Early Saturday, Michele Valeri led her happily sheltered and slightly soggy troops through a signed-for-the-deaf folk song that could also have served as an old-fashioned broadside: "When the rain comes down" (hands reached gray-skyward and curled down, fingers waving), "it comes down on everyone" (arms extended in a Why-Me breaststroke), "no matter if you're rich or poor" (one hand checking the other elbow for holes in the sleeve), "no matter if you're big or small, when the rain comes down, it comes down on us all." Drops of water fell from raincoats and umbrellas, but spirits started rising.
The sixth annual Washington Folk Festival opened on a slew of wet notes with sea chanteys, fish songs for children and whaling sagas for adults. There were even a few songs about drowning sorrows in something other than rainwater. Sunday-morning gospel songs must have been rehearsed on Saturday, though, because by mid-afternoon the hard rain had stopped. When the sun finally peeked down on Glen Echo Park, it saw far fewer than the traditional 20,000 visitors (park officials estimated about 11,000 attended over the two days), but did witness the exuberant annual celebration of Washington's cultural diversity as 400 neighbors took time off from restaurants, embassies, news services, schools and family responsibilities to show their far-flung roots to the community at large.
The festival is much like the Old Country at Busch Gardens--without the beer or hype, rampant commercialism and charge for admission. There are also many more countries heard from, whether in passionate song or in the distinctly ethnic percussive accents of dancers from Japan, Cambodia, India, Greece, Bolivia and a handful of lands (Eng-, Fin-, Po-, Scot- and Ire- ).
Once the rain stopped, folks gave up their shelter and set about peripheral activities--impromptu folk dancing, little string-picking sessions, song-swapping (carnavalitos, blues and ballads) and, of course, a lot of unabashed staring at colorful costumes and curious instruments such as mandiras, behalas, koras and marxophones. The festival's five stages were honeycombs of activity, swarms of folks joining in on choruses and claps. Yesterday, the crowds were much larger, the enthusiasm a bit less sodden. Glen Echo was a two-day apple orchard--not all its offerings were polished, but none was rotten; most were delicious enough to confirm one Saturday suggestion as to how to bring out the sun: "Singing is believing."