BY HYON-YOUNG KIM
There is only a little over a month left until the 36th annual Takoma Park Folk Festival.
With minor changes the festival will be held at Takoma Park Middle School on September 8, the first Sunday after Labor Day as usual, offering the broad array of eclectic music, food, crafts, children’s activities and community tables that characterize the unique annual tradition dating from 1978.
“It’s been going on long enough that people can smell it in the air,” said Janie Meneely, a festival volunteer in the program committee.
Dancing on every stage
This year’s festival will kick off with a song procession led by the D.C. Labor Chorus at 10:30 a.m., according to the program schedule, which is available on the festival’s website(www.tpff.org).
Unlike the previous year’s festival, there will be six, not seven, music stages, according to Colleen Clay, the director of the festival for the past three years.
“We’ve taken out the dance stage,” Clay said. “Instead of a single dance stage, we’ll have dance at each of the six stages.”
Fred Stollnitz, a member of the program committee, said that a separate dance area will be set up near each stage for people who want to get up and dance to the music.
Diverse food and folk
The basic layout of the festival—the stages for music, a juried artisan crafts show, the numerous community tables, the international food vendors and children’s activities—remains the same through the years, but the sheer diversity celebrated in every part of the festival blows away any hint of monotony.
“The enormous array of food is great,” Meneely said. “You can get anything you want—Thai, vegan, Caribbean, Indian.”
Music is no exception. The scheduled performers in the upcoming festival offer music ranging from smooth, funky jazz to high-energy traditional Zimbabwean music, from blues and Americana to Japanese Taiko drumming, according to the program schedule.
“There’s absolutely something there for everybody,” Meneely said. “We’re really blessed. We’re fairly high on the scale of musical prowess and there are many musicians definitely worth seeing.”
Stollnitz said that the individual stages offer their own musical genres, contributing to the festival’s cosmopolitan character. For example, the Abbott stage hosts traditional American folk music, whereas the World stage is an outlet for Gypsy, Russian, Japanese and North African music, to name a few.
“We strive to have new performers at each year’s festival,” Stollnitz said, emphasizing the festival’s pursuit of diversity. “There is a rule that any given performer cannot be featured more than two years in a row, so that we have space for new people…for more diversity and to keep things fresh and lively, as well as providing the opportunity for new performers just breaking into public performance or making their mark.”
About 50 performers have been selected out of almost 200 applicants to perform during the seven hours of scheduled stage performances, running from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Among these performers are young people, with all of the performers at the Grassy Nook stage under the age of 25, according to Stollnitz.
“The festival is happy to give novices a chance to perform,” Meneely said. “I really take my hat off to them.”
Aside from the stage performances, festival-goers may enjoy spontaneous performances by a number of performers who choose to roam the grounds instead of performing onstage.
This year, these performers include Banjo Man Frank Cassel, Cutting Edge Sword Dance, Foggy Bottom Morris Men, Rock Creek Morris Women, Arlington Northwest Morris and Hicks with Sticks, according to Stollnitz.
“Their spontaneous performances make the Festival more festive,” Stollnitz said.
The Takoma Park Folk Festival regularly draws out-of-town visitors as well as local communities.
“I see people from Annapolis and Baltimore who come for the music,” Meneely said. “(The festival) has a fairly wide net, pulling people in from out of the area.”
However, Clay said what especially sets the Takoma Park Folk Festival apart from other festivals is that it is entirely run by volunteers.
“There are about 300 volunteers who put on the event,” Clay said. “There are about 15 to 25 folks who volunteer in some capacity year-round. The performers are all volunteers. The festival is not commercialized like other festivals.”
Stollnitz said that the festival could always benefit from more volunteers, since the festival is completely dependent on the services contributed by volunteers. Volunteers can sign up on the website (www.tpff.org).
According to Clay, the proceeds from the festival go to local beneficiary organizations that work to support youth groups and programs.
Admission to the festival is free, but Stollnitz said that local non-profit organizations pay fees to set up community tables to advocate their causes or to communicate with members of the community, informing them of their programs and activities. Similarly, the festival raises funds for youth groups by renting space to food vendors and craft artisans.
This fundraising intent has continued since the origins of the Takoma Park Folk Festival in 1978, when Sam Abbott, a community activist in Takoma Park who ultimately became its mayor, organized a one-stage folk festival to raise money to save the Takoma Theatre, according to the Takoma Park Folk Festival website. This event evolved into an annual tradition, run for the benefit of the community.
“The festival is grounded in the community, essentially put on by the community for the community,” Clay said.
Given that several thousand people attend each year, according to the website, Meneely suggested taking advantage of the free shuttle buses that run between the festival site and the Takoma Park Metro station or the Montgomery College East Garage, rather than planning to park near the site.
“I think this festival will be bigger and better than ever,” Meneely said. “My expectations for the festival would be that it will draw folks from far and wide and make them wish they lived in Takoma Park.”