Metro Weekly

Full Bloom

The National Cherry Blossom Festival has grown in recent years

Jefferson Memorial Cherry Blossoms Photo by Steve Piacente
Jefferson Memorial Cherry Blossoms – Photo by Steve Piacente

It might be hard to believe — or remember — but two decades ago the cherry blossoms in the Tidal Basin bloomed on their own, with little fanfare other than a parade.

“I really made a suggestion to the city, to Destination DC, the hotel association — anybody who would hear me,” explains Diana Mayhew. “Somebody needs to take the festival, put it under their belt, and have it really be run by people in the city.”

Mayhew wasn’t angling to be that somebody, the first paid director of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, launched in 1927. But she was offered the position and in 14 years ago, has grown the festival in size and stature. It now runs three weeks and each year brings new and expanded events.

Among the additions for the 2015 festival, which launched last weekend, is a day of Japanese-themed art and cultural activities at the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries set for this Saturday, March 28, the same day as the 49th annual kite festival held nearby, on the grounds of the Washington Monument. Also this Saturday is Cherry Blast, the art and nightlife party appealing to a hipper crowd. Held in a former church in Southwest, the party features performance artists as well as DJs, including Ursula 1000 of Eighteenth Street Lounge, playing until midnight.

The festival culminates in a parade on Constitution Avenue, and this year’s event, taking place Saturday, April 11, is also roughly when the blossoms are expected to be at full peak. But a newer highlight of the festival is the Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival, a day of music and live entertainment, food and water-related activities set for Saturday, April 4.

“We’re actually having a floating stage,” Mayhew says. This will allow for more performances during the day as well as better viewing of — and less crowding during — the nighttime fireworks display. — Doug Rule

The National Cherry Blossom Festival runs through Sunday, April 12. For details and a full list of events, call 877-442-5666 or visit nationalcherrblossomfestival.org.

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