Granny Riddle, 81, took off her black patent leather performing shoes, sat back on the couch and stretched out her feet.

"I sure am tired," said the white-haired lady, who has lived in Greers Ferry, Ark., since 1912.

Saturday morning she had hiked through woods and up hills to sing her hymns and ballads at the two-day 41st National Folk Festival at Wolf Trap Farm Park.

Not long after she sat down on the couch, a 5-year-old, freckled, pig-tailed girl plopped down next to her. Granny said she'd never seen the child before, but seemed unsurprised when the little girl laid her head in Granny's lap.

"Do you sing that song "bout a frog with a sword and a pistol?" asked the girl as she played with Granny's fingers.

Yes, Granny said. And amidst the dozens of other performers, all amateurs, who had clustered in the green room back of the stage to escape Saturday's torrential rain, Granny Riddle sang quietly to the little girl.

Earlier that afternoon, before the rain, 3,200 people wandered from small stage to small stage, listening and dancing to the music. The Louisiana Aces and Tony and Dewey Balfa played their Cajun music to a hundred or so people under a blue-and-white-striped tent. A few couples tried to disco to the fiddle music, but the beat just wasn't right; a long-haired young man was having a little more success with his free-form, loose-limbed style; only one couple on the floor knew how to dance country.

Across the way, Minnesota cowboy Glenn Ohrlin and Irish storyteller Joe Heany tried to outdo each other in the liars' contest. And there was Ukrainian dancing and Irish dancing and Indian dancing and Spanish dancing. The sounds of hooting, wailing, thrumming and stomping wafted through the park. $&(WORD ILLEGIBLE

A little later, Granny Riddle and Joe Heany sat on the hillside, singing Irish ballads. Between songs, they started talking about Jesse James.

"My grandfather and Jesse James were brothers," said Granny.

Heany then said that Jesse James was born in Ireland. "I was born 10 miles out of town in the gutter," he added.

"Maybe so," said Granny skeptically, "but the Jameses came from Kentucky."

"I can prove he was born in Ireland," said Heany.

Granny disbelieved. "Honey," she said patting him on the shoulder, "maybe so."

Then, the sky suddenly turned the shade of tarnished silver and a cool, blustery wind came up. Hundreds of people scurried to cover in the Indian crafts tent. Some arrived too late and were drenched, their hair scraggly wet, their T-shirts clinging. Inside the darkened tent, Alvin James Makya, a Hopi Indian, whittled Kachina dolls from the root of cottonwood trees. Navajo Fred Stevens painted Indian figures holding sticks of lightning - with sand.

Two women pored over a tray of turquoise rings, trying them on and asking their prices.

"Is this a traditional design?" one asked dubiously.

Assured that the ring was indeed a genuine traditional design, she took out her checkbook.

There were lots of children and dogs under the tent. One small girl, tired of watching a pair of self-absorbed fiddle players, went up to two women, each holding a Chihuahua. She petted a yappy little dog's head gently with one finger.

"Is he a German shepherd?" she asked.

After the rain, Almeda Riddle ("Everybody calls me Granny,") ate dinner with her "Sears & Roebuck teeth," and talked about everything from growing up on a 60-acre farm to Bessie bugs.

"I didn't go to school much, and we traveled around quite a bit, so I learned more at home than I did at school," she said. After she got married and had children she continued to sing, but then in "26 her husband and one of her sons were killed by a tornado and she had to spend most of her time with her children and working the farm.

"When my children were growing up, I didn't think about going anyplace," she said. "But since they've grown up I've gone everyplace."

During the depression years, times were tough, but as Granny pointed out, Arkansas "is one state where you can build a fence around yourself and live" because the farming is so good.

"I remember a neighbor of mine had a good crop of turnips," she said gleefully. "He said if his children had blood tests, they'd have measured 90 percent turnips."

She related how her son at six months had bitten a Bessie bug in half with his two teeth.

"What is a Bessie bug?" someone asked.

"You don't know what a Bessie bug is?" she said, you-poor-deprived-thing written all over her face. "You must have grown up in the city."

After dinner, a young man took about 15 of the festival participants, including Granny, to an exclusive girls' school to spend the night.

"A woman offered to take me, but I wouldn't with the chance to go with a handsome young man like you," Granny said. "I'm old, but I'm not stupid."

An independent trucker from Soddy, Tenn., there to sing with his family, climbed into the van.

"I'm tired, but my wife doesn't want to go home yet," he said.

"Don't care what Momma don't allow/Gonna ride anyhow," chanted Granny, who talks in lyrics sometimes.

On the way to the school, David, the driver, got lost, and a trip that should have taken 20 minutes took an hour and a half.But his passengers didn't get crotchety or bored: They seemed to be people who are used to making the most of what happens and have a good time doing it.

These people don't just sing for audiences, they sing for each other and for themselves - just to pass the time.

Everybody was chattering in the van when Delta Hicks burst into song: "In the pines, in the pines/Where the sun never shines/And you shiver when the cold wind blows." And then everyone was singing with her.

And not a little gossiping, teasing and bragging went on among these people who had never met before this weekend.

"I sure have enjoyed meeting you, Granny," said Delta Hicks, who is in her 70s. "Why, you're like a grandmother to me."

But Granny didn't take that remark sitting down. "I'm not old enough to be your grandmother, honey. I know how old you are," she said. "But you can call me Granny anyway."

A man sitting next to his wife of 22 years boasted, "I run with the prettiest women and drink the best booze."

"And tell the biggest lies," said someone else's wife.

Sunday morning, Granny Riddle sang hymns on a small platform. The pine trees stood up straight and graceful, the sun filtering through their summer green leaves.

She sang in her somewhat nasal, somewhat scratchy voice, and the audience sang with her, their voices echoing in the woods.

"Now who, tell me who, oh who, will be a neighbor kind and true," they sang. CAPTION: Picture 1, Gospel singer Granny Riddle, removed her shoes before performing at Wolf Trap's National Folk Festival.; Picture 2, Apache war dancers entertain the crowd. By James A. Parcell - The Washington Post; Picture 3, Navajo craftsman Fred Stevens at work on a sand painting; by James A. Parcell - The Washington Post