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July 3-4 

Washington, D.C.

Make the most of Independence Day 1999 at A Capitol Fourth, Washington D.C.'s annual music and fireworks spectacular. Head to the mall early to stake out a good spot, then spend the day enjoying music on the Capitol steps, where you'll hear everything from local alternative groups to military bands. Expect to see protest groups, too. Those supporting the legalization of marijuana usually make a holiday appearance.

The official show begins around 8 p.m. on the west lawn of the Capitol. (It is broadcast live on PBS if you can't be there in person.) This year's musical guests include Nell Carter, Maureen McGovern and country singer Jo Dee Messina. They'll open the evening together with patriotic songs commemorating each decade of the 20th century, then Carter will lead a musical tribute to Washington's own Duke Ellington, in honor of the 100th anniversary of his birth. Cannons will accompany the fireworks while the National Symphony Orchestra performs Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture."

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This event is not for the claustrophobic: More than 450,000 people are expected to attend. Instead of joining the scramble for seats near the Lincoln Memorial, aim for a less crowded area between the reflecting pool and the Washington Monument, near Independence Island. Keep an eye out for pizza boys (Domino's, Papa John's, etc.) selling pies right out their cars. You'll pay more than you would normally, but it beats the typical street vendor's fare.

To get into town, consider driving only as far as Springfield, then picking up Metro's blue line at the Franconia-Springfield stop. Instead of exiting at Smithsonian with everyone else, go one stop more to Federal Triangle, then walk south on 12th Street to the mall. But don't miss the last train out of the city, typically departing right around midnight. Check out www.Washington.Sidewalk.com for a subway map.

If you're going up for the whole weekend, spend Saturday at the 33rd annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival held between Seventh and 14th Streets on the mall. The free festival, which runs Wednesday, June 23 through Sunday, June 27 and Wednesday, June 30 through Sunday, July 4, celebrates the traditions of other cultures throughout the country and around the world. This year's featured events include New Hampshire's traditional maple syrup making, music and dance groups from Romania and the textiles and tapestries of South Africa. Festival hours are from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with special events scheduled 7 to 9 each night except July 4. During the event, call (202) 357-4574 to hear a recorded description of daily events. Check out the Folklife Festival on the Internet: www.si.edu/folklife
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