With so much hype, hope and skepticism — not to mention money — involved with the redevelopment of Port Covington, it’s easy to forget the truth as it stands today: The Baltimore neighborhood-to-be is still mostly a 260-acre peninsula of ambitious plans — and a lot of empty space.
So it is the job of Chip Watkins, a veteran Baltimore electronic music producer and DJ, to change that perception. Hired by Weller Development Co., the real estate firm spearheading Port Covington, Watkins began hosting pop-up entertainment events early last month at 200 E. Cromwell St., a space known as The Field. This weekend, the programming continues with a Saturday festival focused on wellness and a Sunday concert headlined by reggae artist Matisyahu.
The main goal for Watkins, though, is to begin getting locals used to coming to an area of the city they rarely, if ever, had a reason to visit before.
“The idea was to … give people a place to come and do things that haven’t happened before in South Baltimore and on this peninsula,” Watkins said recently, standing in the Field. “The number one goal in all of this is to begin to interact with the people that could eventually live and work here.”
The Baltimore Sun Media Group has a long-term lease on its printing plant at Port Covington. The building will become the newspaper’s headquarters in coming months.
This weekend’s events tout well-known musicians like Talib Kweli (headlining Health Baltimore: A Festival of Wellness) and Matisyahu in an attempt to bring more first-timers to the Field, he said. While most Field events, including the former, are free, a Matisyahu ticket costs $20. All proceeds from events that charge admission in the Field’s first year will be donated to local nonprofit organizations like the Youth Resiliency Institute, Believe in Music and others, Watkins said.
“The opportunity to come do something fun and also be able to support these charities and different groups is just a wonderful way to have the community get involved with fundraising efforts,” he said. “We do not need to make a cent.”
Watkins, managing director of Weller Entertainment, is so far pleased with the start.
In early May, the Field attracted nearly 4,000 people to its first event — Maryland SPCA’s Festival for the Animals, a long-running walk-a-thon Watkins and his team helped elevate with a free concert by Bob Marley’s backing band the Wailers and local acts like Eze Jackson and J Pope and the HearNow. Bad weather didn’t damper any spirits, he said.
“We did get rained on because it seems to rain everyday here now in Baltimore, but it was a beautiful day,” Watkins, 43, said.
Last Friday, the Field hosted the first Success Fest, where 300 middle school students from Baltimore public schools were rewarded for high grades with moon bounces, an obstacle course, drone demonstrations and more.
Later that night came another event: SOBO Sunsets, a dance party and happy hour where DJ Impulse and Watkins, under his music moniker DJ Who, provided the soundtrack.
Watkins believes his years working in the music industry led him to this role with Weller. After growing up in Parkville and graduating from Calvert Hall, he pursued a career as a house producer and DJ in the ’90s, bringing life to dance floors around the world while releasing remixes and compilations as DJ Who.
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Though he’s still active as DJ Who, Watkins said he’s most interested in applying what he’s learned touring the world to this Port Covington project.
The dance floor “is a place where all different kinds of people come together. It’s not who you are, it’s what you’re doing together in the moment,” he said. “It’s the best way to unite people that I’ve found so far in life.”
It’s not just about music, he said. Saturday’s wellness festival will have vendors and experts to promote healthy eating, exercise and mindfulness. Later this month, local bagmaker Treason Toting Co. and DJ Impulse will host a Night Brunch, Watkins said. An oyster festival is being discussed for September, as well.
The goal, he said, is to host diverse events that will appeal to the widest swath of locals — regardless of their music preferences. The effort, he hopes, will lay a foundation for what will become a community in Port Covington. Building a new neighborhood requires more than money and materials, he said, and in Watkins’ mind, it all begins with exposure.
“The stacking of the bricks is one thing. Putting the people in that are going to enjoy it, take care of it and be the folks that drive the neighborhood, that’s what’s really important,” he said. “That’s why we’re starting now.”