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Power chords and gunny sack races at annual Charles Village festival

On an open-air stage at Howard and 29th streets Saturday, June 1, three teenagers, including a Gilman School student, banged out original songs and classic rock for an appreciative crowd.

Below street level, in the lower Wyman Park Dell, children raced — and in some cases rolled — toward the finish line in gunny sack races.

It was a classic case of rock and roll as the two-day 2013 festival drew thousands of area residents. The locations were slightly different this year because of the Charles Street Reconstruction project, but that didn't deter the crowds, especially on a sunny weekend with temperatures near 90 degrees.

As usually, the festival was a happy hodgepodge of activities ranging from moon bounces to tours of house gardens in Charles Village. Vendors sold or promoted everything from designer glass, hula hoops, hats and framed photographs to massage therapy, mosaic tile art and an upcoming Seeds of Peace community festival June 15.

Community groups including the Charles Village Civic Association, the Charles Village Community Benefits District, Friends of Wyman Park Dell and the Greater Homewood Community Corp. had tables or tents at the festival, in most cases under shady trees.

"It's very nice on a hot day," said Sandy Sparks, of Friends of Wyman Park Dell..

Prosecutor Antonio Gioia, of Lake Walker, browsed at a booth selling knitted scarves to benefit Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders. He didn't buy anything, but gave a vendor a $10 contribution, anyway.

"It's just the right thing to do," said Gioia, an assistant Baltimore City state's attorney.

The fest was a good place for a church pastor to reach out to potential congregants, which is exactly what the Rev. Joseph Rosas III of University Baptist Church was doing at his booth as he petted dogs and said hi to babies.

"We did have a few people say they'd like to come and worship — and they took applications for Bible school," said Rosas, who came to University Baptist, across from the Homewood campus of Johns Hopkins University, after 13 years at a church in Memphis, Tenn.

If nothing else, Rosas said, "I guarantee you, I have met a lot of people today. I could have been a politician."

New to the festival this year were gunny sack races for children and adults, sponsored by the Village Parents, a Charles Village-area parenting and family association with more than 300 members.

"It's just to have fun and give kids something to do at the Charles Village Festival," said Village Parents member Debra Mathews, one of the organizers of the races.

Jason Capel, 8, whose family came from Woodlawn, won back-to-back heats — and trophies — for children under 10 and under 14.

"You are fast," Mathews marveled after the second heat. "I guess you win another trophy."

Of all the happenings at the festival, none was more intriguing than listening to a band of teenagers, called The Locals, as they played a well-received set of garage rockers, ranging from an original called "Pins and Needles" to classics, including the Beatles' "Back in the U.S.S.R."

The trio, including Gilman's Connor Doak, 14, of Roland Park, and bandmates Aidan Kirby and Braedon Seymour, both 13, formed about a year ago at The Music Workshop, a Govans-based music school, where they take lessons weekly. Their fans sat on the grass at 25th and Howard as band members took turns playing different instruments. In one case, Doak stepped out from behind the drum kit and grabbed a guitar, while his proud father, Brian Doak, a stockbroker, took photos.

Jim Jones, who has been running The Music Workshop for 20 years, said students are often paired in bands and cut their own CDS in the school's recording studio.

"I've had bands stay together for eight years," said Jones, of Charles Village, who organizes the Charles Village Festival's smorgasbord of music each year, ranging from rock to country.

His greatest success story, he said, is Zack Merrick, who started taking lessons at The Music Workshop at age 10. Now, Merrick is bassist and backing vocalist for the popular band All Time Low, which formed in Towson.

"I actually had All Time Low on the kids' stage (at the festival) 10 years ago," Jones said. "Now, they're out playing at Merriwether (Post Pavilion in Columbia)."

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