Everyone was sunburned, but no one seemed to mind.
Saturday's weather was perfect for Sisterfire, a daylong open-air celebration of women artists. Between 5,000 and 8,000 people filled the grounds of Takoma Park Junior High School for the second annual festival. The crowd listened to music, browsed through displays of food, art and crafts, and just plain celebrated.
Activities ran simultaneously, with music on the main stage, mime and storytelling in the "cove" and food and crafts in the "market place." "Street performers," including comedian Judy Sloan, worked their way through the crowd.
The audience frequently gave standing ovations. Musicians included singer Meg Christian, referred to as "the founding mother of women's music," and Orquestra Sabrocita, a 10-piece San Francisco salsa band making its first East Coast appearance.
"I think people will be enriched," said Bernice Johnson Reagon, of Sweet Honey in the Rock, a D.C.-based a cappella singing group. "It's not white bread. It's solid."
Sisterfire was sponsored by Roadwork, a local nonprofit organization that represents women artists. "Sisterfire is a daylong manifestation of what our work is all year long," said Roadwork director Amy Horowitz.
People brought picnics and blankets, and there were impromptu games of Frisbee and football. Many wore bathing suits and shorts. A few women went without shirts and seemed perfectly comfortable doing so. During singer Linda Tillery's performance, children danced in front of the stage. "The festival is not what's happening on the stage," said Horowitz. "The festival is really happening in the way people are interacting with each other."
The performers all volunteered their services, and the Takoma Park community participated in the festival. Girl scouts and members of the local Boys and Girls Club sold barbecued ribs, "vegetable floats," cotton candy and cold watermelon. "This is the proletariat ice cream," called one vendor. "Only 50 cents!"
All the musical performances were interpreted for the deaf, and the interpreters were as much a part of the performances as the musicians. "Music is rhythm. One has to convey what that rhythm is," said interpreter Ysaye Barnwell, who is also a member of Sweet Honey in the Rock. "American Sign Language is the third most widely used language in the United States," said Horowitz, "and for the first time in planning Sisterfire, our meetings were bilingual."
The performers ranged in age from 19-year-old Poshi Reagon to Elizabeth Cotten, who is 90. Flora Moulton created her own stage on the grass under an umbrella. With a tambourine strapped to her foot and a harmonica attached to her microphone, she sang and played guitar for the passing crowd. "That was an old song, even when I was a little girl, and that wasn't yesterday!" the 75-year-old Moulton told her audience.
"When I leave here, I'll feel like everything's going to be all right, at least for a little while," said one woman. "We have to come together," Horowitz concluded. "We don't have any other choice if we are going to survive these times."