Rap star Megan Thee Stallion is riding into town in May for the Preakness Stakes horse race.
The Grammy Award-winning rapper is joining legendary artist Ms. Lauryn Hill to headline a new creative arts festival in Baltimore the day before the 147th Preakness at the Pimlico Race Course in Park Heights.
The combined music, food, art and fashion festival on May 20 will usher in a weekend of events related to the second horse race in the Triple Crown series. Although it will be held in the track’s infield, the event is separate from InFieldFest, a concert that happens on the day of the main race.
Kevin Liles, a Baltimore native and CEO and chairman of 300 Entertainment and Elektra Music Group, is bringing international and local musicians, plus celebrity chefs, to the Pimlico Race Course so attendees can experience and delight in Baltimore’s culture.
Liles partnered with Jimmy Vargas, CEO of 1/ST Experience, to create the campaign for Baltimore 1/ST. The centerpiece is an event called “Preakness Live” that aims to connect spectators in town for the horse race with the charm of the city and the surrounding Park Heights neighborhood in a way Preakness has failed to accomplish in previous years. Vargas emphasized the goal of the event is to celebrate Preakness as a point of Baltimore pride and to use the national event as an opportunity to highlight local talent.
“I just felt like it’s time for us to add a little swag to the Preakness,” Liles said. Both visitors and residents will “see and taste and hear and feel what I think we’ve been missing at Preakness,” he added.
The lineup also includes hip hop artist D-Nice, who will perform with Baltimore composer Darin Atwater & The Soulful Symphony, a 65-piece orchestra, and other artists from the Baltimore region, such as country singer Brittney Spencer. A second stage will feature local artists who will be selected through a submission process, Vargas said. Morgan State University’s marching band will perform their rendition of “Riders Up,” a traditional song played before the race.
Celebrity chefs Tom Colicchio, Marcus Samuelsson, and Gail Simmons will compete in a “Top Chef”-style cook-off on the main stage, joined by Baltimore chefs Saon Brice of BLK Swan and Mario Moise of Bar ONE. Multidisciplinary artist Derrick Adams, who grew up in Park Heights, plans to collaborate with other local artists to create an art garden in the infield.
Preakness events used to span multiple days and feature extravagant activities, such as a hot air balloon festival. The weeklong festivities were scaled back in the mid-2000s, Vargas said, while other cities on the Triple Crown circuit continued to put on multiple day events. Churchill Downs Racetrack hosts a Kentucky Derby week in May, including a similar infield concert that takes place on the Thursday before the primetime race on what has become known as “Thurby.” The Belmont Stakes in Elmont, New York, has a three-day racing festival in June.
Vargas said the entertainment is an opportunity to connect to local residents, an effort that has continued to evolve and energize as Baltimore 1/ST began working with community organizers like the nonprofit Park Heights Renaissance.
“To modernize the sport of thoroughbred horse racing we wanted to create these unique sports-anchored entertainment events relevant to really a new diverse generation that are meaningful to the communities and the areas in which 1/ST operates,” Vargas said.
In the past decade, some residents and neighborhood activists believe Preakness has focused on the horse race itself and paid little attention to the community where it is held. Yolanda Jiggetts, executive director of Park Heights Renaissance, said the partnership between her organization and the Maryland Jockey Club and Baltimore 1/ST is making real strides to engage residents and deepen community pride.
“I know firsthand that the vast majority of Park Heights residents have never even attended a Preakness or feel connected to the race yet they are the ones most impacted every year by traffic and the other logistics that make this event a success,” Jiggetts said. She added: “$3.5 million dollars of Park Heights funding is dedicated to redevelopment at the Pimlico Race (Course). So it’s even more important for me that residents have a voice in the redevelopment process and that local community groups and businesses are highlighted in these annual festivities.”
Preakness organizers plan to distribute 500 tickets to the new festival and Preakness to Park Heights residents, Vargas said.
The Preakness Live festival is combined with Black-Eyed Susan Day, a day of horse races dedicated to women. The Friday horse race was renamed the George E. Mitchell Black-Eyed Susan Stakes in 2021 after legendary Park Heights community advocate George Mitchell, who died in 2020. As part of the day, a $25,000 grant will be presented in the winner’s circle to a Park Heights resident to use for community projects.
“They call Friday Black-Eyed Susan Day to celebrate women, so what better way than to ask Megan and Lauryn and Brittney to participate in a great event,” Liles said.
Megan Thee Stallion signed to 300 Entertainment in 2018. She and Ms. Lauryn Hill are the only female rappers to win a Grammy for best new artist. Megan Thee Stallion and rapper Cardi B dominated headlines when the duo released “WAP,” a hit single that sampled a classic Baltimore club beat produced by radio personality Frank Ski.
For those who can’t attend Friday’s festival, the Park Heights community will host its own party on the day of Preakness. Named after George “Spider” Anderson, the first African American jockey to win the Preakness Stakes in 1889, the music and arts community festival will feature live music, pony rides, food trucks and Preakness races streamed online.
“It’s our way of making the Preakness event a community celebration,” Jiggetts said.
Tickets to Preakness Live festival and concert are on sale Tuesday and cost between $49 and $175. They can be purchased online at preakness.com/tickets.