Baltimore shines bright like a diamond this week as it hosts Light City, billed as “a festival of light, music and innovation.”
Among the highlighted attractions are dozens of light installations, all stationed along the city’s Inner Harbor area.
The festival could benefit from some signage, and perhaps some free map kiosks. Despite studying the online map ahead of time and downloading the free festival app, our party had difficulty finding the many attractions.
Traffic into the city was bad — everyone wanted to be at this opening! — and we finally arrived at the Port of Baltimore at about 7:30. It was teeming with people, like the Tidal Basin during the Cherry Blossom Festival on a sunny day.
Since the sun doesn’t even set until 7:30, if you get there early like we did, you may want to check out some of the early performances. Light City has a schedule on its website, but for some reason listings are not in of order of time, so you might have to look around.
Where’s the Beef?
We arrived starving, and had been tantalized by the aroma of fried fish, likely coming from the nearby Bubba Gump’s. A search of the area turned up vendors selling beer and margaritas, but alas, we could find no food, so we made a quick stop at Five Guys.
Although Light City’s website shows a tab for food and beverages, the only food we found organically was a cotton candy station. Apparently we could have gotten the same burgers and fries from a Nickel Taphouse station on the very pier we were on, or the “local hand-crafted fare” of Parts & Labor on the pier we had just left, but either the crowds or the darkness prevented us from finding either, or any of the other edible offerings.
Other food stations listed include Ekiben (steamed buns, rice bowls and warm sake, Kaufman Pavilion); and El Taco Loco, BricknFire Pizza Company and Spin Spun Confections (Pierce’s Park).
From our spot up on the balcony outside of Five Guys, we could see the light installation Blue Hour, a series of towers interconnected by triangles reminiscent of sails. We also stayed to watch part of the performance inside the Diorama. Remember the cardboard-box variety from elementary school? Well, this one’s life-sized with real people inside. As best we could tell, two of the three performers alternated between teetering and sitting on the edge of the box while the third dipped a long-handled roller into a bucket of purple paint and ran it along the inside of the box. Some artier types will likely get more out of this than we did.
We were ready to move on, but couldn’t see any other light installations, and some of us were becoming slightly frustrated. We consulted our app, which showed 55 stops on the tour, but many of them are of local landmarks (a statue of Baltimore’s salacious former mayor William Donald Schaefer, the Pride of Baltimore II, the Under Sky/One Family sculpture) rather than Light City displays. This turned our outing into more of a scavenger hunt than a tour.
We had seen the Community Beacons: Making Waves exhibit before leaving the West Shore Park area, but we were looking for some of the amazing sights we’d seen on the website. (Warning: those pictures were taken with professional equipment — your real-life experience may vary).
The first light installation we came across on our walk was the Human Effect, an interactive projection of plants, butterflies and more — a “paradise of verdant growth.” Festival-goers showed their admiration for it by jockeying for position for photos among the dynamic verdant growth.
We trekked on past several other marked stops, including lost and found and an antique police car, before we got to an exhibit called Plaza. Hugely popular with kids since you could not only touch the pieces but climb on and slide down some of them as well, Plaza would be almost as cool to see during the day, since the pieces,“inspired by carnival rides, theater marquees, and the Las Vegas Strip,” incorporate lots of bright colors.
We enjoyed walking under the Pixel Promenade, an interactive LED exhibit arranged in a sort of canopy over a pedestrian bridge. We stood entranced for several minutes in front of the giant illuminated Peacock, watching its feathers pulse and change colors.
The last stop for us was Voyage, the “paper” boats set up in the water by pier 6. As we watched, the rows of boats transformed from rainbow colored to all red and pink, then blue. A local exhibitionist duck had installed himself (or herself — it was dark!) into this installation between the boats, inciting a few chuckles.
We could see some of the many lighted Diamond sculptures placed along the waterfront as we wrapped up our visit. We wished we had been able to work in the Labyrinth and the Water Wall, both of which looked amazing online, and the Pool, which for some reason is located pretty far away from everything else.
The show also includes several projection exhibits, many of which sadly appear almost unnoticeable trained on the area’s buildings.
Light City is a huge undertaking — the culmination of innumerable hours of work by artists and organizers. The best way for you to enjoy it is to plan carefully before you go. The show has much to offer, depending on your party’s interests. For instance, the 1½-mile walk includes children’s activities, lots of places to buy alcohol and exhibits on important political and/or historical issues, and none of these activities really goes well together, so you have to plan your trip for your individual family or group.
Study the map, mark what you want to see, check out the performance schedule and expect more of a street-fair-type atmosphere than a circus.
The festival runs from 7 to 11 today, Wednesday and Thursday, and from 7 to midnight Friday and Saturday and closes Sunday at 11.