Hampdenfest canceled due to coronavirus pandemic

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Baltimore’s end of summer party featuring the annual toilet bowl races. Credit: Tedd Henn.

Hampdenfest, the late-summer festival bringing toilet bowl races and punk and indie rock to the heart of Hampden, has been canceled due to coronavirus, organizers announced last night.

While the festival, scheduled to take place in September, was still months out, the organizer said they didn’t think they could run the event safely and said “a festival in the time of a pandemic seems antithetical.”

“Any festival or party that encourages large gatherings of people while a life-threatening disease is still being transmitted strikes us as socially irresponsible,” the organizers said in a Facebook post.

Founded in 2002, the festival is sponsored by the Hampden Village Merchants Association and the Hampden Community Council. Rachel Whang and Benn Ray, co-owners of Atomic Books, organize and manage the stages for the event, respectively.

In an interview, Whang said by this point in the year the festival is typically more than halfway organized, with most of the bands booked and vendors selected (applications for the latter start coming in as early as January).

Prior to the pandemic, the festival has endured weather-related mishaps, including one year where the music had to end abruptly as crew members scrambled to get electrical gear off the street during a downpour.

“But other than that, it just goes on usually, rain or shine,” she said.

The organizers have known for months that the festival was unlikely to happen, and they ultimately decided against some type of alternate programming, as other local events have done.

“There was nothing that was really worth doing,” Whang said. “As a business right now we’re pretty stressed, and having to come up with something brand new, it was just too much.”

The pandemic presented other logistical challenges. The city has not resumed issuing the permits necessary for events like street festivals to occur. And Hampdenfest relies on sponsorships from small businesses, many of which are struggling after having to close up shop for months.

“The award-winning neighborhood street festival has withstood tropical storms, hurricanes, and even the city cancelling a planned date at the last minute, and has gone off as planned for two decades,” the organizers said on Facebook. “However, the COVID-19 crisis has posed a number of obstacles that simply can’t be overcome in order for us to host a fun, and most importantly, SAFE, festival.”

Brandon Weigel


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