With over 100 performing artists and 20 stages, this year’s event had nearly 12 hours of collaborative, creative events to participate in and explore. As a first-time Funk Parade participant, I was impressed by the variety of talent, energized by all of the smiling faces I came across and inspired by the community that brought thousands of people together in support of the arts.
This year’s theme, “Future Funk,” was woven in a lot of the early afternoon activities at the Intergalactic Inter-generation Station and Future Funk Laboratory at ISL. Those events would have definitely been top of list had I attended with children, as they included VR/AR games, dance lessons and rhythm prep for the Kid’s Parade. While the futuristic theme was not necessarily as apparent in the musical events I attended, there was always a handful of people dressed in robot, superhero or alien costumes.
The clouds held up for majority of the hour-long parade from Howard Theatre to the Lincoln Theatre. Batalà, the all-women Afro-Brazilian samba reggae band, led the parade with their joyful dancing and determined drumming. Mayor Muriel Bowser was seen right outside of the Lincoln Theatre, taking pictures with some of the parade participants. Further down the street, skaters and rollerbladers showed off their tricks, performing splits and jumps around each other; a Chinese dragon gracefully undulated around itself; and a handful of dancers from Vavá United School of Samba showed off their quick feet.
Stage proximity and event times were not only well-planned, but smoothly executed as well. While the rain seemed to have affected some performances, each artist was still able to play their full set. After the parade, I walked over to the Main Stage where David “Czar” Jones and Sofia Hailu were closing out their set. While I caught the last two songs, including the relatable “Same Shit, Different Day,” I found their fusion of classical and rap music refreshing. Hailu, co-founder of Major Key Foundation, will be leading a musical program for children 10-15 in Baltimore this summer.
Shortly after, MC Meteor Man came on the microphone to introduce Sinkane and his band. Moments into their set, the skies grew dark again and heavy rain began to fall. Umbrellas popped open, smiles grew wider and dance moves grew bigger as the funk continued on with “Theme from Life & Livin’ It.” The crowd echoed keyboardist Elenna Canlas when she took over vocals for the band’s “Johnny B. Goode” cover. Rain turned to light drizzle right as Sinkane announced the last song, “Telephone.” While the crowd wasn’t quite as large as seen at their show in February, Sinkane and his band brought just as much energy, joy and positivity, which made their performance all the more enjoyable.
After a fifteen-minute break, veteran go-go group Backyard Band walked onstage. Anwan Glover’s deep voice quickly got everyone’s attention. Tiffany “Sweet Thing” Monroe first paid tribute to Solange, who was playing across the city at Broccoli Fest, with a go-go version of “Cranes in the Sky.” Later in the show, Monroe had everyone singing and jumping again with the band’s well-known cover of Adele’s “Hello” and swaying to a bouncier, drawn-out version of Lorde’s “Team.” Looking across the crowd, I saw people dancing, blowing bubbles, spraying silly string, and even hula hooping.
As Backyard Band closed out their set, MC Meteor Man asked the crowd to join him in singing “Happy Birthday” to Glover. The response was overwhelming, although not quite as in pitch as the artists who graced the stage. I stood there smiling and so thankful the show went on despite the unfortunate weather. There’s something special about experiencing live go-go in the city where it all began.
The crowd dispersed and spread out across the U St. neighborhood for the night festival. I made my way over for the second set at Tropicalia. Cheick Hamala Diabate, the Malian, Grammy-nominated n’goni (a West African lute) player, and his band were tuning instruments as I walked onto the busy dance floor. I was immediately struck by Diabate’s kind, lively eyes and endless smile. His entire band emitted joy as they each added their individual musical layers to Diabate’s plucking. Everyone around me was mesmerized, bodies swaying in an attempt to catch one of the many rhythms coming from the speakers. At one point, Diabate walked off the stage and into the crowd, connecting with each person in his path.
Having spent nearly seven hours wandering around the U St. neighborhood, I now see what the fuss is about; this annual event should be a rite of passage for anyone who lives in D.C.