Geoffrey Danek has been an avid collector of pinball machines for years, but it wasn’t until 2015 that he went to his first-ever tournament at The Windup Space to play with fellow aficionados of the game.
“I was like a kid walking into the first day of school, like high school or something, didn’t know anybody,” says Danek inside his Hampden bar, Holy Frijoles, which has a room in the back with 14 of the buzzing machines.
It was also there, at the inaugural PinBaltimore event, that he met Jake Peterson, a transplant from Pittsburgh–a hub for pinball–who joined a league when he moved here in 2012, and now runs one with more than 40 members at Frijoles.
“It’s actually quite cathartic and meditative,” Peterson says of the game. “And it’s nice, too, because you can compete against other people or you can compete against yourself, but always in a public space.”
This weekend, the pair hopes to share their love of the silver ball with the masses the three-day festival PinBaltimore 2018 at Holy Frijoles. The event will include more than 50 pinball machines, many of them on loan from 10 area collectors, on one side of the Hampden bar and restaurant, with separated areas for tournament and public, just-for-fun play.
It’s a vastly scaled-up version of the one in Station North three years ago. Beyond games, there’ll be sets from bands and DJs—among them Jason Willett, DJ J. Gray, DJ Bump, The Twanger Sisters, Bali Lamas, and Shellvira and Hagen—along with light and interactive art installations, and assorted fun like Saturday morning cartoons and music videos screening all weekend. There’s even “The Pinnut Gallery,” in which Danek and Peterson will troll a skilled player with play-by-play commentating.
This isn’t a conventional competitive pinball event, Peterson says, but one catering to the casual player, families and some who may have never even touched a machine.
“We’re kind of breaking a lot of the rules with this,” he says. “Loud music, crazy lights and focusing not on the competitors, but the people that aren’t competing. That’s just flipping the script really dramatically, and that’s what we want.”
Baltimore has for decades had an avid scene of pinball collectors, enthusiasts who purchase machines and maintain them, keeping them play-ready in their basements, Danek says. That’s offered plenty of chances for players to get together over the years, but oftentimes only for private tournaments and events at collectors’ homes. And while bother of the PinBaltimore organizers appreciate the community that’s grown around that circuit, Peterson says that just doesn’t quite fit the spirit of public play he seeks out, such as through the Frijoles pinball league he runs.
“That’s why we work really hard at making these kinds of tournaments happen, where we drag these pinball machines out of the collectors’ basements and throw ’em in a truck, bring ’em here so they can be enjoyed and shared in public,” he says.
But with a reported revival underway for the pinball world, both for players and companies making the machines, Baltimore has gotten a taste of what Peterson calls a “renaissance” for the scene. Signs point to its growing popularity at bars and restaurants around town; this crowdsourced map lists 21 locations in Baltimore with more than 120 machines in all.
The goal for PinBaltimore 2018 is to open it up even further to new audiences. “We’ve got these cool bands coming, we’re engaging with local artists, we’re supporting the arts community by having this,” Peterson says. “And just trying to find that beautiful synthesis of music, art, pinball, competition and fun, and just bring it all together into one amazing whirlwind weekend.”
PinBaltimore 2018 runs from this Friday through Sunday at Holy Frijoles, 908 W. 36th St. Tickets range from $10 per day for children 12 and under or $20 per day for adults, to $50 for the entire weekend. Competition entry is free after admission. More info at pinbaltimore.com.
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