For a woman about "to give birth," Amy Horowitz is unusually calm. "That's just what we're doing here," she intones. "We're all struggling together to deliver this whole thing in the best way possible."
The child she speaks of is the fifth anniversary of Sisterfire, the two-day, open-air women's music festival taking place this weekend in Maryland. The event, sponsored by the arts organization Roadwork, has expanded considerably from its modest beginnings in 1982 as a one-day, one-stage, eight-performer fundraiser.
Because of its quick growth, Sisterfire took a hiatus last year to regroup and relocate. Today and Sunday Horowitz expects close to 8,000 people to converge on the Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro before four stages and 80 artists, who will perform dance, poetry, theater and, mostly, music. Along with that, there will be crafts, food, camping and a new special performance space for the deaf.
Says Roadwork executive director Horowitz, "We're going to attempt to create a multiracial, cross-cultural community of people for two days who would not normally even be in each other's living rooms." Sisterfire is known for its efforts to include women of all colors and life styles in its audience and on its stages.
The small Adams-Morgan town house used as the headquarters for Roadwork this week was as calm as Horowitz, though she maintained it was because the place was the eye of the hurricane.
"About 100 people are now out at the site building stages and getting ready, so we're down to a skeleton staff," she says. Still the phones buzz nonstop and the calls are all for the diminutive Horowitz. "Take five deep breaths and a drink of water," she advises one caller. She sees herself as only an overseer to the event, pointing out, "Sisterfire is all volunteer." More than 50 "Sistersparks" run the show, making all decisions from programming to travel arrangements.
The show will require all that organization. The four stages will feature continuous action from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and tomorrow. The offerings range from local stars -- the a cappella quintet Sweet Honey in the Rock, the Human Bridge Theatre and the trio Betty -- to national: writer Alice Walker, singer Holly Near and the Casselbury-Dupree Band. The festival is even going international. Organizers have invited Nicaraguan folk singer Norma Helena Gadea, whose visa had just been approved this week.
Also new this year is a special stage for the deaf. Roadwork gave four coordinators of the deaf stage a budget, a block of time and the go-ahead to shape a program that would reflect the culture of the deaf. On this stage, deaf performers will perform in sign language while other performers will speak the words for the hearing audience.
"Our hope is that the festival will grow deeper to reflect women around the world," says Horowitz. "Roadwork was designed as a forum to look at how women -- whoever they are, wherever they are -- carry culture. At Sisterfire, the deaf stage, and facing and looking at issues of accessibility for all people, come out of a woman's sensibility, but we hope that it becomes a mainstream sensibility."
Horowitz has a lot of anticipation for the upcoming event, especially because of the one-year break and the current expectations for success. "It's surely bigger than it's ever been, but so far it's gone smoothly," she says. "I don't think we've lost anything with our growth, though -- we're still able to express our purpose to fight racism, sexism and abuse through culture and arts."
She pauses and another phone starts ringing. Ignoring it, she says, "This isn't like a splash event at the Kennedy Center that makes $100,000 in a night -- Sisterfire is for the long haul."
Washington Post staff writer Patrice Gaines-Carter contributed to this report.