Blog and Photos by Art Slater
It’s hard to believe that a Congressional statute drafted a hundred years ago could inspire a song or two, but yet it happened. With the stroke of a pen, the powers that be set aside a bit of water, earth and sky for the people to marvel at, meditate in and enjoy[i]. So here’s how I celebrated the Year of the Anacostia on Anacostia Park's centennial birthday day, celebrated August 31, 2018.
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step...”[ii]
After a long day at the office and the start of the Labor Day weekend, I thought about getting out of Dodge like some of you. But c’mon, working at an organization called the Anacostia Coordinating Council (ACC), how could I not go to this signature celebration? Besides, ACC has been attending the Year of the Anacostia Steering Committee meetings at the National Capital Parks East (NACE) HQ for about a year now. You know we had to represent. Still, it was getting late, after 7:00 p.m. and I had to get going. But how was I going to get there?
I thought about trudging all the way down Martin Luther King Jr. Ave down to Good Hope Road in 90° heat and humidity but I decided to take a more direct route that would get me to Anacostia Park a little quicker, a shortcut of sorts, or so I thought. So, instead, I walked the long block on Shannon Place to take the Anacostia Metro station at the Howard Road entrance. The Metro, yeah right!? Yep, that’s right. The madness runs like this: You use your SmarTrip card to enter the station, walk the length of the platform, under the freeway, and exit on the other side where the parking garage is, and take the bike path past National Capital Parks-East (NACE) HQ, past the US Park Police parking lot, and you end up on Anacostia Drive.[iii] Only I wasn’t on a bike and by the time I used this method, I was already starting to sweat. Ugh!
“I really don’t know clouds at all…”[iv]
I’m glad I did it this way, though. When I arrived at Anacostia Drive, I looked around and saw the most amazing towers of clouds I can remember. Were they cirrus, cumulonimbus, stratus, nimbostratus? All I knew was that they were beautiful. You be the judge.
Meet Me at the Go-Go
“I love the way you do it when you do it better…”[v]
But where was the Go Go at? Sure, I had posted the National Park Service Anacostia Birthday Bash notice on the ACC website with a link to the event details. I knew that Trouble Funk, the Chuck Brown Band, and the Reminisce All Stars hosted by DJ EZ Street would be there – wherever there was, but I'd be doggone if I knew where in this Park (greater in square footage than New York’s Central Park) the jam could be found with hardly a sign of pedestrian activity where I was at.
I had already walked a mile and a half and I was determined not to look up the program on my cellphone for fear of catching wind of some late-breaking drama that might have to be responded to. Besides, why should I let anything distract or detract from the mission?
Down the road apiece, I ran into a dear ACC member who was walking toward me, looking a bit wilted but otherwise no worse for wear. We fistbumped and she confessed that she, too, had had a long day, was tired, hadn’t eaten, and began to conclude that maybe the jam wasn’t on after all, given the day’s weather and forecast. In addition, no one could tell how much farther it was, if it was – and maybe the Go Go beats she was hearing was from a disappointed motorist’s car putting down its own sounds. She decided to maybe come back tomorrow on the second day of celebrations, rested and refreshed. We said our goodbyes. I couldn’t blame her; I was harboring the same misgivings: It’s got to be near the Pirate Ship, right?
Meet Me at the Go-Go, Part II
After my friend was out of sight, then it hit me in my head:
“You party good, you throwin' down
You complement this funky sound
The funk is here so you can groove
We want to make your body move…”[vi]
My mission was clear: I had to go on, and go the extra mile. Literally. But before I took another step, I took a breath and looked around me, and this is what I saw:
Now, I was ready, come what may.
You got to give a lot just to get what you need sometimes y'all...[vii]
What started out as a little jaunt was starting to take a big bite out of me. After what seemed like a mile after the Pirate Ship, I began to see people streaming toward the lights in the clearing. I asked a guy who was leaving “How was the show?” and he said “It’s just starting.” Finally, I was at the Go Go!
I felt my pace quicken, stepping to a beat that grew steadier, with cowbells more distinct, voices singing, and that bass!
When I finally arrived, the area around the bandstand featured a carnival-like atmosphere with folks moving and swaying to the beat, many with cellphones in hand to capture the moments. Trouble Funk was in the house kicking things off at the Anacostia Birthday Bash marking 100 years.
The weather had cooled a bit but the air was chock-full of humidity. By now, few people seemed to mind – not even me.
Pump-Pump-Pump-Pump Me Up![viii]
As twilight fell, the audience settled into the fact this was really happening and acted accordingly. Fannies were moving, arms were waving, the band called out and people responded, and everybody was pumped up! I was capturing the moments myself, when I espied one of the National Park Service's finest, Ranger Go Go, busting a move, cheered on by a not-so-secret admirer.
What else was go going on?
After the first set with Trouble Funk, the Chuck Brown Band stirred up the crowd but good. Reminisce Go GO All Stars continued the party during bash hosted by DJ EZ Street.
I walked around the Skating Pavilion area (I finally dug that it was here), saw food vendors, lawn chairs, picnic blankets, a crew of Park Rangers at a tactile Q&A station inviting visitors to guess-that-animal-fur-hide and an equestrian officer (the kids loved it!), and a concession stand with coffee mugs, T-shirts and plenty of merchandise for sale emblazoned with the Anacostia Centennial logo.
Big Yellow Taxi - Homeward Bound
"Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got til it's gone?..."[ix]
Home where my thought's escaping,
Home where my music's playing,
Home where my love lies waiting
Silently for me."[x]
Some might call it the height of arrogant human exceptionalism to place an age upon a place on Earth that has preceded us by millions of years. This might be true. Yet, perhaps the best that can be said in our defense, especially for us Washingtonian city folk (born, raised or bred), is that one hundred years ago, the fellow travelers of the time realized that they should be stewards of this portion of urban space, and that they should set aside a bit of water, earth and sky for the people to marvel at, meditate in and enjoy.
For the start of this two-day birthday bash, Go Go music was the catalyst to bring regular people into the park, people whose predecessors danced to the beat of the drum, the call of the horn, and the sound of the voice. Regardless of the form the music takes, its energy is a direct connection to our spirit. And like the sound of the tree falling in the forest, sometimes you have to be there to believe that something actually happened. The amazing thing is that when you are in nature, something is always happening.
Whenever we have the opportunity to revive the spirit that brings us back to the water, earth and sky, let us walk through Anacostia Park, and through all our national parks while they exist and while Nature is still kind to us. And if some day in the future, Nature decides that our tenure as stewards came far too late and our efforts were found wanting, we won't be angry or shed a tear. And if by chance, we get a second chance to preserve this Earth, our home, we will look back at all this from generations then and hence, and say: "This is beautiful," and call it a day. For me, that day was today.
Happy Birthday, Anacostia Park!
Conceived and drafted August 31, 2018 and September 1, 2018.
Final Note: Coming soon: Be sure to catch Straight Crankin - Go Go Documentary
"Straight Cranking - Go-Go Documentary that is an exciting beat driven look back at DC’s Homegrown music drama told by the people who are the pioneers of its creation. You’ve got to see it to believe it."
Art Slater serves as Director of Operations at the Anacostia Coordinating Council.
[i] Congressional Record Sixty-Fifth Congress. Session II. Ch. 164. 1918. Anacostia Flats.
[ii] Tao Te Ching by Laozi, aka Lao Tzu, Chapter 64.
[iii] Yes, the Metro 15-minute station in-and-out grace period works, although the grace period credit may not show on the same date!
[iv] From “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell, popularized by Judy Collins.
[v] "Meet Me at the Go-Go" by Hot, Cold Sweat (Darius Moss), produced by Trouble Funk
[vi] "Pump Me Up" by Trouble Funk
[vii] "Bustin’ Loose" by Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers
[viii] "Pump Me Up" by Trouble Funk
[ix] "Big Yellow Taxi" by Joni Mitchell
[x] "Homeward Bound" by Paul Simon, sung by Simon and Garfunkel