Pete Castle was amongst the Tenterden Folk Festival regulars representing Kent the recent Smithsonian Folk life Festival in Washington DC.
Pete summarised his feelings about the festival as follows;
THE SMITHSONIAN FOLKLIFE FESTIVAL
There are times when I can’t believe how lucky I am to do what I do for a living. For a week at the end of June/beginning of July I was one of the first English people to participate in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC. (Previously Scots, Welsh and Irish and just about any other nationality you can name have been there but, for some reason, not the English!) I went as a ’cultural exemplar’ (I’ve been called many things before!) from Kent, where I was born and frequently appear at events such as Tenterden Folk Festival. Our programme in Washington was called the Roots of Virginia Culture and I worked alongside Virginians, American Indians and Senegalese. Also participating in their own sections of the festival were delegations from the Mekong Delta and N.Ireland.
The Washington Post described the event thus:
“Seven city blocks; 10 days of arts, crafts, music, sports and games; 32 languages; 90-degree temperatures; 103 tents; 415 volunteers and 707 guest participants: Yes, the 41st annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the Mall promises to be a bustling, sometimes overheated, multi-tented and multicultural mini-metropolis.”
I was asked to perform at the opening ceremony and by the time I was on stage the audience had been listening to strange music and long speeches for nearly 2 hours so it wasn’t the time for a serious ballad or long story! ‘Hopping Down in Kent’ proved to be the right choice and I’m told that the Governor of Virginia, the Ambassador for China, Martin McGuinness et al were joining in and swaying along behind me!
We musicians/storytellers did several sets each day on one or other of the various stages and joined random selections of other artists to discuss a variety of topics on the discussion stage. It was a bit unreal to find yourself sharing a stage with a great blues singer like John Cephus or some of the Appalachian banjo pickers who looked as though they’d walked straight out of Deliverance!
It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. You don’t often get the chance to be heard by over 160,000 people in one day! (They reckon on 1 million people during the course of the festival. It’s all free—a ‘museum without walls’.) To eat breakfast with American Indians; to hear Chinese, American, and Vietnamese musicians jamming together; to engage in good natured banter about politics with a Rev. from Northern Ireland; to share a lift with exotically clad dancers from Cambodia… you think you’re in a dream.
If you look at my website at www.petecastle.co.uk you’ll find a page dedicated to the event, complete with pictures and links to other sites on which you can find interviews and even videos of me performing!
I will be back in Kent at in the near future and at Tenterden Folk Festival 2007 from the 5th to 7th October.
Trustee and festival director
Tenterden Folk Festival
Tenterden Folk Day Trust (Registered charity No. 1038663)
Promoting folk song, music and dance