Folk Festival for all ages

COMMUNITY VOICES • BY KEVIN ADLER & GINA MCNEAL —

Like many other people in Takoma Park, the Folk Festival was our first exposure to this wonderful town. We were living in Silver Spring in the early ‘90s, and we heard about the Festival. We visited, we loved it, and a year later we bought our first house here.

We like to think of our family as growing up at the Festival. Our kids, Eliza and Emmett, have been attending ever since they were infants. Now, they’re teenagers, and the Folk Festival remains highlighted on our family’s calendar. We know where we’ll be on Sunday, September 11.

When we had toddlers, we spent much of our day at the Grassy Nook Stage. We just followed our kids as they scuttled from the stage area to the old-fashioned carnival games to face-painting and back again. The music and storytelling at the Grassy Nook are great. All performers are teens and young adults, and they really connect with kids. The lineup is as varied as any stage at the Festival: Irish, Zimbabwean, vaudeville and hip-hop, to name just a few performances this year. Of course, Frank “Banjo Man” Cassel will come by eventually.

The games on the edge of the Grassy Nook are a major fundraiser for the Cub Scouts. Low-tech and simple, they attract kids even in our video-saturated era. Toddlers love the sponge toss, whether using the wet blob as a projectile or just pushing into the clown’s (or mom’s or dad’s) face. A few years ago, the Scouts added a rope-climb that’s strung between two trees. It’s a real test of balance and nerve—at about 12 inches above the soft ground.

Eventually, our children became too cool for kids’ stuff and too self-conscious for the family dance (a tradition that continues this year at the Lenore Robinson Dance Stage at 1 p.m.). But they still return to the Grassy Nook in the mid-afternoon because that’s when bands of Takoma Park teens take the stage. This year’s ultra-local entries are Ginger Chimes and Ladle Fight, with back-to-back shows beginning at 3 p.m.

While still in elementary school, our kids began to explore the Festival on their own. With packs of friends, they’d run up and down the hill by the Field Stage, or stare at the costumed and strutting Morris Dancers. They’d get a few dollars to buy ice cream. They’d visit Community Tables booths. Did they learn about environmental issues, public health, and other worthy causes? Frankly, they were on a search for candy and fake tattoos.

Yet, the experience gave them the rare luxury of independence. It was the first large public event where we felt our kids were safe when they were out of our sight. The Folk Festival was like a giant block party, and we felt like people were looking out for one another. We still feel that way. We love how our community can bring our family together for music, dance, and joyous play.

We’ll be at the Folk Festival again this year on September 11. We hope you and your family can join us.

Resource: Folk Festival Map

Kevin Adler was chair of the Takoma Park Folk Festival from 2004-2008. Gina McNeal was chair of hospitality for the Festival from 2005-2009. Both are coordinating performance stages this year.