When I first arrived in Baltimore, I was skeptical of the neon-and-spandex aesthetic of the local DIY culture, but this past weekend finally and completely changed my mind. Whartscape 2010 started off rather low-key, with some inspiring performances by local comedians, dancers, and theater troupes at the Charles Theatre, the highlights being the motion capture demonstration by Alan Resnick and the ventriloquism routine by April Camlin.
The rest of the four-day festival was a blur, as I was selling tacos, but with so many acts, I doubt anyone had time to see the majority of what was going on. The blazing heat on Friday and Saturday made for a particularly delirious experience, with bands playing hit-and-run sets all day long at the outdoor space and well into the night at the H&H Building – Zomes, Talk Normal, Prince Rama, the Dan Deacon Ensemble, Arab On Radar, Teeth Mountain, and dozens of other local and national acts flowed through my field of vision in an endless torrent as I bustled around trying to feed the crowd.
The striking thing about the festival, though, was not any individual acts but the general, euphoric energy of the event in general, with everyone involved in the Baltimore art and music scene along with some notable out-of-towners gathered together to celebrate a culture that we’ve all collectively and truly created ourselves. There were no corporate sponsors, no mean-looking bouncers, no overpriced bottles of water, and the crowds were remarkably well-behaved and understanding when the inevitable snags and minor disasters struck. The moment that this was most evident occurred on the last day, when an epic rainstorm ripped through the area, causing the plastic tarp of one of the big outdoor stages to rip and collapse.
Without missing a beat, hundreds of attendees and volunteers swarmed around to hold down the tarp and move equipment indoors. Through it all, everyone stayed calm, and even had smiles on their faces, perhaps relieved to have respite from the sweltering heat. The festival halted, but in a relatively short time, relocated to another club, and a quick reshuffling of the schedule allowed every band to play.
Future Islands was the last band to play in the space where I was stationed the last night. I sold my last taco, grabbed the last few slices of melon we had been selling, and walked onto the stage to distribute them to the sweaty band. As I stepped back down to the floor, two of my friends hoisted me into the air and threw me around while chanting my name, sloshing my cup of whiskey everywhere. At the risk of sounding like a big, dumb hippie, I choked up several times over the weekend just witnessing so many people I live, work, and play with making and doing such amazing things. Every single person I know contributed to the festival to some degree. I felt honored and privileged to be part of all this. Baltimore is like the dirty, ratty Grail that Indiana Jones chooses at the end of The Last Crusade. I definitely chose wisely.