Washington got a scintillating sneak preview of the 44th National Folk Festival (being held at Wolf Trap over the next three days) as Los Pregoneros del Puerto turned the Neptune Plaza of the Library of Congress into a noonday festivale. The trio--consisting of Jose Gutierrez on the Veracruz arpa, Cesareo Ramon on the eight-string jarana and Oliverio Lara on the four-string requinto--filled the plaza with a swirl of rhythms and melodic counterpoints, over which they sang in a high-vocal style that could have been a distant kin to bluegrass. Lara would agressively pick staccato lines above the lush sound of the harp, with Ramon maintaining a curtain of strums beneath vocal lines that led and followed each other in spirited chase.

Jarocho music, traditional to the southern coastal regions around Veracruz, Mexico, is a strong reflection of that region's dominant Spanish culture, full of exuberant dance rhythms, flamenco-style guitar work, and lyrics that fall between fixed and improvised oral poetry. The charms of the latter were perhaps most evident to the many in the lunchtime audience who spoke Spanish, though the inflections and nuanaces of Gutierrez's sprightly barbs at audience members seemed naughty enough without translation. One woman smiled back as he wondered, "Is it your husband who looked so mean when I smiled at you just now?" Later they danced, strangers brought together for a moment by irresistible music. The three musicians, who now live in the United States, are among several dozen traditional performers appearing at Wolf Trap through Sunday.