Waterfront festival blooms with cherry blossoms
Staff Sgt. Martha Krabill of the U.S. Army Band's popular music group Downrange, ventures into the audience to serenade spectators at last year's festival.

WASHINGTON (March 16, 2012) -- For the 100th anniversary of Washington, D.C.'s annual National Cherry Blossom Festival, the Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival on April 7 is even bigger and better this year.

Recognizing the gift of cherry trees from Japan to the American people in a gesture of friendship a century ago, the festival celebrates the cultural traditions of both nations and is one the city's most popular springtime tourist attractions. This year's waterfront festival, which includes free cultural activities, music and a fireworks display, will take place from 1 to 9 p.m., and has been extended to four stages along the District's Southwest waterfront on Water Street, between 6th and 9th Streets.

The event, produced by the neighborhood's Washington Waterfront Association and a host of commercial sponsors, also boasts participation by the U.S. Army and Navy. The nearby installations Fort McNair and the Washington Navy Yard still have some of the original cherry trees that were a gift to the nation's capital a hundred years ago.

The U.S. Navy Band will provide the kick-off to the festival at the Kastles Stadium Stage, 800 Water St. SW, beginning at 1 p.m. Then at 1:30 p.m., Col. Carl R. Coffman, commander of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., is scheduled to provide opening remarks, along with a representative from the Naval Support Activity Washington and a representative from the D.C. Council's Ward 6.

"I think this is going to be a great event," said John Imparato, director of corporate information management for the Washington Navy Yard. "You're going to see a lot of people staying all the way through to the fireworks."

He said he hopes the weather will be better than last year when rain briefly put a damper on the opening ceremonies.

"Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall is proud to be a key participant of this annual event," said Leah Rubalcaba, JBM-HH community relations officer and a member of the fireworks festival planning committee. "This year, in particular, we are proud to celebrate the centennial -- not only because of our ties to the original cherry trees -- but because of our continued commitment to working side-by-side with members of the southwest Washington, D.C., community on what will undoubtedly be one of the most significant community relations events of the year."

The U.S. Army Band also has a prominent role in the waterfront festival, with the units Downrange and the Army Blues jazz ensemble providing music at the Kastles Stage from 6 to 8:30 p.m., just before the start of the fireworks at 8:30 p.m. Sgt. Maj. Tony Nalker, Army Blues pianist and group leader, said the group may play some Japanese-themed music at the festival; possibly the Perez Prado composition "Cherry Blossom Pink and Apple Blossom White," or maybe a piece by Japanese-American composer Toshiko Akiyoshi, who sometimes mixes big band jazz with Japanese themes and instrumentation.

While the fireworks, launched from a barge in the Washington Channel, have always been the culminating event at the waterfront festival, this year's pyrotechnics are being sent to the festival directly from the Japanese city of Nagaoka.

"I am delighted from the bottom of my heart that Nagaoka's fireworks, equipped with the essence of Japanese fireworks technique, will be displayed in Washington, D.C.," said Nagaoka mayor Tamio Mori in a festival press release.

"Nagaoka's fireworks specifically express our desire for further development of friendship between Japan and the U.S. and for the pursuit of world peace, as well as our appreciation to many people for the generosity offered to us during the earthquake devastation."

The waterfront festival will also feature the return of the Nen Daiko Japanese Drummers as well as the popular music groups Lloyd Dobler Effect, Band of Heathens and The Nighthawks.

Celebrating the 40th anniversary of the blues-based Nighthawks, founder and Washington native Mark Wenner said he has fond memories of attending many Cherry Blossom Festivals through the years. He said his group did a lot of touring in Japan from 1983 to 1993 with Toru Oki, who became known as the King of the Blues in that part of the world. Wenner said his family is still in possession of a samurai sword his Army Signal Corps father brought back from Japan at the end of World War II.

"The Nen Daiko drummers are one of the three signature events at the festival," said J. Nickerson, president of the Washington Waterfront Association. He said the presence of a delegation from the Japanese embassy this year, along with the always popular fireworks, made the event a real cultural exchange.

"We may see some things we haven't seen before," he said in anticipation of the special fireworks coming from Japan. Several college students with Japanese ancestory will be manning display tents and roaming festival grounds as goodwill ambassadors.

Grace Kim, who lived in Japan for six years as a child, said she would share her skill at origami, the ancient art of paper folding. She said she's particularly adept at making paper cranes, a bird that is symbolic of good fortune in Japan.

"We tried to come up with several things that children and families can enjoy," said the George Mason University junior, who is working on a degree in global affairs. Kim said she was in particular looking forward to hearing the Nen Daiko drummers at the festival, who she's heard on recordings but never seen live.

The festival will also include demonstrations of Japanese candy making, mukimono (decoratively-carved food garnishes) and the making of Koi windsocks. Additionally, colorful serpent-shaped dragon boats will be on view on the waterfront and a promenade of floating, illuminated Koi fish lanterns, launched from the festival shore, will dot the Washington Channel at dusk.

The JBM-HH Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program will be one of the primary vendors at the festival, selling hot dogs, popcorn and cotton candy at all three of the festival's sites, including Kastles Stage, the Gangplank Marina and the 7th Street Landing.

For a complete list of activities, performance venues, participants and appearance times, visit the website at www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/2011/07/15/fireworks-festival/

Members of the military community who would like to volunteer for the Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival may call (703) 696-3283.

Page last updated Fri March 16th, 2012 at 00:00