WASHINGTON, D.C. The National Cherry Blossom Festival—celebrating the 102nd anniversary of the gift of the cherry trees from Japan to the United States—kicked off on the first day of spring Thursday evening, with its signature Pink Tie Party. In addition to moving the fete to the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center—after previously taking place at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel then the Renaissance Washington D.C. last year—organizers changed the focus from food to fashion.
The larger venue allowed for an additional 200 people to attend, totaling nearly 800—the largest crowd in the event’s history. “We’ve changed our strategy of giving out info to the host committee by giving them more details than we have in the past and more emails when elements are solidified, so they can speak more intelligently about the party and really get more people to come,” said the festival’s director of programming, Lillian Iversen.
“When [Trade Center Management Associates] came forward with what they wanted to showcase in regard to their in-house services, it gave us a way to do something different and focus on the fashion component of the party,” Iversen said. In the past, restaurant-sponsored food stations dominated the event.
The move also provided more space for larger sponsor activations. Fashion outlets like the Collection at Chevy Chase and Macy’s had pedestals throughout the building’s atrium and adjacent ballroom with live models showing different looks from their retailers throughout the night. Macy’s setup also had midway games like balloon darts and ball-and-ring tosses to keep guests moving throughout the space.
The celebrations continued on Saturday with the Opening Ceremony at the Warner Theatre. The 2,000-person, free event combines local talent with notable Japanese performers in a multicultural entertainment program to commemorate the relationship between the United States and Japan. Iversen adjusted the run of show this year with tighter changeovers between acts to accommodate an additional performance, totaling eight this year, without pushing the show beyond its normal 90-minute run.
Other programming changes for the festival included the new “Sing Into Spring” competition. Since cherry blossoms aren’t usually a hot topic during the fall, Iversen and the parade production team chose that time of year to host the singing competition and remind locals about the festival. After first submitting their auditions via YouTube, 20 finalists competed in a live event in January to be chosen for a group performance that will occur during a parade on April 12.
The festival continues through April 13. Here’s a look inside the first weekend of events.