TAKOMA PARK – Hundreds of Takoma Park residents gathered Sunday afternoon for the city's annual folk festival to celebrate cultural diversity.
"Today's event is terrific, one, we have perfect weather for it, second we have amazing organizers who have taken up the planning of the folk festival this year and they've done an amazing job," said Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart. "It appeals to all different tastes," she added.
Set on the grounds of Takoma Park Middle School, the festival attracted musicians, dancers, and artists from across the region who displayed their talents and crafts to an observant crowd that strolled between booths and stages.
"I think it's terrific, the music is good, people seem to be enjoying themselves, the weather is perfect, and hopefully next year it's going to be bigger, bolder, and stronger," said 40-year Takoma Park resident and Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot.
The festival had six stages, each focusing on a genre of music ranging from blue grass, folk, soul, rock, to international music. Photographers, painters, potters, and other artists occupied tents and booths spread across the grounds. Smaller sections were dedicated to community organizations, elected officials, and political candidates.
Flo Anito, originally from Chatham, New York, was one of numerous singer/songwriters in attendance. Describing her music as "jazzy pop for piano and guitar," she performed an hour-long set of original music that included a recently written song on the protest events in Charlottesville, Virginia, performed for the first time in public at the festival.
Titled ‘Man’, the song focuses on someone observing the increasing political and social divides across the country.
"It just seems like everyday things are more and more divisive here, and Charlottesville when I was there, seemed like such a friendly place and everyone was very welcoming and kind," the DC-based performer said. "I just felt like we need to get beyond these dividers and I don't think that the people that are in charge right now are necessarily helping us to see what we have in common," she added.
Dances at the festival included English Morris dancing which dates back to the 15th century. James Voorhees, 65, from Kensington, led the dancers playing a rhythmic accordion melody. The dance consists of six dancers wearing bells, waving handkerchiefs or clashing sticks to the music.
Voorhees explained that the origin of the dances is not entirely known to historians. "As to the inner meaning of it, you'll hear all kinds of theories about it, it's ordinarily done in the spring and some say it's to make the trees grow and flowers bloom," he said.
In a dedicated section of the festival, visual artists displayed their work to curious onlookers.
Warren Wilson, 70, from Lanham, Maryland, was one of many photographers displaying his portfolio. He specializes in artistic photography and said he tries to "do something different." Many of his photographs portray objects, insects, or animals at close or medium ranges.
"A lot of times it is the subject that stops me, it could be the shadows, it could be the unusual shape or nothing I could make something out of by using software," he said when asked about his decision-making process on what to photograph. "I spend a lot of time studying the subject," he added.
He explained that he reviews his photos a few days after shooting them before beginning the editing process. "I may go and take a bunch of photographs but there's one particular scene that I say, I hope I got something on that," he said.
Amy Karlsson, 38, an engineering professor from Silver Spring, was one of many potters in attendance. She explained that she makes most of her pottery on the wheel.
"I like to play a lot with surface decoration and different forms," she said. Karlsson elaborated that she strives to make her pottery unique while also being usable. "If it's not going to be used, I don't make it. Everything I do, it's been through the microwave or dishwasher at least once," she added.
The VisAbility Art Lab, an artist collective based in Rockville, displayed artwork by eight artists with disabilities.
"It allows the artists to come in, to create art, and to work in self-directed goals and directions they may have an interest in," said Elaine Parks, 52, a therapist from Rockville who works with the collective.
One of the collective's artists, Max DeMulder, 22, from Silver Spring, specializes in paint and ink drawing. DeMulder explained that his work often portrays a range of emotional scenes.
"When I have an idea I chase it, I literally have no plan but I always try to draw as much as I can and if looks like scrap then I keep chasing it until it looks good," he added.
Attendees were also encouraged to try samples of unique and exotic foods.
Jon Davidson, 33, a culinary artist from Baltimore, represented Max's Degrees at the festival, a small business that specializes in herbal spice blends.
"We doing everything in small batches, we don't use extra fillers or preservatives, we use some of the world's hottest peppers, we a lot do wood smoked things," Davidson said.
Davidson explained that he aims use spices that are less common. Depending on the type of ingredients, he added the process can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months.
"It's a lot of iterating, we'll play around in the kitchen, we'll have an idea and use a couple ingredients and we'll do six different versions of that before we actually decide we're going to produce something en masse," he said. "We'll mess around with quantities."
Religious and community organizations used the festival as an opportunity to reach out to the community.
"We're here to articulate a compassionate message of Islam to our local neighbors and community members in order for them to understand the concept of Islam and our belief system as Muslims," said Azad Ali, 46, an IT specialist from Silver Spring, who attended the event with ‘Why Islam,' an outreach project of the Islamic Circle of North America.
Ali explained that, as a Muslim, he believed it was important to clarify any questions people might have about his faith. "We feel we should be able to explain our message rather than have other people explain our message on our behalf," he added.
"There are things in the media that are always going to be there, there's Islamophobia, xenophobia as well," Ali said. "Personally you'll be surprised how much we have in common as opposed how much we don't have in common."
Elected officials, candidates, and activists used the event to reach out to constituents and prospective voters ahead of the 2018 election cycle.
"Attending it is almost like a mandatory thing now especially since this an election year," said Sen. Will Smith (D20), who represents Takoma Park in the Maryland State Senate.
Smith added that constituents approached him about issues ranging from DACA to infrastructural improvements at a particular intersection.
"It's always a great opportunity because you get to press the flesh with people that you may have corresponded with over email, you may have knocked on their door, you may have missed them, this is a great opportunity to sit and talk to people and hear what their concerns and gripes are and what they're happy with," he added.
Paul Gunter, 67, an activist who campaigns against nuclear energy, explained that nuclear plants, such as the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in Lusby, Maryland, carry major safety and environmental risks local to Montgomery County.
"What we've seen with the Fukushima-Daiichi accident in Japan is that nuclear power, if there is an accident, it can be very far reaching even well and far beyond the current emergency plans around nuclear power stations," Gunter said. "The consequences can be very unforgiving because they can leave radioactive contamination behind that not only affects populations but can disable economic structures," he added.
Gunter added that nuclear power plants come with a growing financial operational cost when compared to wind and solar alternatives. "Over half the plants in the country are losing money because their power is just too expensive and unsustainable," he said. “It’s not unlike burning antiques in your wood stove.”
The Montgomery County Republican Party reached out to residents and voters with the aim of reelecting Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and electing a Republican to the Montgomery County Council.
Richard Jurgena, 78, from Darnestown who also serves on the party’s central committee, explained that the party's county chapter was dedicated to stopping the next round of proposed property taxes.
"It [the proposed property tax] would continue to drive out businesses and home owners out of our county who are the taxpayers, we're in a downward spiral, we over spend and tax to cover that spending," he said.
Jurgena explained that the county, in his view, overspends and one of the side effects was the declining quality the county's education system.
Despite being an elected official, Franchot said he was able to attend the event without discussing politics or the upcoming election season.
"There are lot's of things going on in politics, me, I'm lucky, I got a great job, but I'm not quite as visible," he said.