Takoma Park promises to once again live up to its reputation for inclusiveness during the Takoma Park Folk Festival on Sunday, Sept. 8. With dozens of performers playing on six outdoor stages at Takoma Park Middle School, it’s hard to find a musical genre that’s been excluded.
From traditional Celtic ballads to Afro-Peruvian beats to Gypsy jazz, the festival — now in its 41st year — is a day-long smorgasbord of all things musical.
“The Takoma Park Folk Festival reminds people of how many great musicians live here and the variety of music they play,” said Jay Keating, festival publicity co-chair.
With performers playing for free and an all-volunteer event staff, the festival also represents the power of music over manna. “Everyone is giving in the moment, on that day,” Keating, of Derwood, said. “There aren’t many free events in this area that draw thousands of people that isn’t government-funded.”
Not that the festival hasn’t experienced the blues. Four years ago, it was canceled due to a lack of volunteers. “After that happened, I stepped in to help keep the festival I loved rolling, as did volunteers from all over the D.C. area,” said Rob Hinkal, a professional musician from Baltimore, who now serves a program chair.
Founded in 1978 by Sam Abbott, an artist and activist who would later serve as a Takoma Park mayor, the first event raised about $1,100 to help keep the Takoma Theatre out of the hands of a developer. Over four decades, it expanded from one to six stages and now attracts as many as 6,000 music lovers.
“The first festival was a complete eruption of local feeling, a real grassroots effort,” Keating said. “Usually, events like this flounder when the original organizers fade away. But the festival has been nurtured over the years and people still enjoy its charm.”
The audience listens to the band playing on the Grove Stage (2017).
Photo credit: Jay Keating
Expanded to include a juried show of 40 crafters, international foods, community nonprofit tables, and children’s games and activities, the event run by the nonprofit Takoma Park Folk Festival, Inc. raises funds for local youth activities.
It also raises the profile of the performers taking to the stage. “Musicians actually clamor to perform, and they donate their time and energy,” said Keating, who has performed at the event with his own band.
“I’m back and forth about whether I’m proud of musicians playing for free,” said Hinkal, but added that the festival is known as a venue where new performers can make their mark. “I find that our performers are generously repaid by CD sales and the fact that the audience often shows up at later shows,” he said.
This past February, some 300 acts applied for a slot in the festival. After viewing performance videos, Hinkal and his stage coordinators selected just 54 acts to grace the stages.
“It’s the worst part of my year when I have to say no to five out six acts applying for the festival,” he said. “Our rule of thumb is that an act can play for two years in a row, but then must take a break. It’s a safety guard that ensures we have new and exciting acts each year.”
Figuring out which acts to catch can be overwhelming, so Hinkal suggests visitors plan their day in advance. Each of the six stages focuses on a specific genre, from world music to traditional folk to young artists. There’s an open mic session and some dance in the mix, such as a teen tap dancing act.
“Take a look at the schedule and map, and then choose which acts to catch,” he said. “While some people tend to stay at one stage all day, I’d encourage them to walk around and encounter something new.”
Hinkal said he’s especially excited about two new acts. Ashleigh Chevalier, who he describes as a “phenomenal blues-rooted rocker”, and Orchester Praževica, a band playing dance music rooted in Eastern Europe and Gypsy swing.
“Orchester Praževica is basically a party onstage,” he said.
A band new to last year’s festival, 1 Identity, is back again to delight the audience.
“They bring a tight R&B, soul sound to the festival. Right now, we can all use a little funk,” he said.
The Takoma Park Folk Festival, held rain or shine, takes place from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 8 at the Takoma Park Middle School, 7611 Piney Branch Road, Takoma Park. Admission is free. Free shuttle buses (with wheelchair accessibility) will run to and from the Takoma Metro station. For a complete schedule of events and more information, visit www.tpff.org