Hundreds of D.C. residents will make their way to U Street on Saturday to discover their own definition of funk – and probably chili con carne at Ben’s Chili Bowl.
But they’ll really be there for the second annual Funk Parade, a celebration of D.C music and U Street culture that’s as hard to define as funk itself. The music genre, which derives from early soul and R&B, relies on a heavy-handed bass line that gives it a groovy quality.
Co-founder Justin Rood said the idea for the parade came from a dream – where Howard University’s marching band and Batala Washington, a group of 85 women who play reggae music – paraded down U Street in a “thunderous column of music and celebration.”
“I think people like the word funk. It makes them smile and they like to think of themselves as funky,” Rooney said.
The parade’s organizers, who call themselves the D.C. Department of Funk, define the genre as “the subatomic particle of love.”
The festival will include over 67 performances and dozens of local vendors. Funk and go-go music will be played by bands like The Junkyard Band and Trouble Funk, and other genres like jazz and rock will also be featured. All the groups hail from the D.C. area, and many from U Street itself.
“We hope that you’ll come because you’ll discover while you’re there a thousand other things you never knew about the city or sounds that you’ve never heard or people you’ve never met,” Rood, who lives on U Street, said.
The parade also has sponsorships from a number of local restaurants and shops. Theresa Watts, a native Washingtonian and the owner of Lettie Gooch, a clothing and jewelry boutique, is sponsoring the parade through 15&U, a collective of local businesses in the U Street corridor.
Watts said the parade helps business owners meet customers and each other, while supporting local businesses and musicians.
“It really brought us into the streets, so we were really able to connect with our consumers and meet different consumers in a way we’re not able to from day to day being inside the store,” Watts said.
Last year’s Funk Parade was confined to a single block on V Street despite organizers’ efforts to persuade the city to block off U Street for the occasion. This year, co-founders Rood and Chris Naoum approached Mayor Muriel Bowser’s office with strong support from U Street residents and Ward 1 Council member Jim Graham.
Kevin Rooney, who started a Change.org petition to close U Street for the parade that now has more than 1,460 signatures, wanted to show the “broad support” behind the festival.
“I’ve seen absolutely no negativity about it at all,” Rooney said. “You think you’d hear some rumblings or some people annoyed by the hassle of crowds, but there’s virtually no negative stuff. It really appears that it’s been a huge hit right off the bat.”
Rooney also runs the Twitter account @UStreetBuzz, which spreads information about crime and news in the area. He said the parade can be another way share D.C.’s culture.
“I think sometimes D.C. gets a bad rap for not being a music scene when we actually have a really great music scene here,” Rooney said. “This is another opportunity to help showcase local acts.”