History and Heavy Metal
OCTOBER 6, 2012 - Eastern Avenue, Highlandtown
The third number starts with a mean, classic-rock guitar riff, and then pounding drums jump in as theatrical lights flash and the smoke machine blasts on. Suddenly, in full British redcoat regalia, Rear Admiral George Cockburn (played by Robert Bradley) leaps to the stage at the Creative Alliance, letting loose a high-pitched, ear-piercing scream into the microphone.
In a period hat and long crimson jacket, Bradley sings of Cockburn’s passion for his homeland while channeling Robert Plant—or maybe Roger Daltrey:
“We make our stand for Mother England
To fight for me and youse
We’re too rocking to lose!”
Young men, fists pumping, heads banging, rush forward, worshipping at the feet of their military/rock leader.
1814! The Rock Opera, as the title not-so-subtly suggests, tells part of the story of the War of 1812—the invasion of Baltimore—merging historical narrative and over-the-top 1970s rock opera. It’s Tommy, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the Battle of North Point rolled into one. Somehow, guitarist David Dudley (a former Baltimore senior editor) and keyboardist David Israel, who penned the musical together, mange to pay homage to and parody the bands they loved growing up—and poke fun at a war—without offending anyone. In fact, the sold-out crowd is enthralled as veterans of several Baltimore Rock Opera Society productions play and sing the roles of War of 1812 characters.
Later, embattled Fort McHenry commander, Maj. George Armistead (Corey Hennessey), and local seamstress Mary Pickersgill (Moira Horowitz) join up for the searing power ballad “Big Ass Flag.” Pickersgill famously stitched the Star-Spangled Banner hoisted over the fort during the Battle of Baltimore.
Toward the end, the prim, bespectacled, 38-year-old widow whips off her glasses and lets her hair down, revealing a pair of sexy 19th-century gams as she leads the entire audience in the chorus:
“What we need is a big ass flag
What we want is a big ass flag
To fly up in the sky
And show them all why . . .
We’ll never give up the fight.”
October 20, 2012 - Washington Boulevard
A surreal South Baltimore blend of Preakness and Pamplona—as well as Pigtown’s historic roots, where at the turn of the century hogs were unloaded from nearby rail cars and herded to Federal Hill butchers—crowds gather eight-deep to watch the Pigtown Festival’s annual “Running of the Pigs.”
Before the starting bell, announcer Libero Kinnear, of Swifty Swine Productions, gives the racing pigs nicknames like David Hassel-“hog,” Justin Bie-“boar,” and, of course, Kevin Bacon. There’s the traditional pre-race bugling of “First Call,” and then, the gate lifts, and the pigs take off.
Each race takes about 20-30 seconds. The pigs bump and slip a bit, but otherwise prove surprisingly nimble as kids shout and clap encouragement for their favorite hog. Afterwards, many of the kids sit for a picture taken with a smaller, less-aggressive baby pot-bellied pig.
“They are really smart, smarter than dogs,” says Kinnear. “And they’ll race each other to the best of their ability every time for an Oreo cookie at the end.”
October 27, 2012 - Eastern and South Linwood Avenues
Under a hazy, pre-Frankenstorm moon, thousands of costumed kids and families fill Patterson Park for a Saturday night parade like no other in the city. As the Raya Brass Band of Brooklyn, NY, warms up their accordions, trumpets, tubas, saxaphones, and bass drums, a black hearse with a dead-eyed, tuxedoed driver, various ghosts and goblins, and later, a half-dozen giant white mice on stilts arrive in line behind the band.
Following an afternoon of hay rides, music, art installations, funnel cake, and lantern-making workshops, the 12th annual Halloween Lantern Parade begins its march to big cheers. Several dogs with glowing, neon collars jump into the mix, pulling their owners in with them.
“I love it,” says Matthew Fass, Raya Brass Band accordionist, and, coincidentally, music director for the annual New York Village Halloween Parade. “The New York parade started just like this, 39 years ago, as a small neighborhood parade in the West Village.”
As the procession stretches forward, lanterns constructed from decorated plastic bottles and the occasional street lamp illuminate the parade’s underworld characters as well as the stepping and ferocious drumming of the Baltimore Rockers, Baltimore All-Stars, and Citywide marching bands.
After the parade, in front of the Pulaski Monument entrance, acrobatic, flaming-baton twirlers entertain the departing crowds. Most don’t look anxious to leave. When someone in the audience asks the name of the flaming baton-twirling troupe, one of the male twirlers shakes his head: “Oh, were not in an organized group or anything. Just a bunch of friends getting together for fun.”