Smoke billowed. The scent of barbecued ribs hung in the afternoon air. Steel drums rang. And the sun beamed down on U Street.

The white banners hanging from street light poles read: "Futurefest." But the smell of food and the sound of music signaled: The party was now.

There were shish kabobs and curry chicken, Jerk chicken, fresh-squeezed lemonade and dancing in the streets at Futurefest '99, which began yesterday in Northwest Washington. The annual festival on U Street between 10th and 14th streets NW continues today from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Yesterday's kickoff of the fourth annual "community festival," organized by the D.C. Department of Recreation and Parks, featured two entertainment stages and 100 vendors and exhibitors.

"We're focusing on children and teens, our future," spokeswoman Brenda Galloway said, explaining why the event is called Futurefest. "We're here to just bond and to bring cohesiveness to the community [with] something for everyone."

This afternoon's attractions will include the Delfonics and H-Town as well as a gospel recording group, Kevin McFadden & Redeemed. The festival also features a talent showcase at the Lincoln Theatre for District youngsters, who are competing for scholarships. The teens, finalists from an earlier competition, will win $1,000, $500 and $300 scholarships, respectively, for first-, second- and third-place finishes in dance, drama, vocal music, instrumental music, oratory and visual arts.

The 13- to 15- year-olds competed yesterday, and youths 16 to 19 will take the stage at 3 p.m. today. Free tickets to the finals can be obtained at the door.

Galloway said she expects more than 80,000 people to attend the festival this weekend, despite a forecast of more sizzling heat today.

"We have plenty of water down here to quench your thirst," she said.

At yesterday's opening, the scorching sun caused many people to seek shade and liquids throughout the afternoon. Some who endured found relief from paper fans distributed to festival-goers.

Carlton L. Quarells, 33, found respite under a shade tree, at the curb, where he sat eating a sea trout dinner and checking out the sights and sounds.

"I really don't get a chance to [talk] to a lot of folks," said Quarells, a clinical psychologist. "This is a good chance to come out with the people."

Sharon Harris brought her sons, Aaron, 6, and William, 8, to the festival. The mother and her boys, who live nearby, sipped cups of ice-cold lemonade before strolling over to a special children's section to be entertained by Happy the Clown.

"I've been coming every year," Harris said. "It's nice for the neighborhood. It's nice for the community."

By 1 p.m. yesterday, throngs filled the streets, which were lined with food booths and exhibitors.

Among the vendors were Eric and Keo Smaw, who were busy serving food behind a booth called Chicken Smells Good. The couple said they spent a week preparing for the event and had enough food to last for three days. They live in Alexandria, although Eric Smaw grew up in Northwest. He said he enjoys coming back home for the festival for two reasons.

"I like the atmosphere," he said, standing near the grill where chicken kabobs roasted, the scent rising in the air.

And the other reason?

"It's profitable," he said, smiling.

CAPTION: Fest Feast

Kay Garlick-Ott, 3 1/2, dines on fried rice with help from mother Karen Garlick at Futurefest '99, a celebration of children, teenagers and families on U Street NW. The community festival, with performers and plenty of food booths, continues today.

CAPTION: The Andrew Cacho African Drummers and Dancers perform during Futurefest '99. The community festival also includes a talent showcase for teenagers.