Each July, Elaine Simon looks forward to the delicious food, the rhythmic music and the colorful outfits that accompany the annual Caribbean Carnival Festival.
The sights and sounds combined with the seasonal sweltering heat remind the West Baltimore resident of her native Antigua.
"We have the entire Caribbean represented," said Simon, who has been the festival chair for the past 11 years. The festival celebrates its 29th year this weekend. "It is so rich. We are glad to be a part of Baltimore."
The festival begins with a carnival celebration in Druid Hill Park from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. today. The festivities in the park continue Saturday and Sunday and will feature Caribbean cuisine, music, and arts and crafts activities for the entire family, according to Simon. The three-day festival typically attracts about 20,000 people.
The parade, which features steel bands and lively dancers with lavish costumes, starts at noon. The parade begins at Quantico and Park Heights avenues instead of the traditional starting location at Cold Spring Lane and Quantico Avenue. The route has been cut this year to save money, according to Simon. However, despite the adjustment, she said, the core of the route will remain intact.
On Sunday, Triffik Jam, a group from Trinidad and Tobago, will headline a number of Caribbean-based bands in the park. Other musical acts include Daddy O, Mr Muzik, Jam Down and The Image Band.
"We usually try to bring a group that is hot in the island," Simon explained. "We know what is hot."
The Caribbean Carnival Festival is one of the most popular ethnic events in the city, according to Tracy Baskerville, communications director for the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts, which manages nine ethnic festivals annually in the city.
The festival is ideal for those who want to learn about Caribbean culture, according to Baskerville.
"It is one of those great festivals that show off the culture of that region," Baskerville said. "It is fun."
Lenny McLean, the owner of Island Food Market on Park Heights Avenue, welcomes the festival each year. It reminds him of his native Jamaica.
"It highlights the culture of the Caribbean," said McClean, who has lived in Baltimore since 1987. "It brings different island people together. It showcases what the islands have to offer. It shows Americans another part of the world right here in their community."
Dawn Samuels, owner of Caribbean Food Paradise, a takeout restaurant on Park Heights Avenue, loves the festival's inclusiveness.
"We all gear up for it," Samuels added. "I love the costumes, the floats and the parade. It reminds you of home. It's all about the people. It is not a one-person thing or a one-country thing. It's about everybody."
Seeing all of the Caribbean represented in the festival is worth the cost of admission, according to Simon.
"Any time that an organization is able to pull together a group of people for 29 years even though they are different people, that is a milestone within itself," Simon said.
If you go
The Caribbean Carnival Festival runs 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday and noon-9 p.m. Sunday in Druid Hill Park. Admission is $10 and free for children under age 12. For more information, go to promotionandarts.com.