Crowds fill up on food, diversity

Event: The International Festival celebrates the variety of cultures that make up one Baltimore.

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August 07, 2005|By Tyrone Richardson | Tyrone Richardson,SUN STAFF

As the early afternoon sun beamed down on the open field, the hundreds of people who turned out for the start of Baltimore's ninth annual International Festival clapped their hands and danced to music from a succession of reggae, Irish and Latin bands.

The eclectic mix of the performers at the event, held yesterday at the Polytechnic Institute/Western High School complex at Falls Road and Coldspring Lane, reflected the diversity of the crowd and festival's theme -- "Celebrating One Baltimore."

Claudia Brand, 46, and her husband, Michael, 45, of Laurel, stood watching the Kay Lawal African Dancers perform.

"This is really nice," said Claudia Brand, who has attended previous Baltimore International festivals and praised the mix of music and things to do. Her favorite part of the festival? Brand quickly looked at her husband eating an African rice dish and said, "The food."

The festival's food offerings included Caribbean, Indian and soul food, funnel cakes, and a traditional Baltimore treat -- snowballs.

With temperatures approaching 90 degrees and little shade available, lines at the frozen-treats vendors formed quickly as people tasted samples, deciding what flavor of Italian or Caribbean ices they wanted to purchase.

For Jawhar Ray, a Caribbean ices vendor, the afternoon was busy. "It's a nice event," Ray said. "You can stand here, listen to the band and make some money as well."

Similar comments came from other food vendors who were busy filling plates and working over gas grills.

Children played basketball, jumped in an inflatable play area and also took part in an African Rhythm Drum Circle orchestrated by Jaqui MacMillan.

"Drums are fun," she said to the children as they beat on drums and shook tambourines.

"I invite people to join me to play music together," she said. "Everybody's got rhythm, and they have their own song and everybody's piece is important in the community to make a song together."

Peggielene F. Bartels, sitting under a tent as people looked over her handicrafts and sculptures, said business was slower than usual.

She said during the years when the event was held at City Hall Plaza, there was more foot traffic and larger crowds.

Bartels said she hoped more people would come by as the weather cooled in the early evening.

The opening ceremony for the festival included more than 100 immigrants who took the oath of allegiance and became American citizens during a naturalization ceremony.

"We come together to celebrate our differences and our similarities, and it's a great festival, and it's great way to appreciate one's culture and a great time to party," said City Council President Sheila Dixon after the ceremony.

The festival also included an international soccer match with teams representing Brazil, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Portugal, Nepal, South Korea and other countries.

The festival continues today at noon with more food and vendors, additional international soccer matches, and performances from bands such as The Ides, Alexandria Kleztet, Stryker's Posse, Solazo, One World Tribe and War.

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