The neighborhood had its doubts and the weather wasn't certain, either. But cloudy skies and off-stage maneuvering didn't slow the beat for Adams-Morgan Day as this flashy, polyglot community celebrated itself yesterday for the 10th year in a row.
For the 250,000 people estimated by the festival's organizers to have visited the 18th Street NW site, the important things were the same as in years past: Food and music of almost every conceivable origin were there in abundance, harmoniously uniting everyone from punks to preppies for an end-of-the-summer blowout.
But for the people who put together Adams-Morgan Day, this time around was no picnic.
"We had a debate about the festival this year," said John Jones, a member of its board of directors. "But this is a festival about debate.
"Adams-Morgan has black people, Spanish people, white people, a diversity of all the people that make up America. This day is a signal that it's possible for everyone to come together. We've worked with the neighborhood, and we want to keep Adams-Morgan Day a good thing."
This year, Adams-Morgan Day almost became a victim of its success. Begun in 1977 as a modest community gathering, it quickly mushroomed into an event that drew participants from throughout the Washington area. T-shirts at last year's festival proclaimed it "The East Coast's Biggest Block Party."
But some Adams-Morgan residents did not think that bigger was better. Businesses complained that the festival left them awash in trash, and neighbors said it had lost its homey atmosphere.
Planning for the event also had grown so complicated that its founder, real estate developer Hal Wheeler, said he could no longer lead the effort. For a time, no one volunteered to take Wheeler's place.
But in March, D.C. Council member Frank Smith Jr. (D-Ward 1) and a group of volunteers agreed to keep it alive. They cut back the number of vendors at the festival from 450 to 250 and agreed not to place any of them on Columbia Road, which had been closed off in past years.
"We planned the festival to be smaller," said Aminyah Muhammad, its office manager. "We wanted to cut back on it to work with the neighbors."
But if the organizer's initial estimates were correct, the crowd did not dwindle. Last year, the festival also had drawn about 250,000 people. Still, Muhammad said, "That's an improvement over growing to 400,000."
Despite morning showers and threatening skies, the festival, which started at noon, was spared from rain. On Saturday, storms dumped 2.13 inches of rain at National Airport, according to the National Weather Service.
Brigitte Wiss and Rose Nyut, Parisians who said they were living in the United States to improve their English, were at the festival to celebrate Nyut's last day before returning home. "It's really cosmopolitan here," Wiss said.
Lee Price of Bethesda and his brother, Steve, went to sample the Latin food. Both are native Texans, and they agreed that the festival's offerings compare well to border cuisine.
"This is great, but it's different than what I'm used to," said Lee as he discussed the fine points of empanadas and enchiladas.
"It's Nicaraguan. Wonderful stuff."
In keeping with the spirit of Adams-Morgan, the festival offered a little of everything, and none of it seemed out of place.
The music started at noon when Doc Scantlin and his Imperial Palms Orchestra launched into a campy, arm-flapping rendition of Cab Calloway's "Hi De Ho."
"It's nice to see everybody resembled here for this suspicious occasion," Scantlin joked. Other bands later played reggae and salsa tunes.
The vendors who lined up along 18th Street told stories of their own. A booth sponsored by former Peace Corps volunteers selling African jewelery was sandwiched between stands hawking Dove Bars and the Mount Pleasant Montessori School.
At a barbecue booth run by a group called Brothers United for Genesis, or BUG, Tony Duncan was not content to let the food speak for itself.
"We got your sweet potato pie, your pumpkin pie, and your pineapple upside down cake, all fresh and homemade," Duncan shouted out like a carnival barker. "We laugh and joke, but we don't play."
By midafternoon, the sky had brightened and the crowd along 18th Street had become shoulder to shoulder.
"This festival has always been slow to start, so we don't expect to have less of a crowd because of the weather," Jones said. "We'll just have a good time like always."