Picnickers sat under shade trees munching on cold fried chicken while other folks nibbled some of the more exotic dishes offered by vendors. It was the last day of the fourth annual Potomac Riverfest, held during the weekend at Anacostia Park in Southeast Washington, where a blanket of grass gave an inner-city festival a bit of a country flair.
At the Riverfest activities the weekend before in Southwest, "we were pushed up against the wall, all on concrete. This is a whole different atmosphere because of the grass," Fahamme Kareem said as she stood in the sun, swaying her hips to a reggae tune played by a group called Caravan.
This was the second year Riverfest has been held in Anacostia Park, 300 acres of grass along the banks of the Anacostia River, in an area where the river runs muddy and is plagued by garbage dumpers.
An evening rainstorm ended Saturday's activities, and lightning killed Calvin M. Farmer, 26, of 2300 Good Hope Rd. SE.
But yesterday there was no hint of the storm or tragedy. On this day, umbrellas were for keeping off the sun. An enthusiastic crowd clapped and danced with the members of the Djokoto Dance Theater Troupe of Togo, in west Africa.
And with every cool breeze came the smell of foods, a blend of aromas from hot dogs, watermelon, fried cheese empanadas and Greek gyros.
The music was nearly as diverse as the food, running from reggae to rock, from pop to Christian go-go. Vendors offered silver jewelry, batiked T-shirts, arrangements of artificial flowers and other handicrafts.
U.S. Park Police estimated that 12,000 people attended yesterday's festival and 7,000 participated on Saturday. The two-day celebration in Southwest drew a total of 1 million people.
At Anacostia Park, there were things to do that had nothing to do with Riverfest. Sonny Sezal of Alexandria, who was drawn to the park by the festival, nevertheless spent hours on a pitcher's mound throwing slow balls to his son Pavan, 9.
Some people pulled small grills from their car trunks, cooked hot dogs and hamburgers, and sat back to watch the crowd. Darlene Jones came with her son Michael, 9, some friends, an ice chest and a picnic basket filled with "ham and cheese, tuna, beer, chips and soda."
Considering her visit to Riverfest in Southwest, Jones stretched out her arms and said: "There's more room here. You have air. I enjoyed last weekend, but here you can choose where to sit and you can get up and walk around when you want to." The festival was created to celebrate the ecological revitalization of the Potomac River. The next phase, announced recently, will be the cleanup of the Anacostia.
Those who wanted to "be a part of history," as Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.) described it, were invited to watch as Fauntroy and other D.C. statehood advocates raised a 51-star American flag.
Fauntroy noted that yesterday was Flag Day, the Colonial Fife and Drum Corps played "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," and D.C. Council members Nadine Winter (D-Ward 6) and Hilda Mason (Statehood-At Large), sporting Colonial hats, helped raise the specially made flag bearing a star to represent the proposed state of New Columbia.
Fauntroy and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) are sponsoring legislation that would make the District the 51st state. After raising the flag, Fauntroy and the council members re-created the Boston Tea Party, dumping crates of tea bags in the muddy Anacostia.
But it was the Djokoto Dance Theater Troupe that captured the imagination of most of the children in the audience.
While the barefooted performers danced and sang to the heavy beat of percussion instruments, children lined the edge of the stage, some resting their arms on it to stare with their mouths wide open.
"They were nice. I've never seen anybody dance like that," was all Dominique Carter, 7, could say as she watched with her sister Tiasha, 10.
Michael Womble ate from a plate of fried rice while he watched. "I love crowds, and Riverfest is probably my favorite, especially at Anacostia Park because it's sort of a family thing here."