Hampden: Annual neighborhood fest took its weirdness to the people

Whew. 2011's Hampdenfest is all over but the healing. And by healing, I'm talking my own personal recovery from a vicious mix of hangover, sunburn and what I like to call festival chafe.

The rains paused while Hampden's annual neighborhood festival took its weirdness to the people. And weirdness it was — Hampden Idol, macaroni and cheese, carneys , metal sculptures, heavy metal, punk rock, experimental music, even rap, skateboarding, a kids area, toilet races, and so much more.

Now, while some folks in Baltimore city may still be gushing about the Baltimore Grand Prix, I much prefer Hampdenfest's annual toilet races.

The winner of the second annual Toilet Bowl Race - a soapbox derby-esque downhill competition involving vehicles made from plumbing supplies was the hirsute Jonathan Rashidi. Last year's winner, George Peters Jr., came in second. And in third was a team of Charm City Roller Girls, always stiff competition, especially when events with wheels are involved.

Meanwhile, Hampdenfest had two other competitions taking place this year, one a new, instant classic, and the other the welcomed return of a favorite.

The first annual Great Baltimore Mac-Off was a macaroni and cheese cooking competition, masterminded, orchestrated and organized by Genny Dill and hosted by yours truly. This year had 12 competitors vying to win as either a professional, as an amateur or as an overall people's choice.

The hands-down crowd favorite, taking home the People's Choice trophy, was Corner BYOB, 850 W. 36th St.. The judges, Mary Smith (of Charm City Cakes), Henry Hong (food writer for the Baltimore City Paper and Baltimore Magazine and chef at Republic Noodle) and Tom Campbell (Chef at Patchwork Catering) had the herculean task of eating nearly 2 pounds of macaroni and cheese in the hot summer sun in order to find the best macaroni and cheese in Baltimore. And they found that Lucia Treasure had the best amateur macaroni and cheese and that Corner BYOB had the best professional macaroni and cheese.

Meanwhile Keyboard Man (Kevin Hoffman) returned to Hampden once again to bring his American Idol-esque style of karaoke competition, Hampden Idol, to the Atomic Books stage at Falls Road.

More than 15 contestants went ballad to ballad (seriously, there were a lot of ballads sung. Tip for future performers, a stadium anthem would go a long way in such a competition), in an effort to be named 2011's Hampden Idol. Judging this year's battle was Lee Gardner (editor of the Baltimore City Paper), Aaron Henkin (host of The Signal on WYPR) and Sarah Jennings (the last Hampden Idol winner).

Blessed Tess won with her rendition of Madonna's "Like A Prayer." Spidey Springsteen Man (Spider-Man in a white t-shirt) took second place with Bruce Springsteen's "Badlands" and The Amazing Fish Boy took third with an creepy fish costume and a version of Chicago's "Look Away".

Despite the late start due mostly to snafus with Baltimore city getting things set up on time, the festival was up and running by noon and finished on time at 7 p.m. With something for everyone, this year's Hampdenfest saw a swell in attendance and proved to not only be a fantastic neighborhood party for locals, but it was also a fantastic introduction to Hampden for many folks new to the area.

And as one of the festival organizers, I can tell you that plans are already under way for Hampdenfest 2012.

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