Slowly the 10 five-gallon tubs filled up with hummus. Sara Green stood in a borrowed corner of B&B Caterers' kitchen near Takoma Park and measured out the gigantic proportions of her Middle Eastern delicacy. Her husband Rich Holzsager, together with Saul Schneiderman and Wayne Botts, handed her buckets of chickpeas, bottles of lemon juice and a bucket of pulverized sesame seeds.
All were wearing Takoma Park Folk Festival T-shirts, and what would the festival -- which runs 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. today -- be without hummus and pita bread? It's been there as long as the festival itself, which means eight years, and this morning it will be carted to the festival grounds on a flat-bed truck.
Organizers say the spirit of hummus-making is the same spirit as the festival, and indeed, the city itself. It all comes together in Takoma Park, Green said, because the city of more than 16,000 people straddling Prince George's and Montgomery counties "values a lot of things that are precious and different and unique and lovely and slightly crazy."
The city enjoys a reputation as a stronghold of diehard hippies, civic activism and neighborliness. And it was in that spirit that the hummus-making began. "We were looking for food that was unusual, cheap, vegetarian, easy to make, easy to assemble," Green explained. "And hummus seemed to fit the bill very nicely. And that's why we do it every year."
Said K. Raki, a Palestinian cook at B&B, offered a tasting finger to the hummus, which will be served up today with pita bread, tomato and shredded lettuce. He said he is no vegetarian but has been eating hummus all his life. "It's healthy food," he stated. "You'll never get sick eating it."
And so it is dished up, along with hot dogs and other standard festival fare, free music and dance and a lot of arts and crafts and other fun things. The festival, concocted by Sammie A. Abbott (now the city's mayor) to raise funds for a failing local theater, now attracts between 8,000 and 10,000 people a year, and it includes displays for dance, pottery and other handicrafts, as well as folk, rock 'n' roll, new wave, bluegrass, swing, Latin and African music. This year, the famed folk musician Pete Seeger will perform (for free, of course).
"I think the kind of funky spirit hasn't changed," said Carl Iddings, a City Council member who expects to be selling hummus at this year's festival. The festival is made possible by Takoma Park's unique community spirit and "a lot of unrepentant '60s types" like himself, Idding said.
It's fun because it's home-grown, he added. Most of the musicians are from Takoma Park and environs, the fair is organized and attended by many city residents and, he adds, "like Takoma Park itself, it keeps us in touch with a lot of the activism."
Residents, in fact, are planning to set up about 20 booths at the festival, for instance, to lobby and protest on a host of local and international issues, from Save the Whales to Save the Firehouse.
The festival typically raises a couple of thousand dollars, and that's divided among small local youth groups. Three years ago, the entire proceeds were devoted to the battle -- eventually successful -- against Montgomery County plans to close the city's junior high school, on whose grounds the festival is held.
"It's fairly unique," Winch said. "I could never see something like this happening in Silver Spring or Bethesda."
"Our neighborhoods here have been organized," said Schneiderman, "and they all come out. We have a community identity."
Indeed, the protest songs and antinuclear stance of folk singer Seeger will find plenty of company in the nuclear-free zone of Takoma Park. There will also be a "Sing-Along for Peace" workshop, in which a group of musicians will lead festival-goers in a repertory of songs relating to peace.
And the festival, like the issues, attracts no shortage of volunteer supporters. Jesse Winch, a Takoma Park resident who plays the ancient Celtic drum with the Irish folk group Celtic Thunder, has performed at almost every Takoma Park Folk Festival, even canceling paid performances to be there. "One year I wasn't asked for some reason, and I was very hurt," he said. "It was disappointing."
Plans to have two professional food stalls this year -- one selling Chinese food and the other Middle Eastern food -- were greeted with skepticism in some quarters and great debate all around. Organizers wanted more exotic food than volunteers could provide, however, and they agreed to allow the stands in the spirit of experimentation and in exchange for a share of the proceeds.
In the Takoma Park tradition, all planning is the subject of great debate, usually at the last minute. Prices were not fixed until a sign-writing party last night. "We fight about them," Green said before the party began. "This is very heavy stuff . . . . It could take a half-hour to decide how many tickets a half-smoke should cost, and it will probably involve a dozen people."