AFRAM is one of my favorite festivals of the summer, and a true indicator of the season. The live music, food vendors, and the congregating of eclectic black folk make it feel like one giant family cook-out.
To get to AFRAM, festival-goers trek at least a mile from either the main entrance off of Druid Park Lake Drive or the side entrance from Fulton Avenue, or play chicken crossing the street along Lake Drive. The crowd begins to thicken and the music grows louder and clearer by the time you get past Taylor’s Grove and onto East Drive. The first line of tents appears right before turning into the main throng of the festival, with a variety of city offices and local organizations giving out pamphlets. Then you move into the festival food court, which has your typical festival vendors that sell giant turkey legs and fancy drinks served in pineapples. This year, however, I was rooting for the local Baltimore food vendors such as Cakes By Cynthia and SoBeachy Haitian Cuisine.
A significant portion of the festival is spent picking a food vendor line to join and getting a good spot on the grass to listen to the live performers. The other half is spent taking joy in music sets and dancing. Most folk came prepared with camper chairs and some even had tents. The hard-core fans were in the front, pushing against the guard rail to sing along to Ne-Yo, Yung Bleu, Inayah, and other performers. The more reserved but still dedicated fans sat at a distance away from the crowd. The enthusiasm was equal on both parts.
AFRAM has been around since 1976, celebrating black community and culture at various sites around Baltimore; beginning in 1993, the festival was hosted at Camden Yards for the next couple of decades. Former Mayor Pugh moved it to Druid Hill Park in 2017. It was canceled in 2020 and hybrid in 2021, so it felt good this year for the full two-day festival to return to Druid Hill on the weekend of Juneteenth. Its location at the park allows more space and relief. There’s more ease and beauty in lounging on a grassy hill, singing along to El DeBarge, than standing around on hot asphalt with nothing to look at but I-95.