Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
Have you ever looked at a totally great music festival and thought to yourself, “I wish this was in my city”. Well, if you live in Baltimore, you can proudly state, “I have an amazing music festival right in my city”! If you don’t live in the Baltimore metro area, this is a festival worth hitting the road for. I am a bit embarrassed that I didn’t really pay attention sooner. This festival started in 2013, so it is still in its infancy. I can make up for lost time.
Don’t get hung up on the bluegrass part. There is plenty of traditional bluegrass, but there is so much more. Traditional bluegrass bands are all acoustic and do not use a drummer with a kit. There are numerous bands in the lineup that “bend the rules” a bit regarding traditional bluegrass. The point is there is something for everyone. Even if you are not a bluegrass fan, there is enough interest to bring you in. Once there, I guarantee you will fall in love with this American art form.
The documentary below gives a great description about the formation of the festival, its goals, and also what the future holds for Charm City Bluegrass:
In the documentary, one of the founders states that their main purpose is to build a positive community. That’s a great statement and I can stand behind something with those goals. As someone who writes about these genres, I can tell you they aren’t doing it for the money. This is done for the love of the music and to promote unity. Those are worthy tenets with a wide foundation to support growth.
I have been bangin’ the keys and I haven’t even gotten to the musical lineup this year. Due to time constraints (the festival is less than a week away), I will highlight a handful of artists that will be performing Friday and Saturday.
The Travellin McCoury’s When it comes to bluegrass and high quality well played music, the McCoury name is bluegrass gold, thanks to thier daddy, Del McCoury. Heck, he even has a festival named after him up in Cumberland, MD (Delfest). They have become widely know for their inventive bluegrass interpretations of Grateful Dead standards. Check out the video of this bluegrassified rendition of Loser.
The Devil Makes Three This dynamic bluegrass trio released their first album in 2002. Though originally started in Santa Cruz, CA, the band members have moved to different locations. That has not slowed down The Devil Makes Three one iota. The trio has released five full length albums with their latest making it to the top of the Grass chart. Watch their video Stranger for a good representation of who they are.
Caleb Stine There is a soft spot in my heart for the local folks and that is exactly where Caleb fits in. Although originally from Colorado, Caleb has called Charm City home since 2006. That qualifies him as a local in my book. Caleb’s seventh studio album, Time I Let It Go was released in 2015. Worry not because Caleb has a brand spankin’ new album coming out on May 18th. Here is a video of Caleb and The Brakemen playing Daniel Boone.
The SteelDrivers The SteelDrivers are pretty close to traditional bluegrass. I said pretty close, but no cigar. They put their own spin on the music drawing from blues, folk, and rock and roll. Their voices are strong and powerful and their displays of emotion during their songs is definitely a departure from tradition. They are 2015 Grammy winners for best bluegrass album. Watch them here play Long Way Down and If It Hadn’t Been For Love.
The Jeff Austin Band Jeff is an esteemed vocalist and mandolin player known for his contributions to the Yonder Mountain String Band from 1999 to 2014. His solo album released in 2015 entitled The Simple Truth definitely veered away from traditional bluegrass to more of a country rock feel. The change in style has not diminished Jeff’s ability to play. Watch him here with Eric Thorin playing Ragdoll.
Billy Strings Stings is a true wunderkind. He is immensely talented and seems to have wisdom beyond his 25 year old chronological age. His ability to write, arrange, and perform would suggest Strings is much older. Strings has a very versatile country voice and a very frenetic guitar playing style that would fit perfectly in a punk or metal band. Watch he and the band perform Turmoil And Tinfoil on Music City Roots.
There is still almost a week left until the festival, which is plenty of time to make plans. This is truly a word class event and plenty of tickets are still available.