Written by Randy Harris
Photos by Josh Brick
Every year, Charm City Folk & Bluegrass Festival has an unmistakable allure to the event. Having completed its 5th annual installment, the festival has managed to grow larger each and every year. This year’s Charm City Folk & Bluegrass Festival brought the event to new heights, drawing its largest, most diverse audience to date. Music lovers of all ages gathered on Saturday, April 29, 2017, in Baltimore’s beautiful Druid Hill Park, to dance the day through.
The day started off a little gloomy, with the threat of rain in the morning, but the forecast promised a glorious afternoon of sunshine. As the gates opened to the public, The Dirty Grass Players could be heard pickin’ from the bottom of a green hill that would soon begin to fill up gradually with beautiful people. Born and bred in Charm City, The Dirty Grass Players brought out a great crowd of local friends and family to kick off the day. The Kitchen Dwellers, all the way from Montana, took over next and showed us how they do things in the Treasure State. The wacky antics of Horseshoes and Hand Grenades worked us into the noon hour as the clouds began to give way, followed by the legendary Lonesome River Band. LRB happens to be celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, and Charm City Bluegrass was more than happy to help them honor the milestone.
By the end of the Lonesome River Band’s set, the golden sun was shining bright upon the hill. What would follow was the biggest surprise set of the day. The Dustbowl Revival, from Venice, CA, graced the Charm City stage with a blast of energy, showmanship and musical mastery. The eight-piece band blew me out of my shoes and into instant fandom. Outside of their tour, you can catch them back in Baltimore at Hot August Music Festival on August 19.
From then on, it was nonstop heat up on the two main stages. Cris Jacobs, a hometown hero of the Baltimore music scene, brought his recently perfected quartet to the stage. Cris is an incredible songwriter and musician, and he has put together an amazing band behind him. The band rocked out for us, and the crowd responded in kind, showing him the kind of love that can only come from Baltimore. Cris has now performed at all five Charm City Folk & Bluegrass Festivals.
DC-area legends, Seldom Scene, followed up Cris and included a special guest appearance from Billy Strings, who would be performing the official afterparty at The 8×10 later that evening. With the sun sinking, but still glowing, Cabinet made their way onto the stage. These boys have put in an incredible amount of work over the past decade as they’ve built up their extraordinary community. The six-piece band from Pennsylvania rocked the stage like only they know how, laying down a broad mix of new and classic material. If their music wasn’t enough to prove their worth, you can see it in their family of fans.
The number one highlight of the day came in the form of a supergroup of jamgrass giants. Adam Aijala and Ben Kaufmann (Yonder Mountain String Band) joined Drew Emmitt and Andy Thorn (Leftover Salmon) for a string quartet of epic proportions. This set was the first and only live performance the group has played to date, and it was truly a pleasure to witness. Playing a mixture of classic bluegrass pickin’ tunes and each of the members’ own original compositions, the quartet brought the sun down and raised the night onto Druid Hill Park.
Finally, The Lone Bellow, based in Brooklyn, NY, capped off an incredible day of music with a monster headlining set. The sun had fully set, and the lights shone bright on their faces as their harmonic vocals rang out above the hill and into the city. A flawless performance to fade into the night.
Charm City Folk & Bluegrass Festival continues to amaze the city of Baltimore. There are many people out there who say that it can’t be done. They say that you can’t have a family friendly festival of love and music in the heart of Baltimore. But we have proved those people wrong for five years straight now, and we will continue to prove that there is more to Baltimore than what is seen on television or in the news. Baltimore is a rich community of great people, young and old, who work every day to better those around them. I am sure Charm City Folk & Bluegrass Festival will be back next year; bigger and badder than ever!