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Music, politics and fund-raising

Takoma Park’s atmosphere reflected in folk festival

Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2005

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Charlie Shoemaker⁄The Gazette
Five-year-old Dalya Block (right) and her friend Kira Appelman, 9, both of Silver Spring, learn Irish folk dancing from Sean Culkin at the Lenore Robinson Dance Stage during Sunday’s annual Takoma Park Folk Festival.

Thousands of people flocked to Takoma Park Sunday for the city’s folk festival, taking in a day of dancing, food and crafts. But for many, the event was about more than just music; it was about absorbing some of Takoma Park’s progressive atmosphere, along with a healthy dose of political dissent.

‘‘We just needed our infusion of common sense,” said Annette Schiffer, who made the trip from Alexandria, Va., with her husband, Michael. ‘‘Things that are left-of-center, I seek. This is just really, really a neat event.”

Schiffer’s longing for liberals was shared by many of the festival’s patrons, some of whom wore shirts or stickers protesting the war in Iraq or supporting their favorite Democratic candidate. Even the musicians made their feelings known, including folk singer Yikes McGee, whose protest songs made people stop, listen and nod.

‘‘We got a president, so bad; gotta be the worst we ever had,” he sang in what he called a ‘‘public service announcement” at the end of his set.

Political expression wasn’t the only thing going on at the festival, as people meandered to the seven musical stages set up in and around Takoma Park Middle School. The lines for food served by an international variety of restaurants and caterers formed early, with grilled Thai chicken, falafel sandwiches and vegetarian wraps selling quickly.

By noon, young people barely knee-high swarmed around midway games built by members of Boy Scout Troop 33 in the children’s area, some playing miniature golf on a tabletop course using marbles for golf balls. Nearby, master storyteller and Takoma Park resident Candace Wolf entertained a lawn of children, some listening intently while others squirmed out of their parents’ laps.

Festival Chairman Kevin Adler said it is difficult to estimate the number of people at this year’s 28th-annual festival. ‘‘We definitely feel that we drew more people than last year. The hallways [of the school] were more crowded; you could just see it when you went to the outdoor stages. You could just see the people, and we were competing with a lot of other events.”

Visitors wanting to take a break from the music stopped by the crafts area, a series of tents arranged to create an ‘‘arts alley” next to the school. One of the most popular tents belonged to Calico Frogs Unlimited, where Carol Wilen of Bowie managed to answer questions and wrap up sales of her stuffed frogs, dragons, snakes and sea creatures, many of which were a hit with the children.

But for all the fun, many people also had victims of Hurricane Katrina on their minds. One vendor sold T-shirts to raise money for those affected by the storm, while a Takoma Park family and their friends sold Mardi Gras beads and bracelets to raise money for the American Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity.

‘‘We want to make sure the poor people will be OK because we feel sorry for them,” said Kara Winstanley, 9, of Washington, D.C., who joined the Mayer-Marks family from Takoma Park for the fund-raiser. ‘‘They lost everything, and we see them on TV saying, ‘We need food,’ and ‘We need a place to live.’ ”

The group raised more than $1,200 by the time the festival closed Sunday evening, and it plans to have another booth at the Takoma Park Street Festival Oct. 2.

In the end, several people said it was everything the folk festival had to offer, including Takoma Park’s own unique style, which made the event a success.

‘‘I think there’s an atmosphere that’s really progressive, and for a lot of people, that’s really attractive,” said Karl Csaky of Kensington as he finished lunch with his wife, Eva, and their two young children, Kristof and Hanna. ‘‘The festival is fantastic, it’s very well-organized. It’s one of the best things we’ve done in a long time, without a doubt.”

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