Festival celebrates all things Hampden

Jolie Carter bought her mother a crab pretzel from the Phillips food cart and declared she may consider moving to Hampden from downtown Baltimore.

Carter, a New Orleans native who recently started a medical residency at the University of Maryland, spent Saturday afternoon at Hampdenfest 2011 with out-of-town family members.

"It's such an eclectic neighborhood," said Carter, who recently stumbled upon the area when she brought her car to a repair shop there. "The people are really nice."

The street fair celebrating local art, music and food was most notable for what it was not. It was not flooded, ravaged by hurricane-force winds, without electricity or quaking from underground. Nor were there trademark disputes or a potential for protesters, which marred this year's Honfest, the neighborhood's other eminent event on The Avenue.

"It always rains before Hampdenfest," said Charlotte Hays Murray, who has coordinated the festival for the past three years and runs a shop on 36th Street where the festival takes place. "It's our good luck."

After days of rains from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee, following days without power because of Hurricane Irene, revelers were greeted by the first sunny day in more than a week.

"People were calling and asking, 'What if there's a storm?' We never cancel Hampdenfest," Hays Murray said.

"Hurricane Isabel hit the night before [in 2003], and we didn't cancel. There were thousands of people without power, and we had food and potties and entertainment. … We are going to be the sunny day at the end of the rain."

Hays Murray is proud of the collaborative and local spirit of this year's festival, which spanned about six blocks.

For the past two decades, the Hampden Village Merchants Association has been in charge of the festival, she said. This year is the first time the merchants have collaborated on the festival planning with the Hampden Community Council.

The cooperation between the groups made the festival more varied — for instance, the four music stages were each handled by a separate group, whereas in past years Atomic Books on Falls Road sponsored all of the music — and more seamless, Hays Murray said. The only conflict that had arisen, she said, was that some residents were upset they had to move their cars from portions of Chestnut Avenue for the day.

She also said she wanted to make it easy for vendors, dominated by local artisans who each paid $150 for a tent space on the street.

"Pretty much, to be a vendor you need to let me know what it is you do and what you need from me," Hays Murray said. Only two booths were turned down this year for being "inappropriate," she said. She declined to explain why the two were unacceptable for the event.

During June's Honfest, a Hampden celebration of big-hair, flamingos and cat's-eye glasses, local merchants were peeved about the festival founder's distribution of a vendor application that laid out rules about what items could be sold and promoted. Denise Whiting, Honfest head honcho and owner of a Hampden restaurant, bar and gift shop, had also trademarked the word "hon," sparking threats to protest the event.

There was no similar controversy among Hampdenfest merchants, said Kim Mahn of Arbutus, who runs Kimberly's Krafts, a booth that sells Baltimore sports-themed decorations, including purple feather wreaths and sparkly purple headbands.

"All I had to do was fill out the online application and send in the fee," said Mahn, who hoped to make about $800 on the one-day festival.

Drew Pump, running the More Collective booth, which sells Baltimore-themed T-shirts designed by Baltimore-based artists, has sold his organization's wares at both Hampdenfest and Honfest.

"They're both fun, which is the most important thing," Pump said. "Honfest might draw out more people, but I think I like Hampdenfest a little better. It really is more what Hampden is about. You don't actually see a lot of 'hons' walking around here."

Hampden residents Shari Fedak and Jeff Borneman have lived in the neighborhood since 2005 and always try to make it to the late-summer gathering.

"It's much more authentic than Honfest," Borneman said. "There are a lot a people with tattoos walking around."

"Honfest," Fedak added, "is a lot more friendly to county folks."

Hays Murray, who hopes to coordinate next year's Hampdenfest and continue the cooperation between the merchants' group and the neighborhood association, said that a local focus makes it unique. She has sought out Baltimore entertainers, food vendors and artisans to populate the street fair.

She helped add Mike Johnson, a Hampden-ite also known as Dr. Apocrypha P. Necrosis, as an entertainer to the fair this year. He is a member of Moloch's Midway & Cabinet of Infernal Mysteries, a circus-style sideshow and tent of gruesome games, including a life-size version of the classic board game Operation.

"Hampdenfest is not just authentic Hampden," said Johnson, who said one of his favorite things about the event is its promotion of beer and music from the city. "It's authentic Baltimore."

An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the festival's coordinator. Her name is Charlotte Hays Murray. The Sun regrets the error.

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