By Micha Green, AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor, [email protected]

“This is the first time, I’ve seen an event like this [at the Kennedy Center],” said Pamela Pynell and several other passerbyers as they marveled at the architecture, performances, workshops and events at the Opening Festival of the REACH, a $250 million expansion at the Kennedy Center in Northwest, Washington, D.C. on Sept. 7.

“I wanted to see what the Kennedy Center was about.  I knew they had new development so I wanted to check it out. I’ve been here all day,” Pynell told the AFRO Saturday evening, after spending the day at the opening, which started at 9:30 a.m.

With a 16-day free festival, The REACH is kicking off its new offerings with workshops, peeks inside rehearsals, interactive history lessons and performances from celebrated artists and performers.

For over two weeks hundreds of thousands are expected to celebrate the new development in the arts and check out the expansion, which cost $175 million to construct the actual building and totaled $250 million for programming.

“The REACH’s unique design will inspire a wide population to share and own their arts experiences. Building on the Kennedy Center’s rich ongoing programming portfolio to reflect the art of our entire nation, the Opening Festival celebrates all art forms and encourages participation, immersion, learning, and discovery,” said Kennedy Center President Deborah F. Rutter in a statement.

At the Opening Festival on Saturday, the Chuck Brown Band, Arrested Development and Trombone Shorty were some of the main attractions.

“I am here as a lover of the arts, as a native Washingtonian, as a lover of Chuck Brown and all that his group and his legacy has to offer, and I’m a child of a musician and Black arts music- so I’m here,” Nicole Bonds told the AFRO as the Chuck Brown Band jammed in the background.

“This event means a lot to me because it’s almost like a having a conference of rich culture and ethnic art, right in your backyard, so I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” Bonds added. “I grew up at the Kennedy Center, literally running around since I was about five or six years old, so to continue to be a part of the Kennedy Center and its growth and see how it’s developed throughout the years.  I feel like it’s a part of me and my family history as well.”

Arrested Development, who kept the 90s grooving with hits such as “Mr. Wendal,” “Tennessee” and “People Everyday,” offered an intimate performance at the Riverside Pavilion, which is part of the REACH.  There they performed their greatest hits, shared words of wisdom, and even went outside and sang “People Everyday” a cappella for the hundreds that couldn’t get into the performance venue. 

“And we’ve been doing this for thirty years, and so there’s every once in a while when we have young people that would come up to us and would be like, ‘I know y’all have a cute couple hits or whatever, but I don’t see you at the club.’  And we be like, ‘I don’t see you at the bank,” Headliner from Arrested Development said before the group sang their song, “I Don’t See You at the Club.”

In addition to performances there are several local food and drink vendors showcasing their wares on the grounds of the Kennedy Center, such as Iris Lattimore of Lattimore’s Gourmet Funnel Cakes.

Lattimore, who’s had a food truck for five years and has been doing events selling her products for about 11 years, told the AFRO why it was important to be at event like the REACH Opening Festival.

“It’s important because you get to see a lot of different cultures, and being in D.C. at the Kennedy Center, you have people from all over the world…and this is a multimillion dollar expansion, and it is going to be awesome,” Lattimore said.  “It’s amazing, simply amazing for me to be able to be here from eight in the morning to 10:00 at night, providing funnel cakes and lemonade, and everyone is walking around with a large strawberry lemonade, and it’s just really, really great,” she added.

For people like Pynell, the REACH Opening Festival offers an opportunity to bring people together at a time where many argue the District and United States is divided.

“We need it.  We need it. And I’m so glad they did this to the Kennedy Center and I will be coming back,” Pynell told the AFRO.

To attend the REACH Opening Festival before it ends on Sept. 22, go to http://www.kennedy-center.org/The REACH