Baltimoreans and fans of the African American festival far and wide celebrated another year of culture and arts last weekend.
With performances by Fantasia, Raheem DeVaughn, and the Grammy-award winning Patti LaBelle, the outdoor celebration of Black heritage and its many facets called thousands to downtown Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium once again.
“Can you imagine paying nothing to see Patti LaBelle?” said state Sen. Larry Young, who believed this year’s turnout was one of the largest the festival has seen because of the international names headlining the event.
Young, of Radio One’s WOLB Talk 1010, manned the main stage on Sunday, as attendees visited exhibits focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and a health and wellness pavilion that offered yoga, Zumba classes, a rock climbing wall, and aerobics stations.
A fashion show was also a part of this year’s festivities along with a beauty bar.
Crowds seem to be finally warming up to the city’s decision to combine the Stone Soul Picnic, put on by Radio One founder Cathy Hughes, and the AFRAM event.
“It was smart not to do two- we were doing Stone Soul Picnic and they were doing AFRAM- so the mayor said ‘Let’s meet,’- we did, and we merged,” Young told the AFRO. “Everybody that can do something is doing it and that’s what makes it big.”
Storm clouds and thunder couldn’t keep Labelle away from her fans- as she continued to croon classic favorites, such as “If Only You Knew,” even through the downpour that soaked audiences late Sunday evening.
Dressed in her finest flowing turquoise threads, Patricia Louise Holte-Edwards, better known as LaBelle on stage, at 69, made fans old and new swoon the same way she did when she first broke onto the music scene decades ago in the 60s.
“It’s good to be out here and experience African American heritage with my Black people,” said 30-year-old Kirk Butler who from Washington, D.C. to see Patti Labelle for what he described as at least his 20th live experience with the top diva.
Vendors had everything from African-inspired earrings to sundresses on hand for attendees, side stages offered guests a taste of Baltimore’s own unique form of dance to club mix, and music from jazz sessions featuring local musicians wafted on the breeze.
AFRAM first-timer and Baltimore native Ernest Rawlings, 43, said that for years he had heard about the festival, but never actually attended.
“This year I decided to try something different,” he said, moments before LaBelle made her appearance.
Rawlings attended both days and said that he was pleased to see how peaceful the festival was, even with the large crowds gathered. “Baltimore has a lot of issues, but it’s better than it was.”
“With the way the city has been lately, I’m glad to see that there were no problems.”