This weekend is the third annual Funk Parade, a self-described “one-of-a-kind parade, street fair, and music festival to celebrate U Street, D.C., and the spirit of funk.” Over the years, D.C. has been described as many things—Chocolate City, This Town, swagger-jacked—but how many things in and about the District can you truly describe as “funky?” Washington City Paper investigates.
James “Funk” Thomas
Jas.Funk, the lead talker of longtime go-go progenitors Rare Essence, has been one of the driving forces of the genre—arguably the most funky thing to come out of D.C.—for more than 30 years, so yes, he is indeed funky.
Funky? Kind of.
Peruse Airbnb listings for Mount Pleasant and the most common adjective used to describe the neighborhood is “funky.” The neighborhood, a longtime hub for D.C.’s Latino population, was at one time one of the city’s weirdest and funkiest neighborhoods, but with the loss of Heller’s and the addition of a Subway, it’s certainly become less funky. Hey, there’s still places like Haydee’s, La Casa community space, and Marx Cafe keeping things weird.
U Street Corridor
Like Mount Pleasant, the U Street corridor has a rich and vibrant history. What was once known as “Black Broadway”—with places like The Lincoln Theatre, The Howard Theatre, Bohemian Caverns, and Ben’s Chili Bowl serving as beacons of black culture—is now gentrified with expensive condo buildings, bougie restaurants, and what seems like an infinite number of Hilton Brothers establishments.
Parliament’s Chocolate City
Legendary funk band Parliament’s 1975 album Chocolate City is a tribute to D.C. Parliament and its leader George Clinton are kind of the keepers of all that is funky and weird, so yes, this album is funky as hell.
OK, so Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” has nothing to do with D.C., but it’s so ubiquitous that it’s pretty much guaranteed to be played during the Funk Parade. The song—with its disco-styled guitar licks, thumping slap bass, and Bruno Mars’ smoothly stylized vocals—is technically funk, but it’s the Kenny G of funk: corny, tame, and safe.
First photo by Joy Asico, second and third photos by Darrow Montgomery.