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HonFest is an annual festival held in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore, Maryland. HonFest takes its name from the word 'hon' -- a term of address or endearment, being an abbreviation for "honey" in Baltimorese; it is often used in the common greeting "Hey, hon." The festival began in 1994 as a local celebration of the Baltimorese lifestyle and stereotype by Cafe Hon, and since then has become one of the most visited festivals in Baltimore. The summer festival traditionally was one day; however, starting in 2007, it lasts 2 days, a Saturday and Sunday. The festival crowns "Miss Hon" after a contest in which people dress in a "hon" outfit, which usually is a 1960s-style beehive hairdo, eye shadow, spandex pants, and leopard print clothing.
History of HonFest
HonFest began in 1994, originally serving as a marketing tool for Cafe Hon. The festival started off as a one-day event, but since 2007 it has become a weekend long event. Covering four city blocks of Hampden’s 36th street, the festival has received visitors from 39 of the 50 states, and in recent years has become a nationally recognized event. The Baltimore Sun claims that HonFest is Baltimore’s most popular neighborhood festival, attracting numbers in the range of 50,000 attendees. As of 2012, three stages are available for entertainment including the main stage, the stage on Falls Road, and the Bacardi Lounge Umbrella Radio stage. The festival boasts the performances of local musical guest covering genres from blues, electronic, alternative rock, and folk. The participants of the event are encouraged to talk in Bawlmerese, the town’s take on Hon dialect.
Cafe Hon was opened by Denise Whiting in 1992. Cafe Hon takes its name from a common term of endearment ("hon" - an abbreviated version of the word "honey). In 2002, a distinct flamingo sculpture was introduced above the restaurant. In October 2009, the city of Baltimore announced that Cafe Hon had to either get a permit for the flamingo or take it down. The flamingo would cost $1300 for the first year and $800 each year thereafter. The issue was that the flamingo protruded into the public right-of-way. The bird was temporarily removed while this case was being disputed. Whiting stated that the flamingo was "hibernating" during its time of absence, and was determined to fight the city. During this time, many citizens of Baltimore protested the city's decision to order the removal of the flamingo. Whiting and the city finally reached an agreement, in which the permit fee would be at least $400 a year, and the flamingo returned. In November 2010, Whiting trademarked the term "hon" for use on napkins, buttons, hats and other promotional material to promote Cafe Hon. In 2010 Whiting announced the opening of HONtown, a gift shop across the street from the restaurant.
Origin of the "Hon"
Hon is short for honey, a term often used in Baltimorese. It is a term of endearment for anyone including strangers passing on the street, your neighbor, and your family. It is a term that can be heard almost everywhere throughout Baltimore, but Hampden has the most use of the word. While Hon is a term used frequently, it has grown into a culture and has become a type of person.
Characteristics of a Hon
Beyond speech, what are other known (known by other Baltimoreans) characteristics of a hon person?
- Eats steamed blue crabs in the summer with Old Bay Seasoning
- Has gone crabbing at least once
- Will tell you his/her life story at "the drop of a hat"
- Might live in a rowhouse in Hampden, Highlandtown, or Pigtown
- Has plastic flamingos on the front lawn
- Has heard of John Waters and usually has seen his movies
- Spends time at the Inner Harbor
- Remembers when the National Aquarium in Baltimore opened and then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer took a dip in the pool
- Can tell you about Blaze Starr and "The Block"
- Remembers the horrible day March 29, 1984, when Robert Irsay moved the football team, which was then the Baltimore Colts, to Indianapolis
- Remembers the old Memorial Stadium on 33rd Street, which housed the Baltimore Orioles and the Baltimore Colts (demolished 2001)
- Had visited the Enoch Pratt Free central library on Cathedral Street
- Knows Edgar Allan Poe’s poem "The Raven" by heart
- Knows of H.L. Mencken and that he worked at the Baltimore Sun
- Has walked around and looked at tulips at Cylburn Gardens
- Knows that it is Johns Hopkins University and Hospital--not "John" Hopkins
- Has been to the Hippodrome, Lyric, or Meyerhoff (if she could afford it)
- Has shopped at Lexington Market
- Has been to the Senator Theater on York Road in Govans
- Has spent a day at what was once the Baltimore Zoo (now the Maryland Zoo)
- Has eaten in a restaurant in Little Italy or Greektown 
What is a hon? A hon is a person who usually comes from a blue collar background and has roots in Baltimore. A hon also uses a dialect that only exists in Baltimore which twists and blends words together. A few of the most common Baltimore words:
|Ann Runnel||Anne Arundel|
|Droodle Park||Druid (Hill) Park|
|Blair Road||Belair Road|
|yoose all||you all|
There are many different activities found at HonFest each year. In 2012 (19th annual festival), there was a 100-year-old Hon, a one-month-old Hon, a handicapped Hon, and a skateboarding Hon. Many Hons decide to participate in the “Best Hon” contest, hoping that they will win the ultimate title. If you feel like you won’t fit in, you can go to the Glamour Lounge and get your own beehive hairstyle.
Locally, Nationally, and Internationally Known
Locals are not the only individuals that participate in HonFest. In fact, thousands of people from 39 states have come to HonFest over the years. Maryland, DC, Virginia, New Jersey, New York, California, Massachusetts, Florida, and Texas provide HonFest with the most visitors. HonFest has also had visitors from Romania, Australia, Hong Kong, Spain, China, Canada, and Italy. Recently, HonFest has received publicity from The New York Times, Rachael Ray's Tasty Travels, NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, the New York Post, Southern Living, the Los Angeles Times, HGTV, CNN, and The New Yorker.
The festival has received negative feedback as well. John Waters, whose films were a major influence, has sworn off the festival altogether. "To me, it's used up... It's condescending now. The people that celebrate it are not from it. I feel that in some weird way they're looking slightly down on it. I only celebrate something I can look up to." Some see the festival as perpetuating tired and outdated stereotypes. "...it’s not just that people are mimicking or parodying the past; there’s also an element of class ridicule involved (since the style, taste, and speech associated with working-class women are being fetishized and parodied by other, often wealthier, women). This brings up a number of questions: Is this just good-hearted fun? Is it truly honoring these women, or mocking them? Does it bring attention to Baltimore’s working class residents, or simply treat them like they are historic relics?" The documentary "People Like Us" features a segment depicting Honfest and draws question to whether the middle class participants celebrate or mock the working class culture of old Baltimore.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to HonFest.|
- "John Waters swears off the word 'hon' and Honfest". USA Today. 13 June 2008. Retrieved 7 June 2013.
- Sharp, Gwen. "Baltimore's Honfest: Representing Class". Retrieved 7 June 2013.
- "People Like Us: Social Class in America". 2001. Retrieved 7 June 2013.