The Smithsonian Folklife Festival

Music focused events played an important role in creating destinations for heritage tourism. Although early events focused on local, regional, or ethnic communities, larger multi-tradition events prospered in the 1960s and then became established through the efforts of the Smithsonian Institution in 1967. By any standard, the Festival of American Folklife at the Mall in Washington, DC has been a model of how to stage festival events of regional and ethnic character.

The immediate predecessor of the Smithsonian event was the Newport Folk Festival. The event began in 1963 at the urging of Pete Seeger, a pivotal figure in the folk music world, as a labor supporter, ardent social critic, and banjo player. He suggested that if well-known popular folksingers would play for union rates, then the funds could be used to hire “the folk” Coffee Blues Mississippi John Hurt. Newport Folk Festival, July 1964

Bile the Cabbage Down Clayton McMitchen. Newport Folk Festival, July 1964.

Tis a Gift To Be Simple Jean Ritchie, Newport Folk Festival, July 1964.

Did the rum do Daddy Seamus Ennis, Newport Folk Festival, July 1964

Among the organizers of the Newport events of 1964 and 1965 was Ralph Rinzler, a young college student and a mandolin player in a revival bluegrass band. In 1966 he was asked by the new Director of the Smithsonian, Dillon S. Ripley, to stage an event on the lawn in front of the castle in order to draw more attention to Smithsonian, both from summer visitors and the Congress at the end of the Mall.

Growling Old Man and Grumbling Old Woman Riendeau Family, Festival of American Folklife, 1967.
My Lord’s Gonna Lead Me Out Monroe Brothers, Festival of American Folklife, 1967.
Here Rattler, Here Grandpa Jones, Festival of American Folklife, 1967.
Uncle Pen Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys, Festival of American Folklife, 1967.
Long Distance Call Muddy Waters Blues Band, Festival of American Folklife, 1967.
Bosco Stomp Canray Fontenot, Will Balfa, Nathan Abshire, Bois Sec Ardoin, Festival of American Folklife, 1967.

What did the festival hope to provide as a tourist experience?

Carmela Reno con Chinto Antonio Mosquera, Festival of American Folklife, 1967.
Tambor de Yuca Rodriquez Brothers, Festival of American Folklife, 1967.

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