A Pa­rade of Fair Weather, Fi­nally, and Friend­ship

The Washington Post Sunday - - Metro Week - By V. Dion Haynes

A year af­ter be­ing booted off “ Amer­i­can Idol,” Ace Young got lots of love yes­ter­day.

Young lip- synced his song “ Scat­tered” as the Wash­ing­ton Wiz­ards dancers strut­ted be­hind him. When he was done, sev­eral girls in the crowd screamed his name. Young smiled and waved, his shoul­der- length brown hair blow­ing and bounc­ing as he headed along Con­sti­tu­tion Av­enue NW in the Na­tional Cherry Blos­som Pa­rade.

The frag­ile pink and white blos­soms on the 3,700 cherry trees in the Tidal Basin area are pretty much his­tory be­cause of re­cent rain and a windy cold snap. But the fes­ti­val and pa­rade still drew thou­sands to down­town Wash­ing­ton.

For many, it was the first spring day in a while that ac­tu­ally felt like spring. Res­i­dents and vis­i­tors jammed the pa­rade route to see na­tion­ally rec­og­nized acts, such as Young and Sweet Honey in the Rock, and lo­cal at­trac­tions, in­clud­ing the D. C. po­lice mo­tor­cy­cle team and D. C. High School All- City Band.

“ This was on my list of the things you want to do be­fore you die — come to the Cherry Blos­som Fes­ti­val,” said Dana Robert­son, 57, of Nashville, Ind., who was stand­ing next to her friend Mar­cia Fla­herty of Rich­mond. “ I just want to find one blos­som.”

But not ev­ery­one was happy about the pa­rade, par­tic­u­larly mo­torists try­ing to wend their way through clogged in­ter­sec­tions and a maze of closed streets. “ There was quite a load of traf­fic on H and 17th,” said Ted­son Mey­ers, 78, who spent an hour, rather than the usual 15 min­utes, get­ting from his ap­point­ment down­town to his home in Crys­tal City. “ Peo­ple were cussing and . . . mak­ing il­le­gal turns.”

The pa­rade was one of the fi­nal big at­trac­tions of the 16- day fes­ti­val, which ends to­day. Or­ga­niz­ers say it is be­com­ing the event of the spring, hav­ing grown into this big blowout, when as re­cently as the early 1990s it was half as long as it is now. But they have even big­ger plans — to make the event na­tion­ally rec­og­nized and tele­vised, on par with the Rose Bowl pa­rade.

“ This con­veys a more hu­man and re­gen­er­a­tive view of the city,” said Rich Bradley, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Down­town D. C. Busi­ness Im­prove­ment Dis­trict. “ We want to raise the profile of the event. We hope it grows.”

Be­sides serv­ing as a rite of spring, the event com­mem­o­rates the friend­ship be­tween two na­tions. In 1910, the Ja­panese, in a ges­ture of good­will, do­nated cherry trees to Wash­ing­ton. But the trees, planted in what was largely swamp­land, were dis­eased and had to be burned. Two years later, the Ja­panese sent an­other shipment of trees to re­place the ones that were de­stroyed.

“ The blos­soms rep­re­sent not only beauty but the spirit of the Ja­panese peo­ple,” said Sonoko Kudo, di­rec­tor of the Ja­pan Cherry Blos­som As­so­ci­a­tion, who trav­eled from Tokyo to at­tend the fes­ti­val.

In Ja­pan, the cherry blos­som fes­ti­vals sig­nal “ a new be­gin­ning and a time to get to know each other bet­ter,” Kudo added. “ Un­der the cherry blos­soms we can make many new friends.”

And that’s what hap­pened with 220 march­ing band mem­bers who bonded with one an­other de­spite ri­val­ries among their seven D. C. pub­lic high schools. They had been brought to­gether re­cently by a band in­struc­tor try­ing to high­light the need for more fund­ing of school mu­sic pro­grams.

Af­ter a thun­der­ing drum cadence, the band in its seven sets of uni­forms rounded the cor­ner from Sev­enth Street NW onto Con­sti­tu­tion Av­enue be­fore slid­ing into “ Bat­tle Hymn of the Repub­lic.”

“ I en­joyed in­ter­act­ing with the dif­fer­ent bands,” said Teresa My­ers, 18, a trum­pet player at Dun­bar Se­nior High School in North­west Wash­ing­ton. “ I was sur­prised ev­ery­body got along.”


Per­form­ers from Ta­m­a­gawa Univer­sity in Ja­pan were part of the lineup for the Na­tional Cherry Blos­som Pa­rade.

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