Streets were blocked off in Fells Point yesterday, and the whole area was soggy. But this time, instead of a natural disaster, the historic neighborhood was experiencing a man-made extravaganza.
More than 250,000 people showed up for the 37th annual Fells Point Fun Festival, and as many or more are expected today, festival organizers said. Clouds and remnants of rain might have kept some away early in the day, but the crowds picked up as the sun peeked out.
Some had worried that Tropical Storm Isabel, which hit Fells Point hard two weeks ago, might put a damper on the event. But the flooding and property destruction seemed to make festival-goers more determined that the party must go on.
"This is just our way of saying, `We got over this,'" said Ellen von Karajan, executive director of The Preservation Society of Federal Hill and Fells Point, which holds the festival every year. "We've been doing this 37 years without a break. I guess it's just part of that Fells Point spirit."
Through- out the distinctive community of specialty shops, restaurants and rowhouses, the smell of receding floodwaters was replaced yesterday with the aromas of every kind of food imaginable.
There were funnel cakes, potato pancakes and, of course, crab cakes. Raw bars were set up across the street from real bars. And if seafood is the hallmark of Baltimore, you couldn't tell it by all the pit beef, pulled pork, Philly cheese steaks, Polish sausage, Italian sausage and even boerewors, a South African sausage. Not to mention the gyros, buffalo wings, chili and spaghetti.
Hundreds of vendors set up along the streets of Fells Point. Music blared. Belly-dancers wriggled.
There was face-painting, puppet-making, carnival rides, cooking demonstrations and even a booth offering massages.
"It feels better than a 12-pack of Heineken and filet mignon," said Zoltan Kiss, a roofer from Overlea, as Jill Morris of Gaithersburg gave him a massage.
A band of performers gathered on Ann Street and juggled flaming torches. Kelly Brown, a hostess at Crabby Dick's restaurant, belted out "I Will Survive" along with a karaoke machine, and the Raices Latinas salsa band turned a city block into a Latino dance hall.
"It seems even bigger to me this year," said Kate Snyder, of Elkton, whose T-shirt read, "Beer - It's not just for breakfast anymore."
Brian Hall had an even better idea for a T-shirt slogan, judging by the way the apparel was flying off the East Baltimore vendor's table.
"I Survived Hurricane Isabel," the front of the T-shirt read. "But She Knocked My Lights Out," it said on the back.
Some vendors and performers had trouble setting up because of electrical problems caused by the tropical storm, but the worst of Isabel seemed to be behind them, festival organizers said.
Ed Kitlowski, 44, of Towson said he had been coming to the celebration since he was a child, and he was concerned it would be canceled. But just as they have done for years, the Police Emerald Society of Baltimore - a bagpipe band in kilts and knee-socks - opened the festival by marching down South Broadway to Thames Street, with pipe major Kitlowski at the front.
"Everybody thought that Fells Point was a war zone down here," said Tony Lombardi, gen- eral manager of Timothy's restaurant on the Broadway pier, which lost about 70 percent of its usual business during the past two weeks.
"Hopefully, this will be a big boost for Fells Point. Everybody's taken a really big hit. The timing of the festival couldn't be any better."
Festival organizers said the tenacity of those who love Fells Point is unshakeable.
"The flood came, and we're still here," coordinator Denise Whitman said. "We've been here 250 years. What's a little flood? It's not gonna hurt us."