A Baltimore tradition

Second day of fest draws crowds, but maybe fewer than expected

August 08, 1999|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Thundering drums, followed by shouts from children dressed in marching band regalia, signaled the start of the African American Expo yesterday at Pimlico Race Course.

The resounding rhythm of the drums featured in the opening parade bounced from window to window in the West Baltimore neighborhood. Little girls with colorful pom-poms dancing on their white boots marched behind young men in feathered helmets who were mastering the beats.

In its 23rd year, the annual three-day festival celebrating African-American culture saw a steady stream of visitors from across the region browsing dozens of booths packed with African sculptures, prints by African-American artists, T-shirts, hand-crafted jewelry and clothing.

But if yesterday's crowd was a measure of the entire weekend's attendance, expectations of 100,000 to 150,000 visitors were probably too high. The festival ends at 8 p.m. today.

Vendors said attendance was sparse Friday afternoon when the festival opened. Crowds had only begun to emerge by late afternoon, when lines for some food vendors stretched about 25 yards.

The heavy traffic typically associated with a high-volume festival wasn't evident along Park Heights Avenue or Northern Parkway, and the free parking areas weren't filled by late afternoon.

The high attendance projections were among the many factors in deciding to move the festival to the treeless, spacious fields of Pimlico Race Course, organizers said. It was the festival's second move in as many years, and the sixth in its history.

"We were expecting a large crowd because of the entertainment," said Cleveland Brister, an organizer and co-chair of the event touted as the largest ethnic festival in the city. Hip-hop group Sporty Thieves and rapper DJ Cool were a part of the lineup.

"Baltimore has changed. We just couldn't have the location to hold the amount of people that we needed. People from all over the country come every year."

Visitors gave the new site a mixed review.

"I wouldn't ever have gone downtown," said Flo Goodwin, a Liberty Heights resident.

But DeAnna Thomas of Columbia said she preferred the race course.

"I liked it when it was downtown, but there's something about the open area," she said.

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