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Posted 4/25/2001

Yes, Baltimore, there is going to be a Sowebohemian Festival this year. The celebration of art, music, and urban frivolity that has exploded around Hollins Market the Sunday before Memorial Day every year since 1985 will see a new millennium. However, the volunteer-run event--never the picture of efficiency and fat-wallet slickness--is facing a rougher road in 2001. While the festival has seen its share of soggy Sundays, last year's was the wettest yet. The rain was heavy, the crowds light (as were the profits from T-shirt and beer sales). And since then, the neighborhood has seen another year's worth of economic downturn, with businesses closing up or, in the case of one erstwhile neighborhood business, physically collapsing into a heap (The Nose; June, 7, 2000). The Hollins Market 'hood ain't what it used to be. Or is it?

"Initially, the Sowebo festival was set up to help encourage growth in the area, and it worked," says artist and longtime Sowebo resident/activist Bill Adler, the festival's new point person this year. "So now it's like a ghost town here, like it was when the festival first started. I consider it a new challenge and a new opportunity for growth."

One of the challenges Adler faces is coming up with the $20,000 or so he estimates it'll take to fund the festival. "Right now we have about enough money to pay for the port-a-potties--that's about it," he says. Insurance, security, and sound-system rental are just some of the prickly expenses the festival faces. While past festival organizers have shunned corporate sponsors, Adler figures that getting Pepsi, Budweiser, or some other big player on board might be the way to go, given the neighborhood's desiccated economic base. Efforts to get financial help from the Poppleton Village Center, locus of the neighborhood's federally funded Empowerment Zone efforts, have so far been "stonewalled," he says.

But while the festival's budget might be smaller this year, the event itself looks to be bigger. The Sowebo Merchants Association has banded together to put a gospel and jazz stage on Baltimore Street, which will be closed to traffic between Schroeder and Carey streets (a festival first; in the past it's been limited to Hollins Street). Three other stages will be sprinkled throughout the neighborhood, though their offerings have yet to be finalized. The nonjuried art show will likely be held in warehouse space on Hollins. A lot or particulars are still up in the air, but one thing is certain: Adler says he could use some help. If you want to lend a hand organizing, get your band on a Sowebofest stage, or hang your art in the show, e-mail or check

Oh, and if you know any anti-rain dances, it might not hurt to trot them out.

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