Fells Point Fun Festival quite lives up to its name All tastes find something to enjoy

October 06, 1991|By Jonathan Bor

Even in the patient gridlock that was the Fells Point Fun Festival yesterday, folks could carve out their piece of tranquillity.

On Broadway, parents dared to navigate baby carriages through a sea of pedestrians. On side streets, bikers improvised curlicue routes through stalled traffic. But on the festival's fringe, Joanne Waeltermann was a picture of contentment.

She stood on a raised platform against an abandoned brick warehouse, holding her 10-week-old son while swaying to the gentle rhythms of jazz. Her husband's band, the Kevin Hayes Group, played a smoky version of "My Funny Valentine" on an adjacent stage. A soft breeze blew in from the harbor, raising fragrant smoke from grills that sizzled with fajitas, shish kebabs and sausage.

This peaceful nook, on the corner of Thames and Bond streets, put the group just beyond earshot of another band that wailed country music on Broadway. Around the corner, at the harbor's edge, water taxis were dumping boatloads of new fair-goers. Nearly 100,000 people came to the fair at one point or another yesterday, festival planners estimated.

"This is really a terrific day for it," Dr. Waeltermann, an ophthalmologist, said of the two-day fair, which many consider to be the premier street festival in Baltimore. "I don't like crowds. They heighten my energy level so I can't enjoy myself." But as far as she was concerned, she had the perfect spot.

During a break, Mr. Hayes, a drummer and vibraphonist, said he didn't mind at all that many people seemed to amble by, listen for a few minutes and then move on. "People are just browsing around, but I'm sure they're listening." He said the relaxed setting also gave him a chance to try out new tunes along with tried-and-true standards.

"I love it," said saxophonist Harold Williams. "This is what jazz is all about, being able to be spontaneous."

The Fells Point Fun Festival seems to highlight a curious blend of the yuppie, seedy and quirky that makes this old seafaring neighborhood unique among city enclaves.

On one stretch of Thames Street, a beer-bellied biker sporting a Harley Davidson logo on his T-shirt waddled into a tavern past an outdoor booth selling stained glass and jewelry. A few blocks away, someone selling antiques did business near someone else selling temporary tattoos.

On the same stretch of sidewalk, one could buy a Grateful Dead T-shirt, an antique Victrola, an erotic postcard and a complete set of luggage. Zeke Brown, who plans to open a luggage store in Randallstown next month, said there is nothing unusual about selling suitcases and garment bags at a festival known more for ethnic food and music.

"It gives me exposure to different people," he said matter-of-factly.

The festival was just 2 hours old, and as the jazz band paid tribute to the late Miles Davis with a rendition of "All Blues," two jewelry merchants doing business next to the sound stage said the day would be a success whatever happened.

"They don't call it a fun festival for nothing," said Neil Whitmeyer, who along with his business partner, Conni Weller, came down )) from a town near Harrisburg, Pa. "The people are great, and even if you're not selling a lot, it's a blast. It's such an excellent variety of people."

The vibraphone was playing soft and dreamy. "I feel like we really lucked out," Mr. Whitmeyer said. "We could have been on the other end next to an oompah band."

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