It can be fairly said, that what we consider today to be the Bluegrass style of music spent its formative years in Baltimore, MD. Still, somehow, Bluegrass isn't the first thing to come to mind when people are asked about Baltimore; the home of America’s national anthem, where Edgar Allen Poe sloughed of the mortal coil, and where Babe Ruth first swung a bat.
Many of the components of Bluegrass are at home in Baltimore. In fact, the form is firmly rooted and for many years revolved around the Charm City. Meaning, one of Baltimore’s best secrets is its deep bluegrass roots. Even the name “Banjo” was coined there. It was used the first time in an advertisement for the plucky off-shoot of the original African instrument produced in downtown Baltimore.
It's fitting that in its third year, The Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival, being held in Druid Hill Park on April 25th, is reclaiming some of that history.
Though this year's lineup is a mighty one; besides the wondrous location, what makes Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival special is founders Phil Chorney and Jordan August’s desire to “...put on bluegrass for everyone to see, whether it was on the porch, at a show, or a bigger party.” Mission accomplished gentlemen.
Listen to a Bluegrass station on the radio, web, or even satellite radio for a little while and you’ll hear The Travelin’ McCourys at least twice. With brothers Ronnie and Rob McCoury (Sons of the great Del McCoury) at the helm, they are almost constantly on tour playing a mix traditional and progressive bluegrass with the same fire and dedication as their father.
Here's an introduction for you:
If you haven’t heard The Wood Brothers, you need to because this is a band for everybody. It’s Americana and it's blues, but also the kind of music that stuns a crowd. The band, on tour following the release of their new Album The Muse, is anchored by Oliver and Chris Wood - brothers who didn’t start their careers out together, but have found a deep synergy that is almost palpable. Very quickly into a set, you’ll hear your thoughts and feelings dragged out, hear how you wanted to say it, and think “so it’s not just me then...” Then your feet start tapping, and at some point in their show, you’ll just stand there thinking “holy sh..”
Take a listen to the Wood Brothers:
Where do you start with a group like The Seldom Scene? How about two fun facts?
Founded in 1971, by a mathematician, a physician, a graphic artist, and a cartographer for National Gepgraphic. The Mathematician and banjo payer, Ben Eldridge, has been there the whole time.
The Seldom Scene began their epic run in Bethesda, MD with a progressive form of bluegrass that was reaching huge popularity in the late 70’s. The thing was, each of the founding members had a day job and had agreed to not tour and only play on the weekends. That said, they still managed to release 7 albums in the first 5 years. Fast forward to today, and you’ll see a large change in membership but no loss in enthusiasm, values or talent. Very few bands today can capture the magic of bluegrass’ traditional roots while still balancing in the progressive sound like the Scene.
After all that talk of traditionalism and roots, here’s a more progressive track from the album SCENEchronized - "A hundred and Ten in the Shade"
Baltimore based Singer/Songwriter Cris Jacobs should be on your Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival must see list. He began his career fronting the band The Bridge, but has embarked on a solo career that seems to have set him free. He’s recently been tapped by Steve Winwood for a tour, is beginning his second live album, and has written for bands like Audie Blaylock and Redline. At last year’s Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival, he appeared on stage more than he was off stage, between his own set and jamming with other bands. To say he is a local favorite is an understatement to be sure. Pop over to his CrisJacobs.com site for a free download of his acoustic sessions.
Here is Cris Jacobs on a local Baltimore webcast Listen In with Ellen Cherry with "Station Blues"
|Photo: The Bumper Jacksons|
This is going to be a fun set. The DC based The Bumper Jackson's won "Best Traditional Folk Band" at the 2013 and 2014 Washington Area Music Awards, and play a revived form of swingy jazz that will have the crowd dancing in no time. Their sound harkens back to the roots of jazz, the jump of the 20’s and they’re not afraid of the kazoo either. They are undeniably talented and for sure a must see at the festival. you can preview and buy their album Sweet Mama, Sweet Daddy, Come In on BumperJacksons.Bandcamp.com
Here they are playing the enigmatic "Darkness on the Delta" at WAMU’s Bluegrass Country
|Photo: Jeff Coon|
Here’s a quick sample of Grand Ole Ditch with "Foolish Pride"
Charm City Junction is aptly named. The quartet was formed in Baltimore in January 2014, and here meets the styles of Roots Americana, Irish/Celtic, Bluegrass and old-timey goodness. The world got a sample of the band at last year’s Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival inadvertently as several of the members were repeatedly called to the stage to jam with other bands throughout the day. The band’s sound is smooth and polished and you can tell that the four young members have very long careers ahead of them. Talent runs deep with this group and you really shouldn't miss them.
Check out "Torn Jacket/Come West Along the Road"
Community Activism, Social Justice, and Environmental Awareness. Most singer songwriters have some sort of pedigree that informed and lead them to their appreciation for a certain sound. Leticia VanSant was working for various non profits, supporting noble causes, prior to becoming a musician. According to her bio, it took a while for her to even think of herself as a musician, and it was not until she returned to her hometown of Baltimore that she even sang in public. One listen to her work will convince you that it was worth the wait. Her lyrics are touching, her voice is beautiful and heartfelt, and her music altogether refreshing. While her day job is working at a “peace and social justice lobby group in Washington, DC.”, thankfully, we music fans get the off-hours.
Take a good listen to Letitia and her band, The Bonafides, as they play "Step in Line"
Hailing from the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Chester River Runoff originally started playing together in order to learn their instruments. They debuted in 2004 and have been playing festivals and clubs ever since. They put on a great show with huge harmonies and tons of energy. When they mount the stage be ready for high energy, deep roots, original songs, and enough enthusiasm to spread around to the whole crowd.
Here is Chester River Runoff playing an helluva cover of the classic bluegrass tune "Shady Grove"
This is folk music, kids. Since 2006 The Manly Deeds have been bringing the sounds of Appalachia mixed with American roots, and maybe a little honky-tonk to the streets of Baltimore. Their self titled album, released in July 2014, was recorded in barn from the 1800s and really pulls you in. The added “Found Instruments” (like a saw) added a huge sense of authenticity to the style of the very mountains they were in during recording, and the addition of new member, banjoist Jacob Panic, really pushes the band’s sound over the top.
You can listen to the full album at TheManlyDeeds.com
Fans of bluesy- foot stomping -American rock rejoice! Your band will soon be arriving at the Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival. Founded in 2007, The Herd of Mainstreet have released two albums, toured nationally, opened, head lined, and undoubtedly rocked their audiences at every turn. Baltimore really gave birth to a great one here. The Herd of Main Street will have the crowd on their feet in no time and everyone is going to need a break afterwards.
They say not to believe everything you read on the internet, so here you go. The Herd of Mainstreet playing "Black Horse"
You simply can’t call the Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival a fledgling festival anymore. The 2014 festival was, in a word, outstanding. It drew acts like Jerry Douglas, Noam Pikelny and Friends (with Aoife O’Donovan no less), Sierra Hull, and local favorite Cris Jacobs, to name a few. Not only did they find a seamless blend of hometown talent and national acts - but they drew a massive crowd and are now even sponsored by the venerable Del Fest. Thanks to the tireless work and deep love of the form brought to the table by the founders, Phil Chorney and Jordan August, and there amazing staff, Baltimore is once again home to something wonderful. Don’t miss out on your chance to experience 12 hours of truly outstanding music.
The Festival runs from 10:00am to 10:00pm, April 25th, and tickets are still available!
Head over to CharmCityBluegrass.com for more information