The growth of a festival is always an interesting and fun thing to pay attention to. That look back when you can say I remember when so-and-so played this festival or when it was only this big or when this amazing moment happened. Sometimes that growth is slow and over many years. Sometimes it seems to happen in the blink of an eye. In the case of the Charm City Folk & Bluegrass Festival held in downtown Baltimore, Maryland, it was a blink and you will miss it kind of growth. In only in its 2nd year, Charm City saw its attendance almost triple as it moved from the cozy confines of the grounds of the Union Craft Brewery to the expansive, gorgeous stretch of Druid Hill Park next to the Rawlings Conservatory.
Despite its growth Charm City has stayed true to the mission stated by Festival co-founder Jordan August to “focus on traditional and regional bluegrass.” With the inclusion of some of the most talented bluegrass-inspired bands in the Maryland area, that this year included Grand Ole Ditch, Highland Hill Boys, Ken & Brad Kolodner, Trace Friends Mucho, Mad Sweet Pangs, and Cris Jacobs & Friends they did just that.
At the same time this year’s edition also carried forth August’s other goal to turn this event “into a weekend long, all day and late night experience for the whole region and country to see.” To furth that idea Charm City featured a line-up that was stacked with Audie Blaylock & Redline, Sierra Hull, Julian Lage & Chris Eldridge, Noam Pikelny & Friends, and headliner Jerry Douglas, capped off with a late-night show from Matt Butler and the Everyone Orchestra featuring Danny Louis (Govt. Mule), Anders Beck (Greensky Bluegrass), Andrew Altman (Railroad Earth), Cris Jacobs (The Bridge), Nick Piccinicci (Floodwood), and Jami Novak (Cabinet) at the 8×10 club.
The spirit of collaboration that is such a big part of the Everyone Orchrestra was the overriding theme throughout the day at Druid Hill Park as sit-ins, special pairings and unique configurations of bands was the motif of the day. While not every band to hit the stage featured a sit-in or some unique line-up, it just seemed that way. Whether it was the guest laden set of hometown favorite Cris Jacobs that saw Anders Beck from Greensky Bluegrass, Audie Blaylock, and Nick Piccinicci from Floodwood all join in, the sit-in of dobro-master Jerry Douglas with an already special collection of banjo-extraordinaire Noam Pikelny’s friends, the pairing of Punch Brothers guitarist Chris Edlridge and jazz-guitarist Julian Lage, to the hometown love-fest of fiddler Patrick McAvinue joining in with Trace Friends Mucho, Charm City Fest was a day-long highlight that spanned traditional picking, adventurous jams, sublime singing, and a rollicking good time.