This is the weekend the sleepy twin villages of Takoma Park, Maryland and D.C., wake up -- to music ranging from reggae to Yiddish bluegrass, to the tapping of clog dancers and the cadence of hometown poetry. The fourth annual Takoma Park Folk Festival, Saturday night and all day Sunday, brings together musicians, dancers, artists, craftspeople and writers from the two communities. "At least 90 percent of the performers and craftspeople are Takoma residents," says festival chairman David Sawyer, a poet. "This is our quest for a common bond culturally." "This is what makes us unique," adds writer and community activist Sara Green. "These are Takoma performers playing for the Takoma community. Nobody gets paid, although these are musicians who normally do get paid. We're one community artificially divided by a state line. This is the day we come together and enjoy each other." Although Eastern Avenue now splits Takoma into two jurisdictions, it was originally one community, founded by developer Benjamin F. Gilbert in 1883 as a train commuters' suburb. Gilbert, who had already gained and lost a fortune in real estate, bought a hundred acres for $6,500 and counted on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, then completed between Washington and Point of Rocks, to make his investment pay. By 1889, 19 trains a day were calling at the Takoma whistlestop, most of them carrying government workers to and from their downtown offices. According to a contemporary newspaper account: "The pretty depot presents a busy scene in the early evening, when the trains from the city arrive. . . the platform is thronged and there is an overflow out into the streets. Waiting for some of the arrivals are carriages, for others horses, but the majority walk." The original, wooden Queen Anne-style railroad station burned down in 1968, and the local historical society's dream of rebuilding it is still only a dream. Today trains stop at a typical Metro station, but most of the old community that Gilbert built is still there. With a walking-tour brochure and map -- prepared by Historic Takoma, Inc. -- obtained by sending a self- addressed stamped envelope to Ellen Marsh, 7405 Maple Avenue, Takoma Park, Maryland 20012 -- you can go home to the old Takoma and its Victorian villas and bungalows. For example, at 7101 Cedar Avenue, a short walk from the Metro station, stands the "stick-style" house built for Ida Summy, a bridge-playing crony of Gilbert's who christened the community. During a bridge session, Summy suggested the Indian name Tacoma, meaning "exalted place" or "high up near heaven," since the area lay about 350 feet above sea level. Gilbert modified the suggestion slightly, changing the c to a k so the town wouldn't be confused with Tacoma, Washington. Summy's house was called stick-style because boards were placed at right angles to the clapboard to depict the skeleton of the house. Just down the street -- but on the District side of the border -- at 208 Cedar Street NW is a more elaborate Queen Anne-style house with peaked turrets, fish- scale shingles, a wraparound porch and stained-glass windows. At 202 Cedar Street NW is one of Takoma's many bungalows, a term used by the British in India to denote a one-story house with a veranda. Today, the old Victorian homes on the wide, tree-shaded streets are occupied by young families, bureaucrats, old people, professionals and a disproportionate number of artists of all sorts -- many of whom perform or exhibit at the annual folk festival. "Maybe we're an artists' community because of the cheap rents -- relatively speaking, Sammy Abbott, is a graphic artist. The folklife festival is one of Takoma's big events, when the whole community gets together. The others are the House and Garden Tour, held in the spring, usually when the azaleas are in flame, and the fireworks display on the junior high grounds each Fourth of July. Other times, the goings-on are smaller, less flashy, as mellow as the community itself. Local poets, lead by Suzanne Rodenbaugh, read their works on the first Thursday of every month at 8 p.m. at the Takoma Park Library, for instance, and strummers get together for a picking session most Saturday afternoons at 2 in Sligo Creek Park, which is also a great place for a picnic. Music happens frequently and spontaneously at the House of Musical Traditions at 7040 Carroll Avenue, when musicians who drop in to look at the African slit drums, Russian balalaikas and Japanese flutes often give impromptu concerts. (If all this makes you hungry, you can go to the crab carryout next door or the Middle East Market down the street, at 7006 Carroll Avenue, and take your purchase to the gazebo in the park across from the music shop.) A major focal point for community action in recent years was the Takoma Theater, a vintage 1922 movie house at Fourth and Butternut Streets NW. When it fell upon the hard times that hit many neighborhood cinemas, the community kept it alive by sponsoring children's matinees and film festivals. Now it's leased to a firm that shows films from India, attracting a large crowd of Indian families every weekend. THE TAKOMA PARK FESTIVITIES The folk festival is held at Takoma Park Junior High School, 7611 Piney Branch Road. For details call 585-3343; meanwhile, here's a rough schedule: SATURDAY, 8:30 P.M.: Country music concert and family square dance; admission is $3. SUNDAY, 11 to 6: Performances and workshops will be given on three stages at the school. Among the performers will be Donnie McGowan and his rhythm and blues group, Celtic Thunder (traditional Irish music), the Double Decker string band, Rumisanko (Andean music), the Fabrangen Fiddlers (music in the Ladino, or Spanish-Jewish, tradition), blues singer Lucy Murphy, the Owa African dancers, and the McGrath Irish Dancers.
Workshops will include a demonstration of jitterbugging and a talk by folksinger Jeff Deitchman on how to make a living as a folksinger.
A craft area will feature the works of such local artists as potter Maja Hay and spinner-weaver Neil Bozarth.
Children's events, including a singalong, dancing, puppets and story-telling, will take place between 1 and 2.
Admission to all these events is free and profits from food sales help support local charities. "The artists come back year after year, even though we don't pay them," says Green, "because it's one beautiful day."