African-American festival promises top recording stars

Organizers of event that replaces AFRAM wait to announce lineup

May 10, 2002|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

Top national recording artists are expected at the African-American Heritage Festival from June 21 to 23 - but don't pick up the newspaper or tune in to your local radio stations for a list of acts just yet.

Festival organizers hope to announce the lineup next week, but won't even hint at who may be coming or discuss the festival's budget.

"We are going to have national, regional and local talent all three days," David Geller, co-chairman of the entertainment committee, said yesterday. "National talent will perform as the headline acts Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but ... I am going to refrain from announcing any of the artists at this juncture."

Organizers insist the city's inaugural African-American Heritage Festival, which replaces AFRAM, isn't in trouble and will be as great as Chairman Kweisi Mfume and Mayor Martin O'Malley have promised.

"It's going to be a fantastic first-year event," O'Malley said. "It's going to be something our entire city can be proud of."

A media campaign will begin about May 21 when the festival is a month away, Geller said.

"We didn't want to put the word out too early," he said. "We wanted to make sure that once we started advertising that our content was set, and we really feel we can accomplish our mission of outreaching to local and regional festival-goers in about a month's time."

New this year will be theatrical productions, not necessarily entire plays, but skits, Geller said.

"There will be a much more diversified set of attractions," he said. "The entire site is set."

A children's section will be set up in Babe Ruth Plaza and will include games, rides, vendors and family-oriented entertainment on a small stage. Overall, patrons also can expect a better selection of vendors than in previous festivals, Geller said.

"Mr. Mfume felt that there was an incredible amount of redundancy in the vendors at AFRAM, and a lack of quality," Geller said. "I think that you're going to find a lot less wig salesmen and incense displays and a lot more authentic arts and crafts."

The old AFRAM festival was once a cultural staple in Baltimore. Launched in 1976 as part of the city's Showcase of Nations, it attracted more than 100,000 people during its heyday.

But over the years, it suffered by not having a permanent home. Dunbar High School, Hopkins Plaza, Charles Center, Rash Field, Festival Hall, Oriole Park at Camden Yards and Mondawmin Mall and Pimlico were all AFRAM sites.

The festival's last stop at Pimlico Race Course drew less than 15,000 people.

That sparse crowd and growing complaints about the festival prompted O'Malley to suspend AFRAM last year and implement a plan to revamp the festival. He recruited Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, to oversee the makeover.

Mfume could not be reached for comment.

Organizers hope to make the festival, which will be free, one of the city's premier events.

"We expect it to be hugely successful," Deputy Mayor Jeanne D. Hitchcock said this week.

More than 100,000 people are expected to attend.

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