U Street funks you up with D.C. Funk Parade

December 10, 2023 | (Jason Fraley)

WASHINGTON — Any given weekend, if you put your ear to the sidewalk on U Street, Northwest, you just might hear the beating heart of the nation’s capital.

But this weekend, expect an extra special reverberation emanating from the D.C. Funk Parade, which returns for its second year Saturday, May 2.

“We really believe that the heart of this city beats underneath U Street,” co-founder Justin Rood says. “It’s got more live music than anywhere else. It has a musical tradition that goes back decades. … We all know the stories of Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, everyone that passed through. It’s the neighborhood that Marvin Gaye grew up in, and even today you have so much great music.”

The event breaks down into three segments, all free to the public.

It kicks off with the Day Fair from 12-5 p.m. featuring live music, entertainment, food vendors and craft brews throughout the U Street neighborhood, stretching from 14th & U streets all the way to the historic Howard Theatre at 7th Street and Florida Avenue.

“We’ll have stage and performances areas,” Rood says. “We’ve got over 50 bands and performing groups,” including a guitarist from Mali he calls “amazing.”

The festivities continue with the Funk Parade from 5-7 p.m.

“The parade is not a parade that you’d think of with floats and cars and motorcycles,” Rood says. “This is a parade for everybody to be a part of if they want to.”

If you’d like to participate, simply show up outside the Howard Theatre shortly before 5 p.m. You’ll be able to join a handful of marching bands, including the Eastern High School Blue & White Marching Machine, the Duke Ellington Radical Elite Show Band and Batala D.C.

“If you don’t have an instrument, come clap your hands. If you don’t want to clap your hands, come and get ready to dance. The mayor is going to be coming. It’s a fantastic parade. It’s a short route, about half a mile right down U Street, so you can come out with your fellow neighbors and residents and celebrate the spirit of the city that makes living in D.C. so special.”

After the parade, the music festival runs from 7-10 p.m. at 16 venues up and down U Street.

Free bands include Congo Sanchez, Black Alley, Janka Nabay and 35 other acts.

If you’re a night owl, you can keep the funk going at 10 p.m. at the Howard Theatre, featuring soul legend Lee Fields and D.C. go-go legends Trouble Funk. Tickets are available here.

The rest of the events of the day are free.

The U Street Metro is your best bet for travel, but expect heavy crowds.

Last year’s inaugural event brought 25,000 to 30,000 people. Rude expects even more this year.

“We tried to take a normal street festival and turn it inside out,” Rood says. “A lot of festivals that you go to, you show up, you eat food, you stand in a big crowd, you watch a band up on a stage somewhere with a crowd of people. The whole point of Funk Parade was getting people together to interact and share an experience. Our performance areas are smaller, they’re more intimate, you’re right there with the performers, you’re right there with your neighbors and your friends. … There’s nothing like standing in the streets and dancing with a stranger.”

Click here for more information on the D.C. Funk Parade.

December 10, 2023 | (Jason Fraley)

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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