Every year, the Smithsonian brings together a great collection of folklife to the National Mall — food, craft, storytelling, architecture, dance and history are always fascinating. But for me, the main draw is always the music. There’s usually some esoteric music that I never would hear otherwise. A couple years ago, I heard some amazing Bhutanese Zhungdra. Last year, it was the vocal music canciÃ³n cardenche from the Durango region of Mexico.Â This year, the Colombia and Peace Corps portions of the festival should provide exposure to some interesting sounds that are new to me. But there’s also a theme this year with music that’s familiar and accessible to nearly every American: Rhythm and Blues.
The festival takes place from June 30 – July 4 and July 7 – 11. The daytime (noon – 5)Â is the best to wander and discover new stuff. You can find the whole schedule here. But the evening concerts are easier to get to for many and often have specific acts that are bigger draws. Here are some of my picks for what are sure to be great evening shows (some of these artists will also perform throughout the festival at various times during the day, so you can catch them then too).
- Friday, July 1, Motor City Stage, 6 â€“ 8 p.m.,Â An Evening with Miss Martha Reeves – Martha and the Vandellas were Motown’s best girl group. The Supremes may have had broader appeal, but the music of Martha and the Vandellas has aged perfectly.Â Dancing in the Street,Â Heat Wave, and Nowhere to Run are amongst the best treatments of material from Motown songwriters Holland, Dozier and Holland. Reeves will discuss the group and the legacy of Motown before singing her hits.
- Saturday, July 2, Al Son Que Me Toquen Stage, 6 â€“ 8 p.m.,Â ChirimÃa la Contundencia, CimarrÃ³n – I’m looking forward to hearing some Colombian Chirimia. The music features brass instruments and clarinet backed by traditional Colombian percussion. Chirimia la Contundencia is supposed to be one of the best.
- Saturday, July 2, Motor City Stage, 6 â€“ 7:30 p.m.,Â An Evening with Swamp Dogg – Jerry
“Swamp Dogg” Williams recordings of rock-influenced soul may show off too much of his eccentric side to ever become huge hits. But the music is great.Â Total Destruction to Your Mind is a classic album.Â His sound brings Captain Beefheart to mind as much as Wilson Pickett.
- Thursday, July 7, Motor City Stage, 6 â€“ 7:30 p.m.,Â An Evening with Fred Wesley and The New JBs — If the only thing he’d ever done was play trombone in James Brown’s band, Fred Wesley would be a legend. But he also acted as band leader, wrote the horn arrangements and some of the classic James Brown songs including Papa Don’t Take no Mess. He led the instrumental-oriented J.B.s on recording sessions creating phenomenal funk soul-jazz. He went on to play with Parliament and led different conglomerations of musicians in a variety of versions of the J.B.s.Â He recorded straight-ahead jazz records. The body of work is amazing and he’s keeping the funk going as he approaches 70 years old.
- Saturday, July 9, Al Son Que Me Toquen Stage, 6 -8 p.m.,Â Aires del Campo, Ayombe — Two Colombian bands share the stage. Aires del Campo plays Joropo, traditional dance music played on harp, bandola, cuatro, and maracas. Ayombe is a collective of vallenato musicians, playing the popular accordion-driven sound that developed on Colombia’s Atlantic Coast but has spread internationally.
Full Evening Concert Schedule:
Thursday, June 30, Motor City Stage, 6 – 9PM,Â An Evening with Soul Train and Dance Party
Friday, July 1, Al Son Que Me Toquen Stage, 6 â€“ 8:30 p.m.,Â Recorrido musical por Colombia: Expresiones citadinas y ritmos caribeÃ±os (A Musical Journey through Colombia: City Expressions and Caribbean Rhythms)
Friday, July 1, Motor City Stage, 6 â€“ 8 p.m.,Â An Evening with Miss Martha Reeves
Saturday, July 2, Al Son Que Me Toquen Stage, 6 â€“ 8 p.m.,Â ChirimÃa la Contundencia, CimarrÃ³n
Saturday, July 2, Motor City Stage, 6 â€“ 7:30 p.m.,Â An Evening with Swamp Dogg
Sunday, July 3, World Stage, 6 â€“ 7:30 p.m.,Â The Garifuna Collective featuring Umalali (Belize)
Sunday, July 3, Motor City Stage, 6 â€“ 7:30 p.m.,Â An Evening with The Funk Brothers
Thursday, July 7, Motor City Stage, 6 â€“ 7:30 p.m.,Â An Evening with Fred Wesley and The New JBs
Friday, July 8, Al Son Que Me Toquen Stage, 6 -8:30 p.m.,Â Recorrido musical por Colombia: Bailando salsa, carranguena y joropo (Musical Journey through Colombia: Dancing salsa, carranguena, and joropo)
Friday, July 8, Motor City Stage, 6 â€“ 7:30 p.m.,Â An Evening with The Dixie Cups
Saturday, July 9, Al Son Que Me Toquen Stage, 6 -8 p.m.,Â Aires del Campo, Ayombe
Saturday, July 9, World Stage, 5:30 â€“ 7:30 p.m.,Â Ralph Rinzler Memorial Concert: Remembering Kate Rinzler with Elizabeth Mitchell, Suni Paz, Chip Taylor and the Grandkids, and others
Sunday, July 10, World Stage, 5:30 â€“ 7 p.m.,Â Peruvian Music and Dance with Peru Gozando
Sunday, July 10, Motor City Stage, 6 â€“ 8 p.m.,Â An Evening with Kenneth Gamble & Leon Huff and Tribute to Philadelphia International Records