ancient trade route across Central Asia, was the sole theme of the entire 2001 festival. The center plans well in advance, and even today is working on the 2007 and 2008 festivals.

The hope is that of the thousands who attend — fighting lines and heat and often with children and babies in tow — some will take with them memories that alter or broaden their take on other cultures and their own lives.

• • •

This year’s festival has four major themes. “Forest Service, Culture and Community” celebrates the 100th anniversary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service and will include presentations by more than 100 people who work in America’s national forests.

“Food Culture USA” will show how America has changed in its planting, growing, producing, marketing, cooking and eating habits. It’s the first time an entire section of the festival will be devoted to food.

Also for the first time, the festival will focus on an Arab country as it explores the culture and traditions of Oman in “Oman: Desert, Oasis and Sea.” This section of the festival is presented in partnership with the government of the Sultanate of Oman, the Middle East Institute of Washington and the Omani Crafts Heritage Gallery.

The festival also will present the second installment in its four-part “Nuestra Musica: Music in Latino Culture” music program, in a series of evening concerts.

The ideas for such presentations come from all over, Ms. Parker says, and often are simply brought to the center.

The “food culture” section, for example, came out of a cookbook that guest curator and New York Times food writer Joan Nathan has worked on for the past five years. The idea of Oman came from U.S. Ambassador to Oman Richard Baltimore, who talked to the festival people while he was in town waiting to testify on Capitol Hill. The section on the Forest Service was obviously spurred by its centenary.

“It’s a profoundly democratic event where all sorts of people come together and somehow make themselves understood,” Ms. Parker says of the festival.

Appropriately, most of the participants are even housed in the same hotel.

“This year, we have the artisans and the craft people from Oman with the forest rangers, the biologists from all over the country, and the out-of-town Latino musicians and the cooks and business people and educators from the food section, and they’re all in close quarters,” she says.

• • •

Almost a thousand people — participants, volunteers, workers, crew, researchers, writers and technicians — come together to bring the festivals to life. Chief among them are Ms. Parker, technical director Rob Schneider and the curators behind the festival’s four themes.

“I’ve been working on the festival in various ways as a presenter or curator and now as director, since 1975,” says Ms. Parker, an anthropologist by education and profession who sees the festival as “a living thing” and “a public trust,” and her job as “making things happen to allow people to be at their best.”

“It’s such a challenging thing,” she says. “You learn something every time out. It’s the best job in the world.”

As the festival has grown, so have its complications, not least the security demands that increased after the attacks of September 11.

Since then, Mr. Schneider says, the festival has put a high priority on knowing which people and which tents and trailers belong — and what doesn’t.

“We’re the ones who know what’s here, where it’s supposed to be, what the items are, who has access, who is going to be here, and who’s not,” he says.

Given those complexities, it’s a good thing Mr. Schneider — who taught entertainment technology at Arizona State University and says he likes to work with “the backstage people who know how to put things together” — likes the helter-skelter of his job.

“It’s like this really big outdoor show,” he said one day recently as he and his assistant Tim Manning watched from inside his trailer as a light rain fell on the Mall.

“You work with all these different sort of people, like the weaver who has his loom in a pit, which you have to construct, otherwise it doesn’t work. It’s electricity issues and making sure the concessions can be set up properly with the right hookups.”

It’s big things — the camels, the lookout tower for the forestry section — and more subtle things, he said.

“You also have to know how to navigate the bureaucracy, to delegate the details, and know where you’re needed the most. … And you have to have patience, because so much of this is about people being able to understand each other.”

• • •

As if the festival itself weren’t motley enough, even within its individual four sections there’s a variety.

Take “Forest Service, Culture and Community,” a program about a service not usually seen as many-faceted. Almost 100 foresters will be here to show what they do, and their work covers the spectrum.

“It’s really a rich culture, a diverse group of people, and an important part of American culture,” says Jim Deutsch, who used to be a park ranger and forest ranger in Alaska, Arizona and Mississippi.

“We’re not just dealing with conservation issues here,” he says, “but also storytelling, arts and crafts, law enforcement, biology, art and a whole range of interests. I think people will be surprised.”

They’ll run into people like Hank Nelson, who’s both a logger and a poet, and Donna Ashworth, who has worked for 21 years as a fire tower lookout in Flagstaff, Ariz.

They will see an “interactive forest” of 20 to 30 live trees, and a “Sounds of the Forest” stage featuring music from such groups as the Fiddlin’ Foresters, who bill their goal as “conservation education through old-time music.”

Mr. Deutsch himself has held down by his count some 60 jobs, including field researcher for the Folklife Center, sound engineer, a presenter for the Folklife Festival and a coordinator of the festival’s cooking demonstrations.

A professor of American studies at George Washington University, he also curated the National World War II Reunion — a series of events staged by the Smithsonian last year at the time of the opening of the World War II Memorial on the Mall — and has been a newspaper reporter and a monorail operator at Walt Disney World.

• • •

“Food Culture USA” came out of the research done by guest curator Ms. Nathan for her book “The New American Cooking,” which will be published by Alfred A. Knopf in October. It, too, reflects the changes in American society over the past 40 years.

“First, there was a wave of immigration, much of Asian and Latino, which affected American food and how it’s prepared,” Ms. Nathan says. “Then there was the growth of the organic movement. And there was a movement in which Americans cooked less and less at home, and the chefs became more and more important.”

All of these trends — and the global nature of food and food making —are a part of “Food Culture USA,” which also examines new ways of educating children in where food comes from and how it’s grown.

One of those is the “Edible Schoolyard,” a one-acre garden and kitchen classroom designed by chef Alice Waters, owner of the Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, Calif., and set up at the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley. It’s been re-created on the Mall to help students learn how to grow and cook fresh food from a communal garden. The garden features 100 varieties of plants and seeds.

Participants in “Food Culture USA” will include celebrity chefs and representatives of Bolivian chocolate manufacturers and Tanzanian coffee growers. Among the chefs will be Jimmy Andruzzi, a firehouse cook from the New York City Fire Department’s Ladder 3, which lost 12 men at the World Trade Center on September 11.

The District’s restaurants will be represented by steakhouse owner Charlie Palmer, Nora Pouillon of Restaurant Nora and Asia Nora, Citronelle’s Michel Richard and Jose Andres, owner of Jaleo, Zaytinuya and other restaurants.

“We’ll show how the business of food producing has changed with the rise of places like Whole Foods and the tofu industry,” says co-curator Stephen Kidd. “We’ll look at how traditional culture intersects with the American, and world, food culture.”

• • •

Aspects of Arab cultures have been part of festivals in the past, but the presence this year of the Sultanate of Oman marks the first time an Arab country has been the focus of a festival program.

Here, too, the festival shows its bent for the new angle. “Oman: Desert, Oasis and Sea” offers a corrective to popular cliches about Arab countries, which seem fixed on desert and Bedouin culture, Islam and oil.

“Oman is quite a bit different from most other Arab countries, and it has a different history that goes deeper back into time,” says curator Richard Kennedy, who points out that the Omani civilization, fount of frankincense and the frankincense trade, goes back 5,000 years.

“It’s part of a crossroads between Asia and the Mediterranean Sea, which has resulted in a much more complex culture and society.”

Mr. Kennedy’s curatorial work with the festival has been with Asian topics; he was in charge of the far-flung Silk Road exhibition, so he found the Omani task revealing.

“The culture will surprise you, I think,” he says. “You’ll find exquisite work from the artisans — over a hundred of them — that will be here. The country is not just a desert country, but also a country bordering on the sea. That’s colored much of the art and craft that comes from there, as well as the music.”

• • •

Music is also the focus of “Nuestra Musica,” the salute to the Latino sound that will feature evening concerts from six groups that perform in different styles.

Co-curator Dan Sheehy, who heads Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and has played in his own mariachi band for years, says the program, the second of four, will let listeners hear the tremendous variety of Latino music and discover how it forges a sense of commun-ity.

For example, says co-curator Olivia Cadaval, a native of Mexico, “Let’s say a Guadalajaran, he might be listening to a group from a different part of the country and he recognizes the sound of music played in his city.”

So this is one big, diverse party with one big, unified hope.

“I realize not everybody is going to get everything you’re trying to do,” says Ms. Parker, the festival director. “But a little bit, we hope, will brush off. People will experience each other.”

WHAT: The 39th Annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival

WHERE: The Mall, between Seventh and 14th streets NW

WHEN: 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily, June 23-June 27 and June 30-July 4. Concerts, special events and dance parties until 9 p.m.


SALES: Food will be sold only at concession stands. The Festival Marketplace (in front of the Freer Gallery of Art) will sell merchandise related to the programs.

INFORMATION: For general information, call 202/633-1000 (voice) or 202/357-1729 (TTY) or see www.folklife.si.edu. During the festival visitors can call 202/633-9884.

Lineup for 2005 festival

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival runs all day every day on the Mall from June 23 to 27 and from June 30 to July 4. But hang around the “Sounds of the Forest” stage and at 5:30 almost every night you’ll be in for a musically rollickin’ good time, with free performances that range from Appalachian to American Indian to Nuyorican. Here’s a guide:

June 24: “The Mexican Son,” with Los Camperos de Valles, playing music from the Huasteca region of Mexico, and Sones de Mexico, a six-man Chicago-based ensemble playing regional Mexican music with contemporary fusion.

June 25: “Music and Poetry,” with Los Camperos de Valles and Ecos de Borinquen, playing Jibara music from the mountains of Puerto Rico.

June 26: Ecos de Borinquen

June 30: “Sounds of the Forest,” featuring the Fiddlin’ Foresters, the official old-time string band of the USDA Forest Service, dressed in vintage 1907 Forest Service uniform. Also Riders in the Dirt, a traditional bluegrass quartet; Keith Bear, dancer, singer and flute player from the Mandan-Hidatsa Tribes of North Dakota; Cindy Carpenter, southern Appalachian music; Chuck Milner, cowboy singer, poet and storyteller; Rita Cantu, storyteller from Arizona; Patrick Michael Karnahan, traditional Irish, Italian and American folk music; and the Shawnee Forest New Century Children’s Choir.

July 1: Ralph Rinzler Memorial Concert: “Beautiful Beyond — Christian Songs in Native Languages.” Includes the Comanche Hymn Singers from Lawton, Okla.; Marla Nauni, Comanche hymn singer; Vince Redhouse, Navajo musician playing American Indian flute and saxophone; and Mark and Nancy Brown, Eastern Band Cherokees singing old Cherokee hymns.

July 2: “Community in New York and Washington,” featuring District-based Eliseo y su Chanchona Melodica Oriental, a seven-piece ensemble playing rural music from eastern El Salvador; and New York-based Los Pleneros de la 21, playing Afro-Puerto Rican music called bomba and plena.

July 3: “The Dance Scene,” with Los Pleneros de la 21 and JCJ Band, a District-based band playing Dominican merengue, contemporary pan-Latino social dances.

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