Sowebo celebrates art, music and new venue


Every year, musicians and artists ignite a day-long cultural explosion on a couple blocks of Hollins Street. The Sowebo Arts Festival, which turns 21 Sunday, showcases the city's art scene with more than eight hours of live music, exhibits, painting and vendors.

But this year, it's also celebrating the new home of Sowebo Arts, the group that organizes the free festival. They recently moved into a permanent spot at 1111 Hollins St., a former public bathhouse. The front of the space will be a gallery (closed in August), and the back room will become a venue for live music and poetry, said organizer Scotty Stevenson. It's something they've wanted for a long time, he said.

"What we want to let people know now is we're here year-round with a permanent space," Stevenson said. "Artists and musicians can now come here and make proposals of how to use the space for an evening ... It's an elegant little building."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Live section listed an incorrect phone number for the Sowebo Arts Festival. The correct number is 410-244-5707.
The Sun regrets the errors.

During the festival, the new gallery will exhibit about 70 works made there by local artists. Outside during the festival, children will paint a mural on the gallery walls. It's one of several spontaneous art projects happening Sunday. Festival organizers will also bring in several 40-foot sails and spread them out for people to paint on as they please.

Meanwhile, more than 30 bands will perform on five stages scattered around the 1000 and 1100 blocks of Hollins Street. About half the bands are new this year, said music director Jim Hickey. He tries to keep it as diverse as possible and this year devoted a whole stage to DJs. Other DJs will play between bands, he said. From a distance, it blends into a sonic soup.

"If you're walking around, you'll see three different kinds of music at any given moment," Hickey said. "Three or four different kinds of music. Five, even. If you just cruise around, within one hour you'll see all kinds of different stuff at any given point in the day."

The list of bands includes beatboxer Shodekeh, jammers the Grilled Lincolns, electronic instrumentalists To the Moon and indie folk rockers Private Eleanor. Stevenson calls the festival an "urban excursion into art and music."

"We have a tiny little neighborhood, and we want to be kind of an anchor to bring things that we don't get to have here very often and for artists and musicians who live in this neighborhood to actually have a day when they can shine," Stevenson said. "Fill the streets with color and music for a day."

Vendors will run stands and tents, selling food, art and jewelry. The Black Cherry Puppet Theatre will perform puppet shows all day. The festival resonates with the local community and arts scene, Stevenson said.

"I think it's very important," Stevenson said. "In truth it's almost out of proportion to what we are. It's kind of an overkill of music and art. It's kind of dazzling if the weather's good. And we do have a long history. A lot of people are familiar with it. A lot of people look forward to it."

The Sowebo Arts Festival is noon-8:30 p.m. Sunday on the 1000 and 1100 blocks of Hollins Street. Free. For more information, call 410-637-8337 or visit

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