For many families, Baltimore's Stone Soul Picnic has become a summer ritual of music, dancing, food and unity.
Such was the case yesterday for Gwen Caster and her two sisters, who arrived early to attend the picnic in Druid Hill Park for the fourth straight year.
"We wait on this," said Caster, an educational assistant from Pimlico. "We like to come out, enjoy the entertainment, be with our people and see a lot of families."
Caster's family joined thousands who came with coolers, blankets and sun hats -- and a desire to squeeze another dose of joy out of a waning summer.
The picnic, the seventh consecutive one organized by Baltimore's Radio One Inc., is a free, family-oriented event with food, information booths, games, fashion shows and -- most important for many -- big-name musicians.
Police estimated attendance at about 5,000.
Many said they look forward to the event every year to bring together family and friends.
"It's a ritual," said Pam Summers, general manager of the company's four radio stations, Majic 95.9, Spirit 1400, WOLB-AM and 92Q. "We start getting calls to the stations months out. 'When is the Stone Soul coming around again?' people want to know."
Katherine Jones and 10 family members -- her husband, cousins, nieces and nephews -- brought a picnic table from Columbia for the third straight year.
"It's a nice cultural event," said Jones, a federal government program analyst. "It's something to look forward to."
Corporate sponsors, community groups and political candidates shared information and shook hands, but most picnickers were focused on the large stage just north of the park's lake.
There, from noon to 7 p.m., local radio celebrities alternated with live music from Heatwave, Cherelle and Badd to entice picnickers onto their feet.
"The entertainment draws people, but people also come out for a day of community," Summers said. "Young and old, mom and dad, grandma and grandpa are here. It's a great family day."
Jacob McCauley, a security guard who lives in Park Heights, said, "I come out for spiritual reasons. It's the unity within the community. The peace, safety and security. This promotes good spirit."
Pub Date: 8/16/98