Charm City Bluegrass Festival Offers Great Mix of National & Local Music
The Charm City Bluegrass Festival doubled down in its 6th year, adding a second day of music and fun for their loyal fans. The festival held in Druid Hill Park in Baltimore played host to several thousand local music fans over the course of the two-day event, all while keeping the small friendly vibe of years past as well as the quality artists we have come to expect.
The event kicked off Friday afternoon, offering workshops, open jam sessions, and, of course, the festival’s first Friday of music. The music got going late in the afternoon, mixing things up with two quintets — Colebrook Road and Mile Twelve — split up by the beautiful harmony of husband and wife duo Honey Dewdrops, each offering their own respective styles of engaging bluegrass.
From there it was Caleb Stine, whose folk-themed style was a welcome treat and a performance that more than lived up to my expectations going into the weekend.
The festival had a special treat before the evening’s headliners in the form of Baltimore Traditions, featuring legendary Baltimore musicians John Glick, Warren Blair, Dee Gunter, Russ Hooper, Jerry McCoury, Tom Neal and Dick Smith, paired with the McCoury brothers Ronnie and Rob. This was a celebration and tribute to the bluegrass roots of Baltimore and those who helped shape them, and the musicians on stage seemed to enjoy themselves as much as the fans who seemed glued to the stage for the duration of the set.
Anchoring what seemed to a be the perfect Friday in Baltimore were The Travelin’ McCourys, who as always were an absolute delight, showing what years of touring as well as mastery of their craft can create in a live setting. This for me was hands down one of the best sets of the weekend, leaving me eager to return for a full Saturday of music.
Day 2 brought some much-needed warm weather and sunshine to the festival as fans made their way to the park for a second day of music, food and fun. The day got underway bright and early as the 19th Street Band, Special Consensus and the Navy’s own Country Current got the eager crowd engaged from the start.
With the music flowing from the festival’s three stages, it was easy to work up an appetite, and thankfully there were several quality local food options to keep everyone energized for the long day ahead. For those that enjoy a good beer with their bluegrass, Union Craft Brewing was once again there to satisfy even the pickiest of beer snobs, with the highlight being the festival’s very own beer, Do You Even Dobro? IPA, as well as offering several other top-quality choices.
As the afternoon progressed, it became abundantly clear that the festival planners had a vision and dream to deliver a magical weekend of music, and with the help of their vendors, staff and musicians they did just that. Things really got moving along as Trout Steak Revival and Front Country, both bands I was experiencing for the first time, sucked me in and kept me dancing through both of their respective sets like no one was watching.
At this point it was hard to imagine the day getting any better, and then I remembered Jeff Austin Band, Larry Keel Experience and Billy Strings were all on deck one after the other. This three-set run alone was worth the price of admission, as Austin and Keel are two of the original reasons I fell in love with the ever-expanding bluegrass community in the first place, followed by one of the most exciting and talented young players in the scene today — Billy Strings — whose music is single-handedly opening the doors to a fresh crop of young bluegrass fans across the country.
Any of these bands could have easily been a headliner in the past or at many other festivals around the country, but Charm City still had more to give before the evening was over, starting with a band out of Pennsylvania who has been quickly climbing the ranks of Bluegrass hierarchy: Mountain Ride. The band played the Jack’s Hard Cider Stage and packed it to the brim as they weaved their way through a delightfully powerful set of l originals as well as bringing up Billy Strings to take their set to an even higher level.
The evening was capped of with a powerful and passionate performance by The Steeldrivers, followed by Devil Makes Three, whose pure talent and vast musical expertise allow them to seemingly travel from genre to genre over the course of a performance, keeping the fans smiling and singing along throughout the festival’s closing set.
As the festival came to an end, I stood at the top of the hill leading down toward the stages, watching the crowd and the smiling faces of those fans who became part of the Charm City Bluegrass family as I myself had done last year. These are the faces that keep the community and live music going strong, and based on the pure number of smiles walking away from the stages it seems yet again that Charm City Bluegrass, was a total success, leaving me eagerly anticipating what the future holds for this Baltimore-based festival and one of my new yearly traditions.