A tale of two festivals

This weekend, the Silver Spring Jazz Festival and Takoma Park Folk Festival offer a double shot of music and fun

Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2006

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Members of the Latin American Folkloric Group perform on the World Stage at 2005’s Takoma Park Folk Festival. Fun with the folks is the word at this year’s festival oset for Sunday, from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

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Philip Smith of Cheverly and Yvette Robinson of Takoma Park jam along with the Ron Holloway Group at the 2005 second annual Silver Spring Jazz Festival. This year’s festival runs from 2 to 10:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Fall is festival season.   From the back-to-school nights of September to October’s Halloween frenzy to the mother of all festivals, November’s Thanksgiving, there’s something about shortening days and abundant harvests that brings people together.

Technically, it’s still summer, but the first weekend in September gives off that fall-fresh festival vibe — especially in the neighboring burgs of Silver Spring and Takoma Park, which this weekend offer a jazz festival and a folk festival, respectively.

The two festivals are alike in their devotion to music and community spirit, but each showcases a different genre. Silver Spring holds its still-fledgling jazz festival with a high-profile headliner in the heart of its newly ‘‘sprung” downtown, while Takoma Park’s folk festival, around for decades now, features music and crafts on the grounds of its local middle school. Both offer great music, good food and plenty of hometown atmosphere — and both offer free admission. Choose one or attend both — just be sure to get there early, and bring your dancing shoes.


‘‘Last year was cheek by jowl,” says Jazz festival producer Susan Hoffmann, marketing and special events manager for Silver Spring. ‘‘But a great time was had by all.

‘‘Come early and stake out your location.”

Hoffmann knows just what she’s talking about, too. Last year, 25,000 music lovers came to hear Wynton Marsalis perform, and this year has a pretty special headliner, too.

‘‘Spyro Gyra are long-standing superstars in contemporary jazz,” she says. ‘‘They’ve been around since the ’70s and they’ve had a number of crossover hits.”

Going out?
The Silver Spring Jazz Festival takes place from 2 to 10:30 p.m. Saturday at Veterans Field, Fenton and Ellsworth avenues, Silver Spring. Admission is free. Call 301-565-7434. The Takoma Park Folk Festival is from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Sunday, rain or shine, at Takoma Park Middle School, 7611 Piney Branch Road, Takoma Park. Admission is free. Call 301-589-0202.
Spyro Gyra formed in a Buffalo, N.Y., jazz club back in 1977 — and on Saturday, Jay Beckenstein, the group’s founder and leader, will play saxophone along with 32-year Spyro Gyra veteran Tom Schuman on keyboard, Scott Ambush on bass, Julio Fernandez on guitar and Ludwig Afonso on drums.

This is the third annual Silver Spring Jazz Festival, and Hoffmann says it is always a priority ‘‘to appeal to the broadest audience.” Well-known international acts like Marsalis and Spyro Gyra draw a crowd, sure — but it’s local legends — like D.C. area vocalist Michele Walker and Silver Spring’s own Marcus Johnson — that really please the crowd.

‘‘We also have Afrobop Alliance,” she says, referring to the Annapolis-based, seven-piece Latin jazz ensemble with their congas, bongos, timbales and bells. ‘‘It’s very unusual to have access to such great talent for free.”

Thanks to the event’s sponsors, they’ll be on hand, too. Borders will have a supply of the performers’ CDs on sale, Jazz Times will be there with T-shirts and subscription offers, and the American Film Institute (AFI) will man a booth.

How do you know it’s time for the Silver Spring Jazz Festival? Well, part of the showcase is a battle of the high school jazz bands between Blake High School, Einstein High School and the Jazz Academy of Silver Spring.

‘‘At 2 p.m., they’ll kick off with a New Orleans-style jazz caravan through the neighborhoods closest to downtown,” says Hoffmann. ‘‘They’ll come down [to Veterans Field] on floats, and their music will kick off the festival.”

That street parade might be the fastest moving traffic in town on Saturday. Hoffmann and the crew strongly suggest festival-goers take Metro on Saturday. And they recommend coming hungry for food as well as music: ‘‘The site itself is surrounded by restaurants, and we’ll have food vendors selling ice cream and gelato, and Crisfield’s will have shrimp cocktail for sale.”

But the music is the main event, and Hoffmann expects people to come out to see the jazz stars — and stay until the real stars are twinkling in the sky.

Folk park

So much for downtown Saturday night. What’s happening Sunday in the Park?

‘‘A wonderful community event,” says Catherine Chapman, co-programmer of the Takoma Park Folk Festival. ‘‘I’ve been going to the folk festival since it started 29 years ago. The music is one thing; the community aspect is another.”

The music is one thing on seven stages, actually, from the Grassy Nook where children’s performers will play, to the Grove Stage with its singer-songwriters’ showcase, to the Field Stage, large enough to accommodate bigger folk bands, to the Seventh Heaven Stage, a sort of ‘‘Takoma Park Idol” for acts that would like to prove themselves and get a spot next year.

‘‘The criterion is: Keep it local,” Chapman explains. ‘‘Performers need to be from the D.C. area, and we try to [limit performers] to two years, just to spread it out.”

One performer who has been through the cycle is Takoma Park resident and singer-songwriter Mary Sue Twohy, who will perform on the Grove Stage along with label-mates from Azalea City Records.

‘‘I’ve been involved in a lot of folk festivals all over the country,” says Twohy, who is also a music publicist. ‘‘This one is special. It’s all volunteer run, and that community spirit is like no other. It’s a real bonding factor for our community.”

Twohy completely agrees with Chapman’s contention that the Takoma Park Folk festival is an excellent way for newcomers and old-timers to get acquainted.

‘‘That’s how I got involved,” she laughs. ‘‘I was new in town and I got ‘recruited.’

‘‘After four years they said, ‘Mary Sue, it’s time for you to jump onstage!’”

Like everyone else, she jumps off stage, too, to give other performers a chance. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.

‘‘Rotating artists makes sure every year is different and has its own sort of flavor,” Twohy says. ‘‘They mix it up — and that’s what a folk festival is all about.”

Chapman calls it ‘‘diversity across the stages.

‘‘We don’t want to turn into a [completely] bluegrass festival,” she explains. ‘‘We have folk music from around the world.”

And groups from around the corner. The festival features ‘‘community tables” with information from various charitable organizations, local political and religious groups, including the local charities that benefit from the festival’s proceeds.

There are unique shopping opportunities as well. A juried craft show is part of the festival, and both Chapman and Twohy seem excited about the prospect of choosing their holiday gifts from among the pottery, jewelry, carvings, silk scarves and woven items. Children are more than welcome — there are special activities just for them — and there will be food vendors to suit every taste.

‘‘Thai food, Indian food, vegetarian food,” says Twohy. ‘‘And the best lemonade you’ve ever had in your life.”

Twohy points out that there’s a flavor not just to the food and drink but to the festival itself. Each year is different, she says, and each year is a surprise waiting to be discovered.

‘‘It’s an amorphous event; it has its own life,” says Twohy.

‘‘That’s the way Takoma Park is, and the way it wants to stay.

‘‘It’s as organic as can be.”