Whether brilliant in mind or brilliant in wattage, Brilliant Baltimore will be offering myriad ways for Charm City to shine over a 10-day period.
This marks the first year Light City and the Baltimore Book Festival have run concurrently; they’ll be taking over the Inner Harbor from Nov. 1-10. In prior years, the two festivals were held in the early spring (Light City) and late summer (the book festival). For 2019, organizers hope that combining them will take advantage of better weather, earlier darkness (thanks to the arrival of daylight savings time, which begins Sunday and is especially important to take full advantage of Light City) and a closer proximity to the peak publishing times of the holiday season, which should bring even more authors to the book festival.
For many visitors, both festivals are one big highlight package, the chance to be wowed by the nighttime glow of Light City or to immerse themselves in the written words celebrated at the book festival. But for those looking to focus their Brilliant Baltimore visits on just a little of what the two festivals offer, here are six experiences that shouldn’t be missed.
Dance in the glow of the ‘DiscoBug’
McKeldin Plaza, Pratt and Light streets
If this isn’t a fan favorite of Light City 2019, then something’s seriously wrong. What’s not to love about a 1969 VW Beetle, covered with thousands of mirror squares, spinning amid the glow from more than a dozen spotlights, some moving, some stationary? If this sounds like something the Village People would love, or a place where a roller boogie jamboree could well break out... well, that’s just the point. “It looks kind of round, like a disco ball,” co-creator Tyler FuQua says of the Beetle, a model he drove himself at age 18 (he’s now 43). Noting that the Beetle and disco are so emblematic of an age, “we figured, what if we took these two awesome things and put them together, mashed them in to one?” Working with co-creator Jason Hutchinson and his staff at Tyler FuQua Creations in Eagle Creek, Oregon, FuQua was still putting the finishing touches on “DiscoBug" last week, but is confident it’ll be warmly received by visitors to Light City. Heck, if the car itself isn’t enough to please the crowds, wait until they look inside the hollowed-out Beetle and see the mini-dance floor, complete with disco ball and dancing bugs (the multi-legged kind). Spectators will even be able to spin “DiscoBug” themselves — it’ll be sitting on what is essentially a Lazy Susan — all while enjoying music DJ’ed by FuQua himself. “They’ll come up, they’ll push the buttons for the lights. Anybody can walk up, grab the handle and spin the bug.” And if you want to bust a few moves while doing so, all the better.
Find a glow-in-the-dark arabber
Rash Field, at the top of the ramp entrance off the promenade
This may be more Baltimore than anything at Light City this year: an illuminated (and mobile) tribute to the city’s arabbers. A product of the Upper Fells Point-based Formstone Castle Collective (and isn’t that a Baltimore name?), “Baltimore Fancy” consists of a stationary component, inspired by the stables used by these wandering fruit and vegetable salesmen and their horses, and a mobile component, which will be wandering through Light City, of an arabber and horse, decked-out in LED lights. “We’ve been fascinated with the arabbers since we moved to Baltimore; it’s such a unique part of the Baltimore landscape,” says Siri Ming, who with her life and work partner Michael Bowman is responsible for the installation. “We really wanted to tell the story of the arabbers and to really collaborate with the arabbers.” This marks the third Light City for the collective, which created the water-based “What Lies Beneath” for 2018 and the blinged-out “Kinetic Kauchii/ DekoSofa” for 2017. Sadly, the arabbers at Light City will not actually be selling fruit and vegetables; all the produce that is part of the installation will be covered in LED lights, Ming says. But all is not lost. “We will actually have some surprise fruit giveaways,” she promises.
Watch a film in a rowhouse window
Pier 4, next to the National Aquarium’s dolphin fountain
This tribute to Baltimore’s ubiquitous rowhouses presents spectators with the facade of just such a home (and what a location this would be for an actual home!) and encourages them to step on illuminated panels that change what is visible in the windows and through the front door (think a modern, LED-bedecked take on Hitchcock’s “Rear Window”). “Every window is going to be a different short film, and you’re going to be able to walk around in front of the rowhome, as if you’re on a sidewalk, and be able to interact with the individual windows from there," promises James Dolgin of FluxForm, which created “Facades” out of a space in Pigtown; others who worked on the installation are Imani Leigh, Samantha Mitchell, Zachary Titford, Andrew DiPrinzio and Misha Ilin. The idea, he says, “just came from our sitting down and kind of looking around and seeing what exists in Baltimore, and what unites everyone in Baltimore...We got to thinking how ubiquitous the rowhome was in Baltimore, how it serves as a symbol not just for the place where we live, but for a forced intimacy with our neighbors.” Hopefully, this won’t include having to scream through the walls to turn the music down.
Check out local authors at the Book Festival
Along Light and Pratt streets, from roughly Rash Field north and east to the Columbus Center
More than 200 authors will be part of this year’s festival, our city’s annual celebration of the written word. You can stroll along the Light Street waterfront and sample what various bookstores, publishers and authors are offering (be sure to say hi to The Sun’s Dan Rodricks and Sun alum Kevin Cowherd, both of whom will be offering their latest books), or check in at the Literary Salon at the Columbus Center, 701 E. Pratt St., or the Top of the World observation deck at the World Trade Center, 401 E. Pratt St., where a steady stream of writers will be making presentations, offering readings or otherwise interacting with the literary-minded among us. For local flavor, check in with award-winning journalist Brian Kuebler, a University of Maryland grad and author of “The Long Blink,” a look at the increasing danger of driving America’s roads, seen through the prism of a tragic truck accident that destroyed a Cockeysville family (1 p.m. Nov. 3 at the Top of the World) and Baltimore native Linda Morris, who writes of her childhood experiences and those of her contemporaries in "Cherry Hill: Raising Successful Black Children in Jim Crow Baltimore” (noon Nov. 2 at Top of the World). And here’s the best news: all this is free, even the ride to the top of the World Trade Center, which usually costs $4-$6.
Try one of the VIP events
Unlike the rest of Brilliant Baltimore, this’ll cost you some money, but for an up close and personal experience with some talented people, these sound hard-to-beat. If comic books and graphic novels are your thing, maybe shell out $35 for a meet-and-greet with Marvel Comics author Nnedi Okorafor (“Black Panther”). 4 p.m. Nov. 2 inside the Columbus Center, 701 E. Pratt St. Includes light appetizers, cocktails and a signed copy of her most recent book. If you’re looking to become an author yourself, how about “Unthinkable, Unspeakable, Unforgettable: Creating Compelling Fictional Characters: A Master Class with Marita Golden,” the D.C. native and co-founder of the Hurston/Wright Foundation, a resource center for African-American writers? Noon-1:30 p.m. Nov. 2 on the CityLit stage at the Pier 5 Hotel, 711 Eastern Ave. $55. And if good eating is your thing, it may be hard to pass up “A Taste of the Sweet Life: An Exclusive Tasting Dinner Curated by Celebrity Chef Sam Talbot," wherein the “Celebrity Chef” semi-finalist offers an “ultra VIP” cocktail hour and tasting dinner. Pricey, at $250, but should be delicious. 8 p.m.-10 p.m. Nov. 1 at the Lord Baltimore Hotel, 20 W. Baltimore St.
Take a ride on the Big Wheel
Light Street waterfront
Waterfront Ferris wheels have become all the rage in big cities in recent years; Paris and London both have one, and they’re magnificent. While Baltimore may not have one as a permanent Inner Harbor fixture, we do get one on special occasions — like this. For only $5. you get to see Baltimore from a perch high in the air. Normally, you have to be a seagull to see the city from this vantage point, so be sure to take advantage of the opportunity. Unless you’re afraid of heights, in which case, maybe one of your friends (or braver-than-you kids) could snap a photo with their phone and share it?
If you go
Brilliant Baltimore, the combined Light City and Baltimore Book Festival, runs Nov. 1-10 at the Inner Harbor, roughly from Rash Field, 201 Key Hwy., north and east to President Street, as well as other locations. Hours are noon-10 p.m. Nov. 1-3, 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Nov. 4-10. Free. brilliantbaltimore.com.