Today’s the day the annual Fête de la Musique fills parks, streets, and plazas all over town with a cornucopia of sound. Or rather, that was the idea when the Fête concept, which began in France in 1982, was transplanted to D.C. in 2003. This year, however, the entire event will be confined to the grounds of the French Embassy at 4101 Reservoir Road NW.
The Embassy’s cultural arm, known as La Maison Française, promises 30 local acts, dance classes, instrument-building workshops for kids, and food and drink. The $15 celebration’s live music runs from 5 to 10 p.m., and a DJ will spin until 11:30. But where’s the rest of the fest?
The D.C. government apparently lost interest in the event after its second year. There’s a press release about the festival on the Web page of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, underneath of a photo of Mayor Adrian Fenty. Its most recent reference, however, is to 2004.
Perhaps the Fête isn’t the greatest idea the D.C. government ever had (or borrowed). But its fate is all too typical of the city’s stewardship of events, concepts, and proposals meant to enliven our town. Compared to such metropolises as New York and Paris, Washington has a bad case of urban ADD.
In 1985, for example, then-Mayor Marion Barry presented a New Year’s Eve street party at the Pavilion at the Old Post Office. The concept was nothing less grand than creating a rival to New York’s Times Square tradition. Five years later, the idea was dropped—-as was, essentially, the Old Post Office. That “festival marketplace’s” centrality to the “living downtown” was supplanted by the Shops of National Place. And when that shopping mall foundered a few years later, the D.C. government just watched it sink.
So perhaps it’s just as well that the fête has been ceded to the French. They may not do it bigger, but they’ll probably do it better. At the very least, they won’t simply lose interest and walk away, which has become the paradigmatic D.C. government response to problems and parties alike.