A sparse crowd filtered through the city’s 41st annual African American Festival Saturday afternoon at the event’s new home in Druid Hill Park, where attendees celebrated their heritage through song, dance and food.
With a renewed focus on local talent, this year’s event was scaled down amid budget cuts. Until last year, the AFRAM Festival was held for two days at the lots outside M&T Bank Stadium and Camden Yards, but this year’s daylong festival was relocated to Druid Hill Park.
Mayor Catherine Pugh estimated between 3,000 and 4,000 people had come through the festival as of about 3 p.m. In previous years, the festival had drawn 200,000 people and created an economic impact of $20 million for the city, according to greiBo Entertainment, the firm that previously helped stage the festival. Last year the company was paid $535,000 to help operate the event, but the city managed the event this year and spent about $200,000, according to the mayor’s office.
Pugh said she was pleased with the turnout and the renewed focus on local talent.
“It’s so many people that have not been recognized in our city for talent, and so we decided to focus on local talent and local entrepreneurs, and I think people are pretty happy with that,” she said at the event. ”I’m quite pleased with where we are for the first time the city’s focused on local people.”
Baltimore rappers YBS Skola and Tate Kobang headlined the event, which in the past has boasted national acts such as Salt-N-Pepa and Slick Rick. Other performers on the two stages at Saturday’s event included London Savoy, P.Phraze the Whisper, Hadiyah & The Black Notes, Charles Johnson and Eddie “Eddie B.” Dobyns.
Dobyns, 32, said it was his first time performing on the main stage.
“It’s not as big as it was in previous years, but it’s fun,” he said. “Got a chance to see all the people and their families out here. It don’t matter how many people — as long as people are celebrating with their families, it’s good.”
Randy and Sharon Thomas, both 64 and Southwest Baltimore residents, were sitting on lawn chairs on a hill overlooking the main stage Saturday afternoon. They said they would have liked to see more variety in the music and bigger names performing.
“What they need is more basic music,” Sharon Thomas said.
They compared it to Stone Soul Picnic, another music festival that was previously held at Druid Hill Park.
“It’s been pretty dead,” Randy Thomas said.
But they said they were glad to be seated in the grass and under shaded trees. They did not attend the festival when it was held downtown.
Archie Chadwick, 48, said he also preferred the new location because it was more spread out.
He has attended the festival for five or six years, and said he keeps returning so that his son Xavier, 10, “can be introduced to afro-centric perspectives,” he said.
“It’s more for him than me,” the Catonsville resident said.
In addition to plenty of music and food from local vendors, the festival featured a kids’ zone, talent show, fashion show and dance performances.
Angela Washington, 35, recently moved to Rosedale from New York and was attending the festival for the first time with friends and her dog Rosebud. She said she was glad to see fellow attendees enjoying themselves.
“The food smells good, the kids look like they’re having a good time, I was able to bring my dog — I like to be able to bring her out of the house — and just see everyone just enjoying themselves,” she said. “I know that the city is struggling with a lot of different things, but you can tell that everyone wants to put the right foot forward.”
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