altimore, Maryland is certainly known for hosting some very wacky, and fun, events. And summer is a great time for many of those events.
I had always thought the American Visionary Arts Museum’s (AVAM) Kinetic Sculpture Race, where you can see wacky sculptures go through downtown Baltimore and into the Inner Harbor, was one of the craziest events Baltimore had to offer. But was I wrong?
Every year since 1994, an event has been held in Baltimore that features the hairstyle and dress of the 1960’s. And this event has evolved so much over the years, it has received national coverage and draws over 30,000 participants.
Years before “Hairspray” was presented on Broadway or in the movies, the City of Baltimore was celebrating its famous “Beehive” tradition with HonFest, an annual homage to all things “Bawlmer” (“Baltimore” as pronounced by locals). The event began twenty years ago as Baltimore’s Best Hon Contest, which quickly grew into the HonFest. Denise Whiting, the owner of the Café Hon & Hon Bar, created both the contest and the festival. The unpretentious diner soon became a Baltimore landmark – with its two-story pink flamingo and an Elvis mannequin that greets patrons as they enter the diner decorated in a decor of the 1960’s.
HonFest, held in June each year, is really both an extravaganza and contest. It is a flamboyant recreation of the look, attitude and behavior that director John Waters, a Baltimore local, so engagingly memorialized and satirized in the original 1988 “Hairspray” . Although Hampden’s “Hairspray” celebration brought celebrity to the Hampden neighborhood where the festival is held, neither of the “Hairspray” movies was shot there. The original “Hairspray” was filmed in East Baltimore, not in Hampden. Still, the Hampden community is considered “Hon Central”.
The “Bawlmer” term of endearment, Hon, short for “Honey”, embodies the warmth and affection bestowed upon neighbors and visitors alike by the historic working-women of Baltimore. HonFest is really an annual celebration in their honor.
HonFest has grown from a tiny Baltimore’s Best Hon Pageant held behind Café Hon, to a nationally recognized festival that covers four city blocks along Hampden’s 36th Street and lasts for two days. HonFest has been acknowledged nationally by The New York Times, Rachel Ray’s Tasty Travels, Nightly News with Brian Williams, The New York Post, Southern Living, The LA Times, HGTV, CNN, and The New Yorker. It seems as though all of Baltimore along with bus-loads of tourists come dressed for the event.
Women, of all ages and sizes, wear vintage spandex pants, heavily applied blue eye shadow and any item of clothing or accessory that has a leopard print. And, most importantly, they have outrageous beehive hairdos that are teased as high as possible and supported by layers of hair spray. Visitors who don’t have a beehive can get their own hairdo done in the Glamour Lounge, listen to talented local musicians, or view the work of local artists.
It is fun to watch people as they get their fingers sticky with loads of hair spray and receive complimentary makeovers.
Although many young contestants get last minute touch-ups from anxious parents, the Glamour Lounge is made available to anyone who wants to become a “Hon” for the day and, perhaps enter one of the contests themselves. The contest categories include “Little Miss Honette” (ages 3-7), “Miss Honette” (ages 8-13), “Best Baltimore’s Beehive” and the coveted “Baltimore’s Best Hon” . The entire event has evolved into one hugely entertaining 60’s- themed costume party and pageant.
The festival is both Saturday and Sunday with some 30,000 visitors flocking to promenade along a four-block strip, fondly referred to as “The Avenue.” The area is closed to motor traffic for the day as the street is lined with outdoor stages where local music groups play nonstop. And, yes, their repertoire features everything from the original “Hairspray” soundtrack to more recent numbers. The “Hairspray” theme is definitely all about you at HonFest. Did I forget to mention that there is also a Mustache Contest for the guys? Something for everyone!
And of course, what would an event be in Bawlmer without promoting the 2012 Super Bowl Champions, The Baltimore Ravens?
For tourists coming to Baltimore for the first time, I can only imagine what they must think if they were to see some of the Hons on their way to the festival. It would be like traveling back in time fifty years. “Bawlmer” can be a really wacky, and fun city.
So Hon, if you are in Bawlmer during Father’s Day Weekend, take a trip back to the 60’s and come to HonFest. It is a fun event for the entire family.
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