It wasn't quite "The Return of the Secaucus Seven." Perhaps it was "Homecoming of the Takoma Park 1,000."
If you tossed a guitar pick into the crowd at yesterday's Takoma Park Folk Festival--which, at about 1,000-strong at its height, was a bit smaller than organizers expected--you'd likely graze a man or woman skirting the middle thirties: he sporting beard and ponytail, she shouldering backpack and baby--and both of them wearing T-shirts reading "Takoma Park, A Terrific Place."
You might, for instance, have hit David Eisner, a 1970 psychology graduate from the University of Maryland who makes his living selling African kalimbas, Irish bodhrans, tin whistles, Chinese end-blown whistles, trombone kazoos, banjos, dulcimers and autoharps among other music-makers.
Eisner paused from giving a jew's-harp lesson to 8-year-old Ben Matthews. "This is the essence of Takoma Park," said the bearded owner of the House of Musical Traditions. "Here we have a jew's-harp, made in Austria, being taught to a young black man by a New York Jew."
This was the sixth annual folk festival for "the Park," as some residents call it. Just over the District line, it's a polyglot city of Victorian houses and rambling bungalows on shaded lanes, spreading like a leafy oak across Prince George's and Montgomery counties, with branches of poets, artists, artisans, musicians, Seventh-day Adventists, Zen Buddhists, activists--plus a lot of folks who went to college during those oft-remembered '60s.
"A lot of us are the postwar baby boomers who were part of that whole movement of peace, jobs, freedom," said Takoma Park council member Lynne Bradley, 37, over strains of a protest song blaring from the outdoor stage. "But a lot of the baby boomers are aging and they want to settle down. This is the place to do it."
Bradley picks no banjos, paints no pictures, pens no poems. But, in keeping with a town boasting more artsy types per square foot than many another, she said, "A lot of times we'll just sit on the back porch and play around with harmonies."
"This festival was my idea when it started," said Takoma Park's 73-year-old mayor, Sam Abbott, smiling benignly and pulling down on his jaunty white beret. "It's to celebrate the struggle of poor people, the have-nots, blacks, women. We're very calculatedly trying to raise the spirit of our citizens. It's a revival of the spirit that goes straight back to the very beginning, when the serfs had to fight against the landowners."
Undaunted by temperatures in the high 90s--though authorities reported a few cases of heat exhaustion--some of Abbott's constitutents spread picnic blankets on the grassy slopes of Takoma Park Junior High; clapped their hands to such homegrown groups as Magpie, Sweet Honey in the Rock and Hambone Sweets playing on three outdoor stages; watched the Takoma Repertory do its version of "Winnie the Pooh"; and tried to clog, jitterbug and dance like a Hungarian in special workshops.
Or they just wandered languidly between the booths, where you could buy one of the hand-painted ocarinas that two women kept blowing on, load up on stuffed animals and carved-wood locomotives, take literature from a fellow with the Democratic Socialists of America, scarf up hot dogs or hummus on pita bread, or listen to Bruce Maccabee talk about flying saucers.
Maccabee, a Navy physicist whose wife, Christine, was selling dried pressed flowers in frames, was touting two volumes of documents in loose-leaf binders--"The FBI-CIA-UFO Connection" and "The CIA-State Dept.-NSA-Air Force-UFO Connection"--for $30 apiece. "It's really a donation for a group I'm chairman of. That's the Fund for UFO Research."
Meanwhile, the music-makers were at it hammer and tongs--in the right spirit if not always in key. In a performance typical of the blistering day, a group called Folkworks tunefully inveighed against a famous politician: "Out of the wild, wild West with a six-gun in his hand, Hollywood sends Reagan with a master plan," crooned David Sawyer, the group's lead singer and a festival organizer.
"I guess you could say I live in Takoma Park during and between struggles," Sawyer said afterward. "Folkworks and I are the epitome of people-nomics. We do picket lines, solidarity rallies. We're community organizers as well as musicians."
And labor stalwart Lee Hunter, filling in behind the mike when the Gentle East Martial Arts group failed to appear, sang a protest song "written by a calypso singer, Mighty Sparrow, when the Russians launched a satellite that contained a dog." And then, as if to cap the day, he strummed his guitar to a tune from a 1930s musical, "Pins and Needles," by Harold Rome:
Sing me a song of social significance
Sing me of war, sing me of breadlines
Tell me of front-page news
Sing me of strikes and last-minute headlines
And dress your observation
A story in yesterday's Style section said that the Gentle East Martial Arts group failed to appear at the Takoma Park Folk Festival Sunday. The group did appear, although later than scheduled.