The Smithsonian Folklife Festival, a highly anticipated cultural event held annually on the National Mall, is set to showcase an array of evening concerts from June 29 to July 4 and July 6 to 9. The festival, presented in collaboration with the National Park Service, aims to celebrate the rich tapestry of American musical traditions. Visitors will have the opportunity to enjoy a variety of genres, ranging from bluegrass and gospel to folk and country rock. Admission to both the festival and concerts is free and open to the public.

Afro-Cuban American musician Bobi Ce?spedes performed at the Folklife Festival in 2016 and returns for an evening concert Friday, July 7. Photo by Joe Furgal, Smithsonian Institution

The festivities will kick off on Thursday, June 29, with “An Evening with Ozarks Women,” honoring the influential women of the Ozarks’ renowned musical heritage. The opening concert will feature Melissa Carper, who skillfully merges the county and bluegrass sounds of her Arkansas roots with soul and jazz influences. Marideth Sisco, Cindy Woolf, and Pam Setser will join her, all hailing from the Missouri and Arkansas region.

Continuing the festivities on Friday, June 30, the concert titled “Come Let Us Sing: Gospel Music Legacies” will pay homage to the spirit of gospel music. Fran “Lady Strings” Grace will open the concert with her captivating steel guitar performance. Kingdom Fellowship AME Church will follow, presenting a set of traditional African American hymns that reflect the roots of the contemporary gospel. The Legendary Ingramettes, the NEA National Heritage Fellowship recipients, will conclude the evening’s lineup. In between sets, festival-goers will have the opportunity to witness the premiere of a short documentary film on Shelley Ensor, a gospel singer, teacher, and Maryland Heritage Award winner.

On Saturday, July 1, the “NextGen Ozarks Showcase” will take center stage, featuring various talented musicians. The acclaimed bluegrass band Sylamore Special, known for their energetic performances, will return to the National Mall. Fellow Arkansas Country Music Award-winner Grace Stormont, singer-songwriter Pura Coco with DJ Raquel, and Marshallese vocal band MARK Harmony will join them. The showcase will conclude with a Community Square Dance, inviting visitors to partake in the lively celebration.

Sunday, July 2, we will witness a unique cross-cultural collaboration titled “Singing Together: Riyaaz Qawwali and the Jones Family Singers.” Riyaaz Qawwali, a celebrated ensemble rooted in South Asia’s Sufi Muslim worship practice, will share the stage with the Jones Family Singers, renowned for their captivating gospel music performances. Both musical forms, deeply rooted in devotional traditions, create an atmosphere of spiritual uplift and vibrant energy.

On Tuesday, July 4, Independence Day will be marked by “An Evening with the Ozark Mountain Daredevils.” The long-standing country rock band from Springfield, Missouri, will entertain the audience with their timeless sound. Founding member John Dillon expressed his excitement: “I’m even more amazed by the number of new experiences that have come our way in just the past two years. On July 4, we are playing on the Mall at our nation’s capital for the Smithsonian. It is such an honor.”

The festivities will resume on Thursday, July 6, with the “Ozarks Opry” concert, offering a diverse mix of performances. The showcase will feature singers, musicians, dancers, and even comedians. Notable acts include Terry Wayne Sanders, known as Homer Lee: Branson’s Favorite Comedian, as well as performances by David Scrivner, Nathan McAlister, David Cavins, Sylamore Special, and The Williams Family. The evening will also include the “Folkways at 75” event, celebrating the 75th anniversary of Folkways Records. This special occasion will unite two artists who embody the fusion of traditional and futuristic music: Jake Blount and No-No Boy. Their performances will be accompanied by a screening of the short film “Early Abstractions” by Harry Smith, a renowned polymath, and compiler of the “Anthology of American Folk Music.”

Friday, July 7, will feature “Memorias de agua: An Evening of Film, Dance, and Music.” This captivating event will showcase the Caribbean’s enduring African legacy in music and dance, encompassing Puerto Rico, Cuba, New York, Los Angeles, and Oakland. The evening will commence with the screening of “Daughter of the Sea,” a short film by Alexis Garcia that explores a spiritual awakening in Puerto Rico. Following the film, Afro-Puerto Rican ensemble Bomba Yemayá and Afro-Cuban singer Bobí Céspedes and her band will take the stage, captivating the audience with their vibrant performances.

Saturday, July 8, brings “Ozarks × Folkways” to the forefront, presenting an enchanting blend of jazz, soul, and country music. Sad Daddy, an Arkansas folk band, will kick off the night with heartfelt tunes. The Creek Rocks, a husband-and-wife duo from Missouri, and the Po’ Ramblin’ Boys, who redefine bluegrass in contemporary times, will also grace the stage. The concert will be followed by a Community Square Dance, inviting attendees to join in the joyous celebration.

Concluding the festival on Sunday, July 9, is “Blues and Roots: Celebrating the Musicians of Playing for the Man at the Door.” The event will feature acclaimed artists Dom Flemons, Phil Wiggins and Hubby Jenkins, and Yasmin Williams. They will come together to celebrate the music and musicians featured on the upcoming box set, “Playing for the Man at the Door: Field Recordings from the Collection of Mack McCormick 1958–1972,” a collaboration between Smithsonian Folkways and the National Museum of American History.

Throughout the festival, visitors will have the opportunity to experience a dynamic blend of cultural performances and traditions. In addition to the evening concerts, select daytime programming will be live-streamed on YouTube and the festival website, ensuring that a wider audience can participate virtually. The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is committed to inclusivity, providing American Sign Language interpretation and live, real-time captioning for all evening concerts, both in-person and online.

Concession stands will be available during the concerts, offering a delectable array of food and beverages inspired by the Ozarks and the country’s diverse spiritual traditions.

As the Smithsonian Folklife Festival prepares to enchant audiences once again, it serves as a reminder of the power of music to bridge cultural divides, celebrate heritage, and create unforgettable experiences for all who attend. The festival’s dedication to showcasing the diversity and vitality of American musical traditions ensures a captivating and enriching experience for attendees, both in person and virtually.

David M. Higgins II is an award-winning journalist passionate about uncovering the truth and telling compelling stories. Born in Baltimore and raised in Southern Maryland, he has lived in several East...

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