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April 16, 2024

Festival flaunts the best of historic Pigtown

By ALYSSA WOODEN | October 13, 2016


COURTESY OF ALYSSA WOODEN The Pigtown festival spanned several blocks of Washington Boulevard and offered pig and non-pig foods.

Although it rained almost all afternoon on Saturday, Oct. 8, crowds filled the streets from noon to 7 p.m. at the 15th annual Pigtown Festival. Spanning several blocks of Washington Boulevard, the festival featured live music, booths set up by local businesses and artists and a smorgasbord of street food, both pig and non-pig related.

At one end of the street stood an awning-covered stage, where three bands performed over the course of the festival. Two of the acts, rock/soul quintet All Mighty Senators and the popular blues group Kelly Bell Band, are based in Baltimore, while the high-energy pop sextet Footwerk is from Washington, D.C.

While the music wasn’t outstanding, it added an extra kick of excitement, greeting me as I entered and ringing in my ears long after I left. Aside from musical performances, other notable events included multiple pie-eating contests, a fashion show hosted by 2 Chic Boutique and zumba on the main stage.

Along with the live music, the smell of smoked meat permeated the drizzly air. It wouldn’t be a real festival without an exorbitant number of food trucks, booths and tables, and in that respect the Pigtown Festival certainly delivered.

Fifteen vendors offered everything from pulled pork sandwiches to lamb gyros to freshly baked pies. Carroll, Maryland-based provider Maryland Finest Foodstuffs had the most varied selection, with sweet chili bacon on a stick, Hawaiian-style spam sushi, smoked pork carnitas and Peruvian chicken tacos. The most impressive culinary feat, however, was the whole grilled pig — head, legs and all — roasting on an enormous wheeled barbecue, courtesy of Shorty’s Bootleg BBQ.

While it couldn’t compare to some of the larger, more popular festivals in Baltimore such as Hampdenfest, the Pigtown Festival still had plenty to offer visitors. There was, of course, the typical street festival fare — handmade jewelry, face painting, baked goods, candles and political lobbyists — as well as uniquely Baltimorean offerings, such as hand-painted Maryland flags and fresh oysters. The bar offered craft beer from the local Oliver Brewing Company.

Children flocked to inflatable bouncy houses and obstacle courses. The inflatable lacrosse game, however, attracted festival-goers of all ages.

At the far end of the festival, beside a brightly-painted trailer emblazoned with the words “Barnyard Runners,” stood an oval, dirt-lined racetrack surrounded by checkered flags; This was the site of the pig races. The races, or “The Squeakness,” as Pigtown residents affectionately call them, are the highlight of the annual festival. Four races were held throughout the day, each attended by crowds cheering loudly for their favorite pig.

The tradition pays homage to Pigtown’s origins as a meat packing district near the railroad yards, where pigs would run through the streets towards the slaughterhouses after being unloaded from the trains. Just as today, Pigtown residents in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries would line the streets to watch these original pig races, though the unofficial tradition of grabbing a pig to take home, butcher and cook is no longer allowed.

Bad weather aside, Pigtown is a friendly, quirky neighborhood, and I’m glad I got the chance to experience it. Festival aside, Washington Boulevard has much to offer, especially in the way of shops, restaurants and cafes. The neighborhood’s historic spirit is captured in an enormous mural on the side of one building, displaying a colorful scene of pigs, railroad workers and a steaming black locomotive.

Pigtown is also home to the Mobtown Ballroom, which offers jazz, belly dancing, Lindy Hop and aerial dance lessons as well as a host of social events. The B&O Railroad Museum is another popular attraction in the area.

Although the live pig races were certainly exciting, the food delicious and the atmosphere cheerful and upbeat, I ultimately don’t think Hopkins students would find it worth it to take time out of their busy schedules to attend Pigtown Festival. It’s a bit hard to get to for one thing, almost four miles and a 40-minute bus ride from campus. Baltimore has plenty of other festivals and celebrations much closer to Hopkins, many of which are bigger and better attended than Pigtown Festival.

On the other hand, if you have a free afternoon and feel like exploring a new part of Baltimore, Pigtown is absolutely a great choice. You’ll be greeted by friendly people and peaceful, tree-lined streets, and you’re sure to find somewhere fun to eat or somewhere interesting to shop. And if that afternoon happens to be the day of the annual Pigtown Festival, you definitely won’t regret the experience.

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