It was homecoming yesterday for 10-year-old Eric Wilson, who gracefully played classic jazz on his trumpet under a small Artscape tent.
On his first trip to Baltimore's annual arts festival five years ago, he attended an exhibit where children were shown different musical instruments. Eric discovered the trumpet, and music began to dominate his life. He would practice up to six hours most days.
The day before Artscape 1995, "we found a trumpet in a house they were tearing down in Park Heights," recalled Julius Wilson of Woodlawn, Eric's grandfather. At Artscape, Eric "played so well the [sponsors of the children's exhibit] signed him for a class...He found self-confidence. He went from failing to the top of his class."
Yesterday, he played at the festival for the first time - a chance to display a skill he discovered at the festival.
Eric was one of about 600 performers and artists who displayed their talents during the three days of the 19th Artscape in the Mount Royal neighborhood. Organizers said good weather helped the event draw huge crowds. Clair Zamoiski Segal, an organizer of the city-sponsored event, estimated that about 1 million people attended Artscape and that there were record crowds on Friday and Saturday.
"The tone has been very optimistic," said Segal, who has helped organize Artscape for the last 13 years. "With the new administration [of Mayor Martin O'Malley], people want to show their support for the city."
Segal said the event takes about a year to prepare and that plans are already under way for next year's festival, which she promised will be bigger than this year's.
During Artscape, children's activities ranged from having their facespainted to playing with 100,000 Legos. Musicians played soul, jazz, folk, reggae and classical. Local filmmakers showed their films and videos.
Nearly every type of art was represented; most of the artists were area residents selling their pieces. This year, officials doubled the number of sculptures displayed outside to 20. Among the festival's highlights were O'Malley's March - Mayor Martin O'Malley's Irish band-and the opening for rhythm and blues singer Patti LaBelle.
For Eric Wilson, though, playing at Artscape was not his debut. He said he plays about three times a month at parties, funerals and weddings. "I have had a bigger audience," he said.
His chance to perform at Artscape came after he signed up for Summer Activity Extraordinaire (SAX), a summer music camp for youths held at Loyola College and sponsored by the Governs Economic Management Senate.
Eric is shy and reserved off stage. But he lights up when he starts playing his trumpet. He hopes to make music his career. His grandfather says coming to Artscape has taken on a new meaning.
"Eric is a different person" because of Artscape.