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Hampdenfest Preview

Stool Runnings’ rolled to victory last year right before the storm rolled in.

Fall means many things—the return of pumpkin flavored everything, a plethora of social media posts, getting psyched for “hoodie weather” or the more cringe worthy term, “cuddle weather, not to mention the changing leaves and colder weather. In Baltimore, fall also means festival season and my favorite festival, Hampdenfest. This year Hampdenfest is this Saturday, Sept. 14. For anyone unfamiliar with Hampden itself, it is one of Baltimore’s 225 neighbors, located 1.6 miles from campus. It’s around a $7 cab ride or a 35-minute walk. I have taken both methods of transportation and if the weather is nice, I would definitely suggest walking. Hampden is quirky, kitschy, hipster area of Baltimore that is home to restaurants such as Golden West Café, Holy Frioles, Grano Pasta Bar and Café Hon, along with numerous cool shops.

Hampdenfest, organized by the Hampden Village Merchants Association and the Hampden Community Council, is an arts festival that draws together local residents and visitors every year. I had no idea of the festival’s existence my freshman year but attended both my sophomore and junior year. One festival was enough to make me an unofficial Hampdenfest spokesperson, encouraging everyone to put it on their Loyola bucket list. A brief description does not do the four blocks of music, craft vendors, food and toilet bowl races justice.

All of the Hampden businesses are open for you to wander through but there are also rows of arts and craft stalls and other merchandise. You can buy clothes, bags, records and jewelry. Even if you do not buy anything, there is tons of stuff to browse through and keep you entertained. Local businesses also have booths set up to advertise. Our own WLOY always has a booth at the festival, so make sure to stop by while you are there. There are four stages featuring local punk, acoustic, folk and rock bands, along with DJs so there is music all day long.

One of my favorite parts of the festival is the food. Baltimore favorites are available including pit beef and crab everything. My roommates look forward to the crab pretzels all year while I am looking forward to the crab taco and get excited every time I remember the festival is Saturday. Another food favorite is the “Great Baltimore Mac-Off.” Both professional and amateur chefs prepare two 13×9 standard home baking dishes worth of mac and cheese. Chefs must focus on cheese and pasta but are encouraged to be as innovative as possible. There is an official committee to judge the best dish but the “People’s Choice” allows you to decide which dish is best. Tickets are only available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. but always sell out, so if you want to sample the mac and cheese, go early.

Another highlight of the festival is the toilet bowl races. Arguably the most unique part of the festival, people spend all year building carts to accommodate decorated toilet bowls to race. The races start at 2:30 p.m. at the intersection of 36th Street and Chestnut Avenue. You do not have to watch all of the races but definitely make it a point to watch for a little while. Last year, I watched the storm clouds roll into the festival in the background of the toilet bowl races, but I hope for better weather this year. However, running back to Loyola through the torrential downpour with my roommates was an experience I will never forget.

Every weekend holds endless possibilities for a college student. You are going to do so much homework, but hang out with your friends and do things you will remember (and some you will not), but this fall, I encourage you to add some of Baltimore’s festivals to your weekend routines.  If you can only make one festival, make it Hampdenfest. It has food, music, crafts, art, toilet bowl races and so many things which are truly too weirdly wonderful to convey in print. Don’t just take my word for it, go to Hampdenfest and experience a side of Baltimore beyond York Road and the Inner Harbor.

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