Charm City Bluegrass Festival Review
April 26th, 2014 in Baltimore, MD
written by Cliff Tyler
photos by Kindones Photography
Saturday April 26th 2014 had the potential to be an excellent day right from the start. After a Friday full of rain and gloom, the first morning of the weekend was beautiful and brisk. The sun rose high and the sky turned a crisp blue offering a perfect climate for the 2nd Annual Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival to be held at Druid Hill Park in Baltimore Md. After selling out last years inaugural event, the organizers decided to move the location to allow for more space and an much more festival friendly environment.
Druid Hill Park, mere feet from urban life in the center of Charm City, offers locals a slice of nature that can sometimes be hard to find elsewhere. Home to the Baltimore Zoo, a fine Disc Golf course and ample space for other outdoor activities, the park also includes the majestic Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. The concert area is nestled in a little natural amphitheater with food and craft vendors backing right up to the conservatory. The stage faced a small incline that culminated with a fancy park entryway at the top leaving quite the picturesque view for artists and fans alike.
The music started up well before 11 am with some great up and coming talent. Grand ole Ditch is a group out of Cumberland, Md. that has been garnering some well-deserved attention. Advancing far into the finals of the festival’s own battle of the bands, they secured an opening spot with their tight melodies and a fervent fan base thats not afraid to do a little traveling. Next up, were the Highland Hill Boys. Winners of the Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival Battle of the Bands, these boys create a great old time sound. Coming from central Md, right between Baltimore and Washington D.C., they got right to playing and it was immediately obvious as to why they were crowned the victors. The local acts continued and featured a guest laden set from nationally renowned hammered dulcimer and fiddler Ken Kolodner and his son Brad also with guests, as well as a rousing set from an almost family friendly version of Trace Friends Mucho. TFM uses slap stick comedy, self deprecating humor and costumes to add to the crowd pleasing and foot stomping fun music that they make.
By this time its early afternoon and the aroma of food vendors drifts toward the concert bowl. The crowd has come out in force and there is much to see, taste, and hear. Plenty of headie food and drinks were available through various local vendors as well as a classic “Gyro, Sub, Chicken, Corndog, we got everything you could ever want to eat at a festival” booth. Several tents offered up clothes, jewelry and other hand made items. Appalachian Bluegrass’s tent is always fun to check out as they quite often bring a band’s worth of instruments for folks to play with.
After a little refueling, the only thing left to do is enjoy the rest of the festival. Delaware denizens Mad Sweet Pangs stepped up to the stage to deliver what was billed as their last area show. A massively talented and genre defying group, they brought a final serving of what they have become know for doing. After many years of unforgettable performances and bus rides the fellows have decided to hang it up for a while and will be sorely missed.
The evening continued on with perhaps one of the best sets of the festival performed by Audie Blaylock and Redline. Leaving the crowd spinning, Audie retired and local favorite Cris Jacobs emerged for a star studded set of tunes that featured many guest musicians and some fine jamming. Next up the reigning princess of the mandolin stopped by with her band to play a few. Sierra Hull is widely acclaimed for her singing, songwriting, and her mandolin work. Though diminutive and teeming with innocence, this young lady has mastered the art of performance and has shared her talents at most of the major Americana festivals and venues in the country
Fans of the punch bowl were treated to a nice chunk of music from some well known musical pals setting out on solo endeavors. Chris Eldridge and Julian Lange performed a low-key melodic set. As it turns out, it was a perfect calm before a perfect storm. The next band was billed as Noam Pikelny and friends. Both Noam and Chris from the previous group are members of a band called The Punch Brothers. This evening Chris joined Noam and the rest of his friends for another highlight set of music. Noam’s eloquent stage presence and amazing tunes were complimented by a great sit in by a man that looked very much like, and in fact was, Jerry Douglas.
The final performance of the night showcased quite possibly the finest dobro player in the world. Jerry Douglas is highly regarded in the bluegrass community and has the accolades to prove it. Performing with a drummer, his set was very progressive and at moments strayed excitingly far from the traditional bluegrass realm.
As darkness pushed away the light, and the tunes carried into the night, the last notes of a fine festival drifted away only to be stored in the minds of many and never forgotten. Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival 2014 seemed like a great success. There was a nice turnout, great weather, and even better music. Production seemed to go smoothly and the croud seemed cooperative and appreciative. After 12 hours in the sun enjoying how music and friendships collide, I retreated back to my humble abode with a fuzzy head, night full of memories, and a moderate case of sunburn, a more than fair trade for a top notch start to FESTIVAL SEASON!!!