Three tell-tale signs that it's spring in Baltimore: The birds come back to town -- both the little chirping kind that hang out in the trees and the kind that hang out at Camden Yards.
Daffodils and tulips push their way up to the earth's surface, unfold in a glorious pageant of color -- then freeze and die from a late, freak cold snap.
And the Johns Hopkins University holds its annual spring fair.
For 27 years, Hopkins has opened up its Homewood campus to the people of Baltimore, offering three days of fun and entertainment, and almost all of it for free. This Friday, Saturday and Sunday you can enjoy live music, arts and crafts, an antique car show, plenty of kiddie rides and games and a few fun, oddball attractions like sumo wrestling. The theme of this year's event is "Odyssey," which will incorporate a little bit of Ancient Greece into the fair. So fairgoers can also participate in the Greco-Roman challenge sporting events or try some gladiator jousting.
The fair is entirely organized and run by Hopkins undergraduate students and is billed as the largest student-run festival in the country. "We expect 150,000 people to come to the fair over all three days," said sophomore Katie Rieder, publicity co-chair for the event. "For me, it's going to be so awesome to see so many people come to our campus and enjoy themselves. We have all been working hard on getting this together in between everything else like studying and classes."
"The main reason we do this is because we want to give something back to Baltimore," said Larry Liang, a senior at Hopkins who is in charge of booking musical entertainment for this year's fair. "This is our way to thank the whole community."
Although the spirit of the fair has not changed in 27 years, the music has changed a little this year, Liang said. "It's not all college, alternative pop music," he said. "I'm pretty excited about the musical lineup this year."
This year, music lovers can still hear local rock bands in the 98 Rock Beer Garden, but they can also hear swing bands, steel drum bands, ska music, blues performers and DJs spinning trip-hop sounds.
For newcomers to the fair, such as D.C.-based ska band Checkered Cabs, it's a great opportunity for new people to hear their music.
"We're more of a club band, but we attract a college-aged crowd," said Sean Hissey, drummer for the band. "Ska has a reputation of being this underground thing, but in reality, ska has been around since the '50s. It has generations and waves. It was in, out, came back and left, now it's back again and will hopefully stay around."
For bands like Mambo Combo, who have performed at the fair more times than they can remember, the spring event is sort of a homecoming, especially for guitarist and keyboardist Bob Friedman, who graduated from Hopkins in 1969 with a degree in psychology.
"They keep asking us to come back every year," Friedman said. "We're a fun group, and people like to dance to us." The group's Sunday afternoon performance outside of Shriver Hall will be a welcome change for the band, Friedman saaid. "We've been in smoky clubs all winter, this will be our first chance to play outside. . . . We're looking forward to it."
But the biggest musical act to come to the fair this year is national recording group Letters to Cleo, who kick off the fair a little bit early with a show tonight at 8 p.m. in Shriver Hall. Tickets are $10 and are available by calling TicketMaster at 410-481-SEAT. Some tickets may be available at the door if the show is not sold out.
Most know the band from its debut album, "Aurora Gory Alice," and the song "Here and Now," which was played over and over on the closing credits of the TV show "Melrose Place" during the Billy loves Allison era.
The exposure was great for the band, but it was sort of a double-edged sword, said Kay Hanley, lead singer of the Boston-based quintet. "If it wasn't for that, I'd probably still be waiting tables . . . but I have ruined any chance of having any indie credit."
The band never set out to be on "Melrose Place," but when it signed with its record label, the group asked to be on a compilation album of songs for the show. "We were like Track 9, right after Dinosaur Jr. I thought it was very cool."
While on tour, the band found out that its song was being played over the credits to the show. "I thought it was kick," Hanley said. But later, the group was criticized for supposedly orchestrating a huge self-promotion. "I assure you we went into the whole thing very innocently. . . . It's really upsetting to be constantly defending your motives."
While some people haven't heard from the band since "Here and Now," Letters to Cleo has stayed very busy. The group released a second album after "Aurora Gory Alice" and has been "touring constantly," Hanley said. "We toured for like three years straight. . . . We all got burned out. I didn't have a creative cell in my brain."
Everyone in the group decided to take time off to relax. "I did absolutely nothing," Hanley said. Well, she did get married and witnessed her sister give birth, a "totally amazing experience," Hanley said. After the break, the group was "fresh as daisies" to get back to work and record their third album, "Go!", which was released in October.
Now it's back to touring.
"We're doing colleges all this month," Hanley said. "This is the time of year when you can do them; they're fun, and it pays a lot of bills."
Although "Go!" has had mostly good reviews by critics and, according to Hanley, has "some of the best songs" she has ever written, the album has not had much airplay outside of their local area.
Or more simply put:
"The album is dead," Hanley said.
No matter to Letters to Cleo. The band will keep on making music, Hanley said. "A band like ours doesn't always fit on the radio. . . . Putting out albums and touring is a way of generating a fan base for us."
As for the future, expect a fourth album next fall and some Lilith Fair tour dates this summer, Hanley said. "Whatever we do as a band, we do purely for ourselves."
What: Johns Hopkins Sptring Fair
When: Noon to 6 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Where: Johns Hopkins University Homewood Campus, 3400 N. Charles St.
Tickets: Free for parking and most events. Letters to Cleo performance at 8 p.m. today in Shriver Hall costs $10, $8 for Hopkins students. Tickets sold through Ticketmaster at 410-481-SEAT.
Here is just a sampling of area events to mark the arrival of spring. Look in the Family calendar of LIVE for more events in the future.
Fifth Annual Spring Launch. A celebration of ecology and history of the Chesapeake Bay at the Riverwalk in Solomons. Sponsored by Solomons Business Association. Noon-6 p.m. tomorrow, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Sunday. For more information and schedules, call 410-326-6027.
Spring walk. A 2 1/2-mile leisure walk to awaken the senses that normally lie dormant and a "smart heart" lunch to follow. Sponsored by Sinking Springs Herb Farm, 234 Belair Shore Road, Elkton. The walk will be held from 10 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. April 18 with the "smart heart" lunch from noon to 1 p.m. $5 for the walk, and $20 for the walk and lunch. Call 410-398-5566.
Spring arts weekend. Artists will open their studios to display their work for sale. Sponsored by the Mill Centre Association in conjunction with School 33 Art Center's Open Studio Weekend from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Mill Centre, 3000 Chestnut Ave. and Falls Road. Call 410-467-4911.
Spring fair. Craft demonstrations, children's activities, pony rides, door prizes, entertainment and food. Sponsored by Americana Arts and Crafts Promotions at the Howard County Fairgrounds. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For admission price and directions, call 301-701-2346.
Spring Antiques and Collectibles Street Fest. 40 antiques and collectibles dealers will set up with antique cars along downtown streets in Havre de Grace. Sponsored by the Antique Association of Havre de Grace. The dealers will be set up on Washington Street and Franklin Street, and antique cars will line Pennington Avenue. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. April 24. Call 410-939-5290 or 410-939-4882.
Towson Gardens Day. 12th annual event sponsored by the Towson Development Corp. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. April 23 at Towson Court House Fountain Plaza and West Pennsylvania and Baltimore avenues, Towson. Rain date April 24. Free. Call 410-825-2211.
Maryland Hunt Cup. 102nd running on April 25. 4 p.m. race time; 3:30 p.m. roads closed to traffic at Worthington Farms, Tufton Avenue, Glyndon. $30 parking fee. Parking passes must be purchased before race day. No admission available on race date. Passes sold at the Wine Merchant, John Brown's Shawan Store, Butler Store and Valley Motors, or send check and SASE to Maryland Hunt Cup Association, 3021 Black Rock Road, Glyndon, Md. 21071. Luncheon reservations available through the Maryland Historical Society, 410-685-3750. Call 410-472-4453.
1998 Spring Craft Fair. A juried event where all items sold are handmade by the vendor. Held at Downs Park, Pasadena. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. April 25. Call 410-222-6230.
Spring festival. Seventh annual event sponsored by Anne Arundel County Fair Inc. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. April 25-26 at the fairgrounds, Route 178, Generals Highway, Crownsville. Free admission. Call 410-923-3400.
Bolton Hill spring festival and parade. Sponsored by the Mount Royal Improvement Association and Maryland Institute, College of Art. Noon to 3:30 p.m. May 2 at Mount Royal Recreation Center, 120 W. Mosher St. Parade starts at noon. Call 410-523-3159 or 410-728-2745.
Salisbury Dogwood Festival. 16th annual event sponsored by the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce. Block party Friday at Riverwalk Park. Carnival rides at Division Street and Circle Avenue, Salisbury. May 1-3. For more details and hours, call 410-749-0144.
Towsontown Spring Festival. A festival in the heart of Towson with over 400 exhibitors, five stages with entertainment, crafts and ethnic food. Sponsored by the Towson Business Association. The festival will surround the Towson courthouse in the heart of Towson. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. May 2 and 1 p.m.-6 p.m. May 3. Free admission. $2 all-day parking available. Call 410-825-1144.
May Fair at Woodend. Sponsored by the Washington Revels and the Audubon Naturalist Society. 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. May 3 at Woodend mansion, 8940 Jones Mill Road, Chevy Chase. $6; $2 children under 12. Call 301-652-9188 or 202-364-8744.
28th Annual Montpelier Spring Festival. A family cultural arts celebration with entertainment, dance and food. Join the South Laurel Recreation Council volunteers who are celebrating 28 years of service to the community. Noon to 6 p.m. May 3 at the Montpelier Mansion Grounds on Route 197 at Montpelier Drive in South Laurel. Free admission. Call 301-776-2805 (English), 301-445-2335 (Spanish) or 310-445-4512 (TTY).
Women's Civic League 81st Flower Mart. Entertainment, lemon sticks, crafts, plants and more. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. May 6. Rain date May 7. Free admission. Call 410-837-5424.
Sixth annual herb festival. A festival centered on the ways herbs were used by both Colonial and Native Americans. Sponsored by Piney Run Park near Sykesville in southern Carroll County. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. May 9. Admission is $5 a car. Call 410-795-3274.
Marlborough Day 1998. A festival to promote the town of Upper Marlboro and Prince George's County. Sponsored by the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission in the historic town of Upper Marlboro. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on May 9.
Spring May Day celebration. A spring fair with the traditional Maypole dance, relay races, crafts, face painting, hay rides and games. Sponsored by the Fifth District Elementary School, at 3724 Mount Carmel Road just west of Falls Road. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. May 9. Free admission. Call 410-887-1726 or 410-887-1727.
Spring open house at Government House. Governor's residence Annapolis will be open to the public 1 p.m.-4 p.m. May 9. In nearby Lawyers Mall, a Spring Fling Festival with performing and visual arts workshops will take place 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Both events are free and open to the public. Call 410-974-3531.
Darlington's fourth annual spring craft fair. Sponsored by the Darlington Elementary School PTA at 2119 Shuresville Road. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. June 6. Table rent for vendors $20. Call 410-638-3700 or 410-836-7069.
Pub Date: 4/16/98