Smithsonian Folklife Festival returns to DC with lacrosse, skateboarding and dancing

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the Smithsonian Folklife Festival (Part 1)

The Smithsonian Folklife Festival has been an annual tradition in the nation’s capital since the late 1960s.

A demonstration from a past year of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. (Courtesy Pruitt Allen)

This year, it will be held at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian from June 26 to July 1.

“The Folklife Festival started in 1967, it was meant to be a two-day event, one and done, and we’ve been here ever since,” Festival Director Sabrina Lynn Motley told WTOP. “It’s gone through changes, it’s been bigger and smaller, but each festival has really been grounded in that person-to-person exchange, that celebration of creativity and culture. … This year we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the National Museum of the American Indian.”

The name “folklife” is not easily defined because it spans a wide range of traditions.

“‘Folklife’ means a lot of things to a lot of different people,” Motley said. “For us, ‘folklife’ is really about the ways in which people live, eat, dance, make stories and share stories. It really is about the everyday, the ceremonial, the symbolic, the things that fuel life both in terms of being an individual and in terms of community. Folklore and folklife looks at our past, it’s grounded very much in our present, and it really signals hope for future generations.”

Folks who attend can enjoy free live music and dance performances.

“We have all kinds of music, everything from hip-hop to more traditional sounds,” Motley said. “We have bird singers of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians from my home state of California, we have the Git Hoan Dancers coming to us from Alaska, we have Sons of Membertou coming to us from Canada, we have a beautiful singer-songwriter Nadia Larcher from Argentina and she’s representing indigenous communities there.”

You can also attend mouth-watering cooking demonstrations from native chefs.

“We have great chefs,” Motley said. “Many people know Sean Sherman, an award-winning chef and author of ‘The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen.’ … We have Elena Terry (who) focuses on the healing power of seed to table (and) was recently featured on ‘Top Chef.’ … We’ve got Cherokee chef Nico Albert Williams, and I’ve got to mention Bricia (Lopez), her family owns a restaurant called Guelaguetza, a James Beard Award-winning restaurant.”

After you grab a bite to eat, you can exercise with hands-on workshops.

“We have activities for families and for children,” Motley said. “We’re celebrating lacrosse and the origin stories of lacrosse. It is one of the oldest sports in North America and it’s growing like mad today as a lot of young people are interested. … You can come and play and learn how lacrosse is played in the Americas. … We’re welcoming Imilla Skate from Bolivia, a group of Quechua-speaking women who use skateboarding as a form of empowerment.”

Finally, you can engage your brain with insightful discussion sessions.

“The festival every year has what we call our ‘Narrative Stages’ for knowledge keepers and the next generation of artists to come together and have exchanges about issues that are of importance to communities,” Motley said. “Those sessions will be going on throughout the festival, touching on everything from … indigenous women who have been missing and murdered, then things that are much more celebratory. It really is a wide range of topics.”

Find more information here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the Smithsonian Folklife Festival (Part 2)


Listen to our full conversation here.

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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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