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AN AFTERNOON AT ECHO PARK

Other things got in the way, as other things will do, and also it rained on Saturday, so it was Sunday afternoon before we parked the car up the road from Echo Park, the refurbished amusement park that’s been hosting the free Washington Folk Festival for about 25 years, give or take one or two, and hiked on back down to the park.



   
   
   



The entrance is pretty spectacular turn of the 19th-to-20th century Art Deco, with a gorgeously restored Dentzel Carousel from the 1920’s, and a fine old “Spanish Ballroom” that resounded to the dancers’ feet all day (later on, we walked in on one of those great klezmer sessions, everybody up in a big circle to loosen up to the clarinet and saxophone of the Mechaza Klezmer Orchestra, one old lady in a wheelchair delightedly clapping along from her seat in the middle of that great circle),...

   



   

and made our way over to the children’s swings outside, with, behind them, a big marquee and a real old-time Nashville announcer calling off the old commercials in a break between string-band music from Bruce Hutton and friends, with Tom Mindte, in railroading cap and denims, wailing a lament for “Old Number Nine.” Wouldn’t you know – there was even a tarp on the floor, so people didn’t have to sit in mud from the rains of the day before. Now, that’s thoughtfulness.

   


Earlier, we’d seen Bill Jenkins, passing out long strings of musical shakers from the Amazon rain forest to excited children who crowded in on his stage, as the echoes of his singing Tibetan bowl died away.

   
   


In the Crafts Tent, the beautiful hand-made mountain dulcimers, of all shapes and sizes, from June Apple’s workshop, were hung along one wall, with some gorgeous Glass Fusion fish – just the thing for the baby’s room – spread above people’s heads.

   
 


Over in yet another tent, the colorful Grupo Canelazo, a vivid Latino group from Colombia and Venezuela got ready to display the rhythmic Afro-Spanish roots of their music. Further back, old-time fiddler Bob McLusky (who turned up later, over in the Nashville tent, backing up the singers there),

   

tuned up to prepare to accompany the banjo pickers in their round-robin workshop,

   
   


while Lisa Muscatiello and her musical partner, Scots-Irish fiddler Rosie Shipley, got ready for their all-too-brief – for their fans - set of tunes and songs from their new CD, “Well Kept Secrets” – before the tide of musicians from their friend Jennifer Cutley’s Ocean Orchestra swept onstage and on with the dance.


   
   
   



Which brought us back to the Crystal Ballroom, and the Mechaza Klezmer once again, and that toe-tapping giant circle. We surrendered, and away we went. It’s always like that at those lovely folk festival midways, with six or seven events running simultaneously, so it’s like the story of the blind men and the elephant, trying to describe what it’s like, from wherever you’re sitting down – or moving around. The program book is a pretty dazzling display of the regional talent at the Washington Folk Festival, from all round the Washington-Baltimore area, courtesy of The Folklore Society of Greater Washington, in cooperation with the National Park Service, the Glen Echo Partnership for Arts and Culture, and Montgomery County, MD. If we hadn’t been over at the banjo workshop led by Kathy Fink, we could have caught Kathy Westra, hosting a “mostly musical” tour of the Society's 40 years of activity in Glen Echo Park and elsewhere around the area (if you live in the vicinity, you’re interested in folk music and dance, and you’re not yet a member of the Folklore Society of Greater Washington, why not indeed? Easy enough to contact them, since you’re looking at this on your computer – www.fsgw.org will do it.)

If we hadn’t been where we were, and turned the program book to a different page too fast, we’d have seen old friend of The Digital Folk Life (back when we were not-yet Digital) Lisa Null, founder of Innisfree-Green Linnet Records, running a discussion of how contemporary coffeehouse troubadours can still be “Writing from the Roots.” Maybe we’d have heard Karen Ashbrook with her mighty hammer dulcimer, teaching children how to play Irish music. Maybe we’d have been crouched down, listening to the Twinbrook Library Storytellers Club, spinning tales of old Japan, featuring “a sticky riceball, a dragon and a funny little woman.” Maybe we’d have joined in a swing dance workshop, led by Ellen Engle and Marc Shepanek, to the sounds of BG and the Mojo Hands (who also played Chicago blues and Texas boogie elsewhere at another point). Maybe we’d have joined the Sarenica Tamburitzans, with their joyful stamp-and-go, carrying on their inheritance from its South Slavic origins to the new country. Or sat and clapped along with the Washington Balalaikas, playing Russian semi-classical and folk music on their great triangular instruments – enough! You get the point. There was enough and more than enough music, entertainment, juggling, story-telling, laughing, playing on the swings, chasing the beautiful old dogs everywhere on the grounds – you name it. Maybe next year we’ll make sure to get there earlier to do more. Maybe we’ll get hold of the program book earlier on – with our FSGW membership, of course – and plot out a simpler if longer course. Or maybe we’ll just do as we did this weekend, saunter in on Sunday and make a couple of slow circles, enjoying as much as we can take in of this cornucopia – this smorgasbord – this folkie buffet – as we can absorb. Whatever we do, it’ll all be at Glen Echo Park again next year. Thanks to all of the musicians and craftspeople we did have time to see and hear, and our apologies to all of those in the crowded pages of the program book we’ve skipped this time around. Next time, maybe we’ll stop and say hi to you too. I do believe it could be a date, if the baby says okay.