There’s no disputing that DC – the birthplace of go-go music – can bring the funk.
But in case anyone worried that DC was resting on its funky laurels, the city now devotes an entire day to the art form. This year’s third annual Funk Parade is set for Saturday, May 7. And once again, tens of thousands of revelers are expected to descend on the U Street corridor for a day of music, dancing, roller skating, visual art and other funky pursuits.
Event organizers say they expect the 2016 Funk Parade to draw more than 70,000 people – almost triple the number that attended the inaugural event in 2014. The day-long party includes a fair in the U Street neighborhood from noon to 7 p.m., the parade itself from 4-5 p.m. and a free music festival at about a dozen U Street nightclubs from 7-10 p.m. The actual parade goes for six blocks, from the Howard Theatre at 6th and U Streets to the Lincoln Theatre near 12th and U Streets.
Justin Rood, a native Washingtonian, came up with the concept of a funk parade more than three years ago after having a vivid dream that drummers, dancers and others were making a joyous ruckus near the corner of his apartment building by the intersection of 13th and U Streets. He awoke wondering why no one had established a funk parade to celebrate the music that gives DC its heartbeat. Rood soon decided to do it himself, and tells On Tap that the Funk Parade is a chance for everyone to make some noise of their own.
“Engaging attendees in the day’s experiences has always been central to the event,” says Rood, who co-founded the Funk Parade with Chris Naoum of Listen Local First, a group that supports local music. “This isn’t a spectacle to watch. It’s a celebration to join.”
To that end, the creative minds at Deloitte Digital in DC volunteered to design an app called Boombox for this year’s festival that will allow Funk Parade participants to play music that syncs with the drummers, horn players and other musicians in the parade.
“If you don’t know how to play an instrument, or don’t have one, but you have a phone, you can download the app and play or bring your Bluetooth speaker and play it off the speaker,” Rood explains. “The app will sync you with whoever else is playing nearby so it’s all being played in concert.”
Kokayi – a Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter, producer and emcee – is among dozens of local artists playing on stages around this year’s event. Other participating musical acts include Rare Essence, Funk Ark, Empresarios, Congo Sanchez, Nappy Riddem, Fort Knox Five and many more.
This year, Kokayi asked fellow DC residents to submit sound clips to him from around the city. He received almost three dozen entries, including a Harley Davidson tailpipe roaring downtown and church bells chiming in Logan Circle. Kokayi then turned all of the distinctive noises into four different songs, each representing a quadrant of the city. He says Funk Parade is a chance to celebrate what’s unique about DC, and each other.
“I look at the Funk Parade as a preservation of the history of DC culture,” Kokayi tells On Tap. “The fact [is] that DC is one of the only cities that [has] its own indigenous music form, and if we celebrate that form, then it makes the Funk Parade worthwhile. It’s making sure we maintain the culture of what makes us an original type of city.”
The theme of this year’s Funk Parade is “ROLL YOUR FUNK,” which highlights “the city’s roller-skating heyday, its current cycling culture, skateboarding and more.” Rood says event organizers established a participatory art project working with “style skaters” from the 1970s who are still skating today.
“We’re just going to have a whole afternoon of roller skating and fun,” he says. “We’re also doing an online component, pulling pictures of DC from the 1970s and putting them online.”
When asked why the Funk Parade has grown so rapidly in just a few short years, Rood says the event “meets a need.”
“It’s just a lot of fun – and it’s free – and that attracts people,” Rood says. “The experience that people have at Funk Parade is different than almost any other public event in that it brings people together to celebrate what they love about the city. We’re really trying to celebrate DC.”