Baltimore Neighborhoods Through Their Festivals
In Baltimore, summer feels like each weekend is taken over by a neighborhood festival; streets are shut down, local bands perform, kids play, and adults enjoy drinks. When I asked local residents about Baltimore neighborhood festivals, one of my friends commented, “If there's a neighborhood, they have a festival.”
And she’s kind of right; many Baltimore neighborhoods host a festival to showcase what they have to offer. Sometimes, they draw just the locals with very few people outside the neighborhood hearing about the festival. Other times, people from all over the city flock to the neighborhood to take part.
Rather than just listing festivals that happen in a neighborhood, here are some of the Baltimore festivals that represent their neighborhood. And they don’t just happen during the spring and summer—some of these neighborhood festivals happen well into fall.
SoWeBo Fest - West Side
May 2019 marked the 36th Annual Sowebofest, making it one of the oldest neighborhood festivals in the city. Sowebo stands for South West Baltimore, and the area roughly includes the small neighborhoods of Poppleton, Hollins Market, Union Square, and Franklin Square, or what Neighborhoods.com calls West Side.
SoWeBo has long been a mix of artists, Bohemians, and folks who’ve lived in the neighborhood their whole life. The festival celebrates neighborhood bands and artists, bringing everyone out onto the streets around Hollins Market, including arabbers (horse-cart fruit sellers).
St. Nicholas Greek Folk Festival - Greektown
Greektown is so named because of the Greek immigrants who settled around the St. Nicholas Greek Othodox Church on the eastern border of the city. Today, the neighborhood still features a thriving Greek culture centered around the church. Every June, the church hosts the Greek Folk Festival, complete with food, dancing, and crafts.
Cherry Hill Arts & Music Festival - Cherry Hill
Cherry Hill is an oft-forgotten Baltimore neighborhood since it’s across the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River from South Baltimore and on the border of Baltimore County. Most of the neighborhood was built after WWII, with housing intended for African American veterans.
Coinciding with the 4th of July fireworks, the Cherry Hill Arts & Music Festival doesn’t just showcase local arts and music, the organization also works year-round to foster music and art education opportunities for local youth and present the history of the neighborhood.
ArtScape - Station North Arts District
ArtScape is a huge festival held over three days in July—this year, it’s on July 19-21—so it’s hard to say that it’s just a neighborhood festival. In fact, it’s the largest free arts festival, attracting hundreds of vendors and hundreds of thousands of attendees annually.
But the festival really does encapsulates the Station North Arts District. The neighborhood is home to an independent movie theater, the Maryland Film Festival movie theater, multiple galleries and show venues, arts organizations and nonprofits, plus the Maryland Institute College of Art. The festival and the Baltimore Office for the Promotion of the Arts make space for local artists and performers along with internationally known guests.
HampdenFest - Hampden
Every September, the Hampden Village Merchants Association hosts HampdenFest (often confused with the very different HonFest).
Hampden is known to be quirky and full of hip residents. HampdenFest celebrates all of the independent businesses and organizations in the neighborhood, with vendors spanning from the local Indian restaurant to the Hampden Christian School. Sometimes the bands are well-loved dad punks, and sometimes they’re nationally known acts that sneak in on the bill.
This year’s fest is Sept. 21, and by far, the highlight every year is the Toilet Race, where teams build gravity-powered racing commodes and compete to be named Toilet Race Champion.
Greater Lauraville Fair - Lauraville
One might describe the Lauraville Fair as small but charming, and that also describes the neighborhood itself.
Lauraville is made up mostly of single-family homes, built between the 1910s and 1930s. The yards make the neighborhood popular among families with kids. Located in Heinz Park at the southern end of the neighborhood, the fair includes the usual bands and vendors, but also classic fair games and fun for kids.
Pigtown Festival - Pigtown
Would a Pigtown festival be complete without pigs? Pigtown Mainstreet doesn’t think so.
Part of the free family-friendly festival is the “Squeakness,” a pig-race pun on the more famous Preakness. And while people from all over the country don’t tune in to this race, about 5,000 Baltimoreans turn out for the day of local bands and lots of kid’s programming—this year, the fest happens Sept. 21.
The festival website calls Pigtown “one of the most culturally and economically diverse communities in Baltimore,” and the music and vendors at the event reflect the vibrant neighborhood.
Locust Point Festival - Locust Point
Baltimore has a strong history of community activism, and these festivals are a part of that history. The Locust Point Festival also started as a way for the neighbors of Locust Point to come together against a highway project. In the 1970s, there was a plan that I-95 would rip through the neighborhood. The festival raised money and awareness and brought the community together.
Today, funds raised during this day of local food and drink, music, and kids’ events all go back to the community.
Fells Point Fun Festival - Fells Point
The Fells Point Fun Festival isn't technically a summer festival since it’s held in October (2019 dates are Oct. 12-13), but at over 50 years old, it’s the oldest neighborhood festival. According to Baltimore Magazine, the festival began as “a way for residents to band together to save their waterfront locale from demolition during the proposed federal highway expansion of 1966.”
If you can’t make it to the festival, or if large festivals aren’t your thing, Fells Point Main Street also hosts a monthly block party for residents.