Since Hopkins is in the middle of a thriving city, it's easy to take advantage of all the little perks that are so accessible from campus. Every now and then, a festival comes around that combines food, shopping and entertainment into a neat package. Last weekend, that festival was Hampdenfest.
Reminiscent of Spring Fair (and not just because the same food vendors showed up), Hampdenfest is a rousing experience. Assembled on four city blocks and three stages was a varied bunch of characters and performers, in addition to everything there was to do there.
There was a great variety of ethnic food, including Thai, Greek, Italian and Indian, in addition to the more ordinary stands that sold traditional carnival food. There were snowball stands, vegan bakeries and, easily the best stand, "Dangerously Delicious Pies." That title is true!
There were also live performances that were interesting to say the least. These included performances by "the all girl garage rock 'n' roll stomp and shout" group the Degenerettes, the Barrage Band Orchestra (including some instruments you don't see very often), a pedal steel guitarist named Susan Alcorn and many local groups that captured the unique sounds of the city.
The pedal steel guitarist was especially intriguing. The instrument had a curious sound - kind of like a cross between a steel drum and a guitar. It would have been more fun to watch her hands actually move on the instrument, though, which was impossible because of the setup of the event.
Obviously, with the three separate stages at the festival, there was a little of every type of music imaginable and also an intriguing "Hampden Idol" competition, which wasn't superb but was fun to watch for a while. There is only so much entertainment to be had from an hour of glorified karaoke.
Finally, there were dozens of little stands featuring just about anything one could wish to spend one's disposable income on, ranging from handmade purses and jewelry to one-of-a-kind dragon figurines. The bag lady from Spring Fair was back, selling her handbags, sunglasses and jewelry.
There were also soy candles, decorative glass and nautical-themed jewelry. Hampdenfest offered several activities for kids, like stands for painting animal figurines and creating sand-art bottles, not to mention several shops and booths dedicated to children's gifts. The place was fairly packed.
Aside from the great variety of things to eat, see and spend money on, those in attendance were also a unique bunch of people. One woman walked around on stilts while spinning a hula hoop around her neck! She was dressed completely in red and black, and caught the attention of everyone in the crowds. The performers and "Hampden Idol" contestants were all real characters and the crowds really loved them (despite their questionable singing abilities).
Hampdenfest began as a small community event in the close-knit neighborhood but has recently expanded to what it is today. Now, it's a neighborhood arts festival that draws out-of-town visitors and local residents. Hampden is a rich, talented and quirky neighborhood that naturally produced its own festival. Upon visiting The Avenue, one would be more surprised to learn that there was not a yearly festival where all these oddballs came together in celebration.
Ultimately, even if you've never made the trip to the other side of campus to visit Hampden, you will almost assuredly enjoy the festival. The festival showed Hampden to be exactly the kind of community that Baltimore natives know it to be: an eclectic one that loves to have a good time.
This celebration may be over, but there are still lots of shops and a thriving community to be found in Hampden. There are high-class spas if you want an eco-friendly day of luxury, but just down the street is the irreverant and pop art/zine/odd-book haven Atomic Books. Or, go for the divine mix of fine chocolate and the kind of shoes that would make Carrie Bradshaw swoon at Ma Petite Shoe.
It is easily accessible: The festival was on W. 36th Street (The Avenue) between Falls and Chestnut. It's about a 20-minute walk from campus. You wouldn't come to Baltimore without having crabs and you wouldn't go to Peabody without seeing a concert; you shouldn't attend Hopkins without going to Hampdenfest at least once.