One of Baltimore's most popular festivals will return this year with a new look, a new theme and once again, a new surrounding. After six venue changes in 23 years, AFRAM will be held next month at Pimlico Race Course.
And if things go the way organizers want, AFRAM may finally be able to settle down and realize there's no place like home.
Since 1976, increasing crowds have forced organizers to hold the festival at Mondawmin Mall, Festival Hall, Rash Field, Charles and Hopkins plazas, and Camden Yards. This year, AFRAM organizers expect 150,000 people as a result of the partnership with one of the country's most storied tracks.
This summer's festivities, planned for Aug. 6-8, will serve as the experimental stage in what could be a long-term relationship.
"We think this will be the beginning of a new relationship for a long time," said Robert J. DiPietro, executive vice president of the Maryland Jockey Club, which owns Pimlico and Laurel race courses. "This is kind of a journey and a test. This is the first time we've done a festival-type of event."
AFRAM '99 is one of several major festivals in Baltimore this summer, including the second annual Heaven 600 Praise Fest and the 8th Annual Stone Soul Picnic.
Organizers expect 10,000 people at the Praise Fest from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. July 31 at Higher Dimensions Christian Center, 2900 Liberty Heights Ave. And 130,000 are expected at the Stone Soul Picnic in Druid Hill Park from noon to 8 p.m. Aug. 21.
AFRAM will feature vendors, food and entertainment, including Regina Belle and the Dramatics.
"Expect to see a zillion booths," said Norman Ross, executive director of AFRAM '99. "Being at Pimlico gives us the opportunity to stretch out a little bit."
The affair, which costs $5 per person, is dedicated to the tenure of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.
Along with its new home at Pimlico, AFRAM is changing the festival's layout. The festival will be divided into villages with sections for children, arts and crafts, and African-American history.
"I think it's an excellent idea that AFRAM is coming to Park Heights," said Jean Yarborough, who will lead a community meeting Wednesday with AFRAM and Pimlico officials. "Many are concerned about what will happen to the neighborhood, and by meeting, we'd like to dispel all of that so there'll be no surprises. If we can survive Preakness, we can survive anything."
La Quinta Dixon contributed to this article.