As a teenager attending the Towsontown Spring Festival Charlie Barton never would have imagined that he would return as a vendor some dozen years later to display his silk screen art.
"It's a good feeling," said Barton, 28, formerly of Stoneleigh, who now lives in Locust Point. "I grew up here."
Barton, owner of Art by Barton, in Greektown, East Baltimore, who makes hand-pulled silk screen prints, is just one of more than 450 artists, crafters, businesses, performers and food vendors participating this weekend in the two-day 47th annual Towsontown Spring Festival, sponsored by the Towson Chamber of Commerce, May 3 and 4.
The two-day, free festival, one of the largest outdoor festivals on the East Coast, occupies 10 blocks in downtown Towson and draws about 250,000 people, said Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce.
"It's a sea of people," she said. "And it brings millions and millions of dollars into our community."
Towson University's Regional Economic Studies Institute recently found that the festival generates about $8 million in retail trade, accommodations and food services, according to Daraius Irani, the institute's chief economist.
For Barton, the festival is an ideal place to showcase his work, which includes silk screen prints of photos taken at historic and well-known locations on the East Coast.
"I try to pick shows that are local, and have a good audience and big crowd," said Barton. "And I try to pick places I would like to go."
The festival still has the same fun, family-like atmosphere he remembers as a teen, he said. That atmosphere, and success selling his prints, is why he has participated for the past two years. Barton will display prints related to Maryland, including prints of Camden Yards, the Domino Sugar plant and the Natty Boh Tower in Baltimore, throughout the weekend.
Also returning this year are classic and alternative rock bands;an antique, classic cars display; and the Freedom Fun Zone, which includes a rock climbing wall and basketball shoot.
The festival is also doubling the number of carnival rides to eight in its Family Fun Area.
"Last year was our first year doing carnival rides. … It was a huge success," Hafford said.
Visitors can expect a 40-foot Ferris wheel, as well as traditional rides like the Tilt-A-Whirl, a platform ride with freely spinning cars.
New this year, too, is a country music stage where acts like Ashley Forrest and Baltimore-based Mark Bray and the Steel Soul Cowboys will perform, and the adjacent mechanical bull rides.
"It's going to tie right into it," said Sam Kern, owner A Good Time Amusements in Severn, which runs the mechanical bull. "It's the thrill of doing it yourself, and it's a huge spectator thing."
And to keep up with technology, festival organizers have developed a new, smartphone application. The free app, called 47th Towsontown Spring Festival, provides users with a festival map, vendor locations, sponsor information and, band and performance schedules.
Given the rough winter, Hafford said she is expecting record attendance at this year's festival.
"I guarantee you this year is going to be amazing because a lot of people have cabin fever," Hafford said. "You throw on a pair of shorts, a T-shirt and a pair of flip flops, and spend a day in the sunshine. What more could you ask for?"
Towsontown Spring Festival takes place Saturday, May 3, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday, May 4, 1 to 6 p.m. No admission cost. Parking at area garages costs $5 for the day. Note: Streets west of York Road and east of Bosley Avenue will be closed throughout the festival. Go to towsontownspringfestival.com.