Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fell's Point Fun Fest 2009

Never mind the rest, Fell's Fest is the best

I spent the past weekend doing nothing but playing tennis, eating sushi and walking around the Fell's Point Fun Festival, where the sunny fall weather (mid-70s) was so wonderful it made the decision to trek down there both Saturday and Sunday afternoons a no-brainer.

Since I'm in two leagues (over-committing to under-performance with a vengeance!), I had to play tennis both Saturday and Sunday mornings. Once again sticking to an all-too-familiar script, I lost with ease, but that's OK, since my enormous ego has already deflated to the point where it's like a shriveled scrotum that's starting to be sucked up into my body cavity. At least the Hopkins engineer I played Sunday was nice, explaining the applied physics behind the kick-serves, top-spin and open-stance groundstrokes he used to pummel me into submission. Ah, not to worry: tennis is like sex; even when it's bad, it's still good exercise.

"Is it over yet?": Tennis Agonistes

Freed of my obligations to exhibit my athletic shortcomings, I picked up my girlfriend and headed down to Fells Point to show off my social and financial limitations at what I consider to be Baltimore's best fest. Yeah, I know Hon- and Hampdenfest boosters will argue with me that they have all the cool bands and quirky Avenue boutiques uptown, but c'mon...the Fells Point festival has the added bonus of its neighboring Hispanic community, with all those Latino foods and fare in their part of the festival north of the Broadway Market and Eastern Avenue.

Speaking of which, after parking miles away in Canton (where everyone seems to be Twentysomething, drive a jeep and belong to a fitness club), we headed straight to the Latino part of the festival, bypassing all the corn and meat-on-a-stick grub to sample the bootleg soccer jerseys on offer. You really can't beat the price on these authentic-looking knockoffs; last year I got a 2007 FC Barcelona replica shirt for a mere $20, and this year picked up a spiffy looking 2008-2009 half-and-half color kit with striker Thierry Henry's name across the back (they were out of Messi's, so I went with the Frenchman) for a mere $30 - not bad when you consider official shirts go for as much as $90.

O Henry!

Further down the street in the Flea Market section, a young guy had some primo vinyl and Japanese samurai DVDs for sale, including a bunch of '60s Zatoichi classics like the under-rated Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo, which paired Shintaro Katsu with Toshiro Mifune.

I was especially impressed to see my favorite early Takashi Miike film, The Bird People in China there. I prolly should have picked it up for bargain price of $4...but I kept thinking "Must save some money for Comic-Con next weekend!"

Next door, a cool couple was selling vintage Viewmaster 3-D slides, toys, and assorted kitsch ephemera, like the complete KISS action figures set ($5 each, $20 for all four!) and rock "Concert Cards." Somehow I fought to urge to purchase Scandal and Loverboy card sets and settled for a $4 KISS Greatest hits CD because it had "I Was Born For Loving You" (my fave song from their disco period).

Lego My Lego!

Closer to the Broadway Market, the Lego Experience exhibition area was a-buzz with interactive activities.

Lego asked: Are you experienced?

Kids were encouraged to create things using the provided Lego materials - and they could keep the fruits of their labor. For me the coolest thing was the free Lego Happy Face Badge, which looked like some Devo-esque Rave pass. Throughout the day, Amy and I got stopped by admirers who wanted our happy face badges!

A Lego city under construction

Can we build it? Yes we can!

Lego people adorn the Lego truck

Wow, a Lego Home Entertainment System!

After experiencing the exhiliarating "Lego Experience", we strolled past this kiosk...

Has there ever been a non-Asian chanting this who WASN'T crazy?

...which made me recall all the crazy non-Asian Buddhists I've met over the years who would chant "Nam myoho renge kyo" - which translates roughly as "the teaching of the lotus flower of the wonderful law." Back when there was an Erol's Video store near me in Drumcastle, I remember a rogue's gallery of Halfway House Druggies would loiter outside handing out pamphlets with this slogan on them - chanting it which was supposed to impart all the benefits of the wisdom contained in the teachings of the Lotus Sutra. In other words, it was the spiritual equivalent of buying lottery tickets: get spiritual enlightenment quick! Most annoying!

How fitting that these crazies were right next door to the Republicans of Maryland table which - surprise! - was as dead as vaudeville.

Continuing up the street, we went by the African crafts vendors, who always have interesting items on sale.

Man About Colonial Africa:
The author goes native.

Unfortunately, my ancestral roots as a Eurocentric Western Oppressor always make me gravitate towards the Colonial carvings - which are wonderful, but a tad expensive at $300-400 a pop.

But for me, the highlight of the Fell's Point Festival was seeing the Globe Poster Company table outside of BOP Pizza. What a great idea - and long overdue!

Globe Poster: Representing!

For those not in the know, Globe Poster Printing Corporation is the legendary Baltimore poster company best known for its colorful boxing-style concert posters promoting the top R&B, Blues, and Rock & Roll touring acts of the 50's, 60's and 70's.

"Vibrant!...gorgeous, fabulous!!" doesn't begin to describe the flashy boxing style posters produced by Globe Poster Printing Company.

You've probably seen their handiwork stapled to a telephone pole or plastered on a wall around town and not even known it. Full of flashy neon-bright colors and distinctive wood-block typography, Globe Posters are as much a part of Baltimore's pop culural heritage as psychedelic posters were to San Francisco in the '60s.

Heck, no less a Baltimore icon than John Waters acknowledged Globe's influence when he designed his Summer 2004 Artforum cover - celebrating the wonders of Marfa, Texas (a town best known for the "Marfa Lights" and as a film locale for George Stevens' Giant, the Coen Brothers' No Country For Old Men, and Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood) - at the Highlandtown poster shop in the signature Globe style.

John Water's Globe-style "Artforum" cover

Globe posters have been featured in The Art of Rock (an Abbeville Press coffee table book) and Rolling Stone magazine and are also in collections at Cooper-Hewitt, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. The Creative Alliance mounted an exhibition of Globe's work 10 years ago and another exhibition of Globe poster art is currently on display at the University of Baltimore's Student Center Gallery. (Speaking of the Creative Alliance, they were clearly influenced by the Globe exhibition; I still have the Globe-style poster they used a few years ago to promote their silent film-with-live orchestra series, which featured Anne Watts and Boister orchestrating Buster Keaton's Seven Chances and Garbo and John Gilbert's romance in Love.) A few years back, Baltimore's Theater Project commissioned Globe to create posters advertising their season's repetoire. More recently, Chris Landers wrote an excellent profile ("Letter Men") of Globe Poster in the February 4, 2009 issue of the Baltimore City Paper.

The Art of Rock gave props to Globe Posters

Norman Shapiro purchased Globe in 1955, but for the past 35 years the 80-year-old Highlandtown company has been run by the Cicero family of Joe Sr., Joe Jr., Frank and Bob. Joe Cicero, Sr. died last year at age 91 and Joe, Jr. retired a few years ago, leaving brothers Frank and Bob to run the show. And there they were, manning the colorful Globe Poster booth at the foot of Broadway and Thames Streets.

Frank and Bob Cicero with Amy Linthicum

Amy and I stopped by to say hi. Amy works with a woman whose nephew married one of the Cicero children, so she mentioned the Smalltimore connection. I had met the brothers years before when researching a film (folly) idea. You see, years ago at the "height" (was there ever one?) of producing my public access show Atomic TV, I toyed with the idea of doing a documentary about the Globe Poster Company (alas, like many thoughts buzzing around that beehive that is my mind, it quickly disappeared).

ATV: Sometimes a great notion...

Then I ran into Baltimore magazine music writer John Lewis one day at Daedalus Books & Music in Belvedere Square and, looking at a rock posters book, got to talking about Globe Poster. When I mentioned how I thought somebody should do a documentary about Globe Poster, John said he had already started one along with architect/arts impressario Alex Castro.

I was elated, as John Lewis is probably the foremost expert on Globe Poster (writing perhaps the definitive profile of the company years ago for Baltimore mag or City Paper, I forget which; he's also a great friend of the Cicero family, having penned Joe Sr.'s obit for Baltimore magazine) and Alex Castro has already tested his mettle in the local filmmaking field with his National Bohemian doc Mr. Boh's Brewery (which he co-directed and produced with Harry Connelly and Lyle Hein). Lewis and Castro have already interviewed fans such John Waters, Solomon Burke, and Rosa Pryor, and have plentiful footage of the Cicero clan. Frank and Bob Cicero were particularly pleased that the filmmakers were able to get their father on camera before his passing last September.

On Saturday I bought two posters from the Ciceros, unable to resist the bargain festival sale price of $10. Along with Daves Jarkowski and Cawley, I think Amy and I may be the only Baltimore-area fans of the fab Dave Clark Five, so I had to pick up the cool DC5 poster shown below:

I also picked up this Hendrix poster (one of two on sale there) for a library patron regular known around town as Jimi Hendrix Man:

This one's for you, Jimi Hendrix Man!

Every couple of weeks he comes into the Central Library asking if there's any new Jimi Hendrix product. "Jimi Hendrix is dead," I keep telling him. "That puts a damper in new releases!" But JHM is nothing if not a fanatic, so I figured he'd be thrilled with this poster, and grabbed it for him. Besides, he's a pretty nice guy, if somewhat limited in his interests. (Conversations with him usually run the gamut from A to A, as in: "You like Hendrix?" "Got any Hendrix?" "Your girlfriend like Hendrix?")

Thereafter, everywhere I went, people stopped me and asked where I got the Hendrix poster. Hendrix is still - like Bruce Lee and Bob Marley - among the most popular of pop cultural iconoclasts, even almost four decades after his death. (No one gave a shout out for my Dave Clark Five poster - arrghhhh!)

"Where'd you get that Hendrix poster, hon?"
EVERYONE wanted to know!

Even an Iranian painter who had a booth near the beer garden stopped me and asked, "Is that Jimi Hendrix? He is genius!" - imagine, a Middle Eastern woman recognizing a Western pop music icon just as readily as we would see a picture of Buddha, Mohammed, or Krishna and instantly know its importance in the annals of world religions. Hendrix's legacy carries that kind of clout.

When I told people where I got the poster, they'd reminisce about their connection to either the concert venues advertised or Globe Poster itself. One guy said he used to have a job stapling the posters to telephone poles around town and, looking at my "Miles Davis at Godfrey's Famous Ballroom" poster, fondly remembered the Famous Ballroom (which used to occupy the second floor of what is now the Everyman Theater in the 700 block of N. Charles Street) and another long-gone jazz club around the corner from it on Lafayette Street.

So popular was I walking around the fest with my Globe posters, that I went back down on Sunday afternoon to get some more. Right away I spotted a new arrival, this beautiful Led Zeppelin poster hawking their April 5, 1970 appearance at the Baltimore Civic Center (now the 1st Mariner Arena) in support of Led Zeppelin II.

In 1970, you could see Led Zep for
the cost of a Starbucks venti latte!

According to, Led Zeppelin played three times at the Baltimore Civic Center: April 5, 1970; June 11, 1972; and July 23, 1973. The top ticket price for the 1970 show was...$7.50!

By the way, the setlist of that "full 2 hour show" was: "We're Gonna Groove," "Dazed and Confused," "Heartbreaker," "Bring It On Home," "White Summer / Black Mountainside," "Organ solo / Thank You," "What Is and What Should Never Be," "Moby Dick," "How Many More Times" (medley including "Boogie Chillen'," "My Baby Left Me," "That's Alright Mama," "Honey Bee" / "Lemon Song"), "Whole Lotta Love."

Jeff Krulik would certainly love this poster, as the Washington area filmmaker's current project is Led Zeppelin Played Here, a work-in-progress attempting to uncover "the truth behind the tall tales of local rock lore" concerning Led Zeppelin's first Washington area concert - allegedly held in the gymnasium of the Wheaton Youth Center on the night of Richard Nixon's inauguration, January 20, 1969. According to, "Lore has it that only 55 people showed up for the Wheaton Youth Center show, quite possibly the smallest audience to see Led Zeppelin outside of Jimmy Page's living room."

Following is a clip from Krulik's doc-in-progress:

Led Zeppelin Played Here (YouTube, 7:15)

Civic Pride: Globe's Civic Center Shows

Inspired by the Led Zep poster's hometown connection, I decided right then and there to limit my (already considerable) Globe Poster cache strictly to local music venues (civic pride and whatnot). I already had a poster of Funkedelic's Civic Center show... which I added the Led Zep,

...a cool neon-green (not kinda blue) Miles Davis at the Famous Ballroom poster, and this Sam & Dave banner for a star-studded Civic Center show that included my Philly faves The Intruders ("Cowboys To Girls") and The Dells, among others:

Note the mention of WWIN DJs "Rockin' Robin" (Fred Robinson, whose theme song was Bobby Day's 1958 hit single - and who besides being a DJ was a licensed barber and whose company Premiere Attractions brought many national recording acts to the Civic Center) and Maurice "Hot Rod" Hulbert at the bottom of the poster. "Hot Rod" was the only Baltimore DJ to be enshrined in the National Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and, according to, he had a saying "VOSA" which meant "Voice of Sound Advice." Another Hot Rod catchphrase was "Great Googa Mooga" (which the Temptations used in their hit "Ball of Confusion"). Hot Rod's showmanship appealed to both black and white audiences at venues like Carr's Beach in Annapolis and the Royal Theatre and The Coliseum in Baltimore. Listen to a 1954 soundcheck here. Sadly, both Rockin' Robin and Hot Rod passed away in 1996.

B-more jocks Rockin' Robin & Hot Rod

But back to Led Zep...Jimmy Page had played Baltimore before - as a member of The Yardbirds in 1966, a fact I learned after seeing this poster on the Globe Poster web site.

I gotta track this one down! Great supporting acts too, with The Cyrkle ("Red Rubber Ball" - Billboard #2 in 1966) and garage rockers The Syndicate of Sound (their single "Little Girl" reached as high as #8 on the 1966 Billboard charts and was later covered by The Dead Boys and The Divinyls).

Despite the photo, Jeff Beck did not appear, as he got "sick" following the first gig on September 1, 1966 in Stockton, California, and Jimmy Page carried on without him. Page later claimed Beck's sickness was just an alibi: "He was actually seeing his girlfriend, Mary Hughes, and had just used the doctor bit as an excuse to cut out on us."

The 1966 U.S. Tour even included a performance at a Roller Rink (anticipating a later joke in Spinal Tap) in Alexandria, Virginia! (Can you imagine being at that show?) For some reason, Baltimore had clout in those days, with two dates slated for the Civic Center on September 11 and 12, but the latter date was cancelled due to poor ticket sales.

Globe Poster Classics Exhibition at U of B

After I drooled over these posters and commented on how beautiful they were, Bob Cicero mentioned that the current exhibit at the University of Baltimore's Student Center Gallery is "Globe Poster Classics," a collection of works from the legendary Globe Poster Co. of Baltimore - works that the U of B rightly considers classic examples of 20th Century American Pop Art (after all, some of these prints sell at auction for hundreds and in some cases thousands of dollars). Using the original letterpresses, inks, and 24 weight card stock, the posters seen in this exhibit faithfully replicate the original works. The collection will be on display through Dec. 16.

(The Student Center Gallery is open Mondays to Fridays from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m., on Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., and Sundays from noon until 4 p.m.)

As I marveled again about the art behind Globe Posters, I recalled how City Paper writer Chris Landers used an Otis Redding at the Apollo poster to demonstrate the style for which Globe is known, one in which each listed act gets its own space on the poster.

In Landers' CP article "Letter men," Bob Cicero is quoted as saying, "What we would do is separate it and make everybody look important."

"Each 'cloud,' as we called them, each section, would be like a writer having a paragraph," Frank Cicero added. "It would say that one thought."

And as for Globe's innovative use of day-glo inks (initially made from fish scales), Landers quoted Bob Cicero as admitting, "They were loud and blaring. But we didn't care. When you're going down the street and you look around, everything is white and gray and black and brown. Florescent is not normal--for anything. So when you go down there, you see it. We didn't care how gaudy it looked or how outlandish it looked. As long as it caught your eye, you read it. I can't force you to go to the show, but if you read the poster--that's all I cared about. That's our whole game plan."

It's a great plan, guys. Keep it up!

Marble Bar Flashback

Famished, after not eating all day, Amy and I made our way down Thames Street in search of food. Along the way I stopped into The Daily Grind to use the bathroom after a pigeon shat on my hand (my experience working at the Enoch Pratt Central Library - aka Pigeon Poop Central, where I have had birds defile numerous articles of clothing over the years - is to first let the pigeon shit dry, then scrape it off, for best results)...Outside the Grind, Amy got excited when she spotted some girlfriends from her Marble Bar rock club past.

"Ohmigod it's Donna Diode!" she exclaimed. Love that name! (And no, this Diode had nothing to to with The Diodes, the Canadian punk band most famous for their cover of The Cyrkle's '60s hit "Red Rubber Ball").

Marble Bar Reunion: Kyle Powers,
Donna Diode & Amy Davis Linthicum

Donna Diode - who now goes by her married name of Donna Bowen - used to write a column for the Tone Scale, the Marble Bar fanzine, back in the '80s when she looked like this:

Donna Diode, back in the Marble days

Her son Dennis Bowen plays drums for acclaimed post-punk trio Double Dagger (whose More was named "Best Album" of 2009 by the Baltimore City Paper) and sometimes collaborates with local music idol Dan Deacon.

Dan Deacon, being idolized by idle youth

Let's Eat!

After cleaning pigeon shit off my hands and thoroughly washing my hands, I was ready to consume some protein-rich sushi, so we made our way toward Nanami Cafe, the little restaurant at the end of Ann Street and Thames Street. (Delicious sushi along the water in Fells Point...what could be better?). Amy and I had been there before, but only to buy tchokes like chopsticks and incense holders from their gift shop. Now we were ready to tackle their food, and weren't disappointed.

Nanami cafe's "Dragon Roll"

Nanami Cafe
907 S. Ann Street

Nanami is the name of the new restaurant in the same location as the old Kawasaki. It's not the cheapest, but it's a great sushi place (and besides you get what you pay for - not to mention it's right on the water so I guess you pay forthat view as well!). The shrimp tempura Dragon Roll is especially tasty and the chef prepared it in such an eye-catching way - serpentine with little dollops of Japanese mayonaise for eyes and a dragon scale collar - that we were sad to have to eat it.

After Amy dug into her pocketbook to get some pills, she pulled out some buttons she got at Artscape from artist Catherine Wang of Motorbus that caught our waiter's eye.

Catherine Wang's Motobus button packs rule!

"Excuse me," he said, "But I couldn't help notice those buttons - I'm looking for small buttons just like that, I collect them." he really liked the little Ninja dude button, so Amy wrote down the Motorbus web site for him.

Later - suspecting (as is usually the case) that most of the staff at local Japanese restaurants is often actually Korean or Chinese - we asked our waiter if he knew anything about our favorite Korean-run, Japanese Izakaya-style restaurant, Famous Yakitori One. This popular, albeit underground hole-in-the-wall spot on the corner of Maryland and 21st Street had been closed for months now and we hoped he had ggood news for us. But we learned instead that it had closed following a fire - an occupational hazard for a place specialzing in grilled food, I guess. It is dearly missed! (I hope they had insurance!)

Famous Yakitori: Quoth the waiter, "Nevermore!"

Having slain the dragon, we made our way home, both sated and elated.

Amy Is Easily Amused

In closing, let me list Amy's Fells Point Festival highlights; as you can see, she's very easily amused (no wonder she puts up with me!):

"My co-worker Nikki would like that she has a play station in Canton!"

"That's neat, a bee!" Amy cried, stung with bee glee.

"I wanna get on the crazy bus!" Amy ejaculated excitedly.

Things That Almost Amused Amy:

Amy mistakenly thought this was the AARP booth -
and was disappointed that it wasn't
(she loves the AARP crossword puzzles!)

"You mean Medieval Times ISN'T AARP's mag for
people in their Middle Ages?"
Amy asked.
"In that case can I take off this stupid crown?"

Related Links:
Globe Poster Exhibit Opens at UB (Baltimore Mag)
Globe Poster Classics
Letter Men (Chris Landers, City Paper)

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