Clouds and a chilly wind gave way to sunshine yesterday for the first day of the Towsontown Spring Festival, drawing crowds for the 36th year to the area around the new and old courthouses at the Baltimore County seat.
Blanche Shoul was there with four generations.
"This has been a family thing for 24 years," said Shoul, 71, of Towson. "We love it. It's a family ritual."
Her 2-year-old great-grandson, Tyler Shoul, came rolling down a green, grassy slope to say hello, red-cheeked and grinning.
There was music and face-painting and balloon animals, but he and brother Jeffery, 6, of Rosedale, said they liked best the hill below the firefighters' memorial, where they played with a half-dozen other children to the sounds of bluegrass band Jericho Bridge.
Other children enjoyed walking or crawling up and down the wide, concrete banisters of the courthouse steps, while one did a "Singin' in the Rain"-style spin around an old-fashioned lamppost.
Dogs were a hit with everyone, too. At the nonprofit Chesapeake Search and Rescue Dog Association, a 3-year-old golden retriever named Pacy, who worked at the Pentagon after the Sept. 11 attack there, lay on his back to collect belly rubs.
"It's amazing how many people say, `I miss my dog' or `I need another dog,'" said volunteer Ronald Tydings.
Three tall greyhounds also drew admirers to the booth of the Greyhound Pets of America Inc., Maryland chapter, a volunteer organization that tries to find homes for retired dogs or those who couldn't make it at the track.
Alexandra "Alex" Tilkin, of Hampstead said her best friend, Duncan, a yellow Labrador retriever, is just as big as the greyhounds.
The 3-year-old showed off her heart-shaped sunglasses and light-stick jewelry, and asked, "Can we come back next summer?"
Alexandra Vlangas-Perry carefully chose the colors for a Mother's Day gift -- a sand-art bear whose nose came out perfectly pink -- under the eye of father Randall Perry, 29, of Pinehurst. He said he has come to the festival "every year since I was in high school."
"I was going to make a heart, but they didn't have one, so I made a bear," said 6-year-old Alexandra, eyeing her creation somewhat critically.
After the Baltimore City Pipe Band marched to the stage for the official opening, the new executive director of the Towson Business Association Inc., Suzan F. Doordan, said she had found organizing the festival "quite an overwhelming task," despite having shadowed the former director last year.
Her chores ranged from making sure the bands were there to keeping an eye on the supply of trash bags, she said. "It's just a myriad of tiny minutiae."
Thus far, though, Doordan said, her most pressing problem had been a vendor or two who didn't like their neighbor.
"We typically get about 200,000 people to this event over two days," she said, with 420 vendors, five stages and 25 bands. "It's one of the largest on the East Coast, not just in Maryland."
"My understanding is the attendance is a little down," she said, but "tomorrow is going to be beautiful -- sunny and not as windy."
There weren't many customers yet for Baynesville artist Connell Patrick Byrne, but that didn't bother him as he chatted with fellow artists or browsers at a display of paintings, prints, and cigar boxes with his "avant-garde, surrealistic, visionary" style, ranging from $4 magnets to $850 acrylic paintings.
"I've been doing this since I was about 17, when I did the youth art show," said Byrne, now 45. "Not every year, but most. "
"It's fun," he said. "This is the first show I do. It gets me going. It's low-key and casual for the build-up to Artscape," he said of the downtown juried show held every July. "If business is slow, we artists just sit and yak all day."
Rosemary Gruver, 56, of Overlea shared a funnel cake with former neighbor Virginia Allison, 92, who lives at Trinity House in Towson.
"We come every year," said Gruver. "We have fun: We just come to eat, to listen to the bands, to walk around, get some freebies."
"We used to bring the children and have a picnic," said Allison. "It's so much different. It's larger -- everything. There are a lot more food places now and when they started, they didn't have funnel cakes."
The festival continues today from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.