Kymm Shern and her group of eight friends and relatives began their Saturday with just a cup of coffee before heading to the downtown Taste of D.C. festival.

By 1 p.m., two hours after arriving, the group shared plates of jerk chicken, chicken fingers, chicken livers, fried whiting, fried green tomatoes, cole slaw, clam chowder and plantains.

They weren't finished yet.

"It's time to move toward the ribs," Shern yelled out after she finished a serving of apple crisp.

Despite cloudy skies, thousands packed Pennsylvania Avenue NW for a celebration of gluttony billed as the East Coast's largest music and food gathering. The three-day event continues from 11 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. today and tomorrow and raises money for charity.

With the Capitol as a backdrop, many of the Washington area's best restaurants competed for appetites. Servers from Fettoosh yelled, "Shish kebabs? Shish kebabs?" A man in front of the Phillips Flagship booth told passers-by, "Save the cows; eat more crab."

Of course, this being D.C., some people at the festival were pitching causes. One man passed out fliers from the United Poultry Concerns urging people to use "healthy alternatives to poultry and eggs and learn what you can do to help make a better life for chickens."

The D.C. police department staffed a booth to entice recruits, and vendors sold handmade sweaters, paintings and other crafts.

Most people, however, came to eat.

With the smoke from grilled meat and vegetables creating a fog around her, Anabel Ton had trouble deciding what to indulge in. After checking out a few booths, she snacked on a crab cake sandwich and waited in line for vegetable curry and samosas.

Ton, 26, had always wanted to be a chef, but said that at her father's request, she studied engineering and is now a patent examiner. Someday, she said, food will be her profession.

"Most people eat food just for survival," she said. "I think that's wrong."

Shern's group, from Frederick, have attended the festival for the past four or five years.

Shern said that as veteran festival-goers they know to arrive early, bring an empty stomach and stop eating every once in a while to collect freebies, listen to music and catch their breath.

Most important, Shern said, tasters should disregard calories.

Still, Barbara Linda Womack, 50, couldn't help but worry about possibly gaining five pounds.

Cammie Hopper, 31, her cousin, told her not to fret. "We're walking it off," she said with a grin.

CAPTION: Tasters line the curb along Pennsylvania Avenue NW while sampling the fare during Taste of D.C. Thousands of people attended the food-and-music festival, which continues today and tomorrow.

CAPTION: Taste of D.C. (This graphic was not available)