Late Summer Festival Guide
Jul 02, 2015 04:12PM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
With the arrival of summer each year, the mid-Atlantic becomes a veritable buffet for live music on any given weekend. With so many entertainment options, picking and choosing can be difficult—especially for an ostensibly leisurely pursuit.
Enter the weekend music festival. Presenting as many as dozens of acts over several days, festivals offer a condensed and convenient setting for catching a range of performers and cramming in a number of acts who might otherwise be playing standalone shows on difficult-to-make weeknight dates or far-away venues. Whatever your preferred musical niche might be, a local festival catering to it almost assuredly exists.
Artscape, America’s largest free arts festival, turns Baltimore’s Station North neighborhood into a sea of humanity and expression, with block after block of visual art, theatrical performances and food alongside several stages of music. With a lineup catering to the diverse summertime hoards the event attracts, the event showcases acts both local and nationally known. Each MICA Main Stage headliner brings a soulful bent to the mix, with legendary funk super-group George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic capping things off Friday evening, mainstream reggae outfit Michael Franti and Spearhead holding the honors for Saturday evening, and the inimitable, must-see, jaw-droppingly talented trombonist, trumpeter, vocalist and showman Troy Andrews, better known as Trombone Shorty, and his Orleans Avenue band closing out the festival on Sunday evening. Before Andrews and his Orleans Ave band bring their high octane, hard rocking New Orleanian party to the stage Sunday evening, two Baltimoreans worth checking out will showcase their talents on the MICA Main Stage--local r & b bandleader Brooks Long and soulful folk/rock/roots singer and guitarist Cris Jacobs. Among other local acts worth checking out, funky local rockers Subtle Hustle kick things off on the Sound Off Live! Festival stage earlier in the afternoon. Later Saturday, excellent Sabbath-esque Baltimore rockers Black Lung perform on the Johns Hopkins University Station North Stage.
Summit Point, WV
The All Good Music Festival and Campout, which began in Brandywine, Maryland in 1997 and took a circuitous route through the rust belt (with what seemed like a semi-permanent stint in Preston County, West Virginia from 2003-2011) is back within easy striking range of the Baltimore, D.C. and Annapolis corridor for its 18th incarnation. The event’s new home—Berry Hill Farm, in Summit Point, West Virginia, is barely more than an hour from D.C., and less than two hours from Annapolis and Baltimore. Over the years, the festival has evolved from a small festival with acts destined to become big names, to a mammoth 4-day extravaganza featuring large headliners (often post-Grateful Dead bands) to its newest format—a three day festival with nearly no down time in a packed schedule.
Famous for featuring two side-by-side stages whose sets never overlap, this year’s lineup is can’t-miss for nearly all three days. Aside from the eye-catching names atop the lineup (Primus, moe., Lotus, STS9, Thievery Corporation), a goldmine of talent lies within the rounding out of the festival’s bill. Whereas many festivals cram their lineups with lesser bands to fill early time slots and create a long lineup, All Good seems to have adopted a strict ‘all killer, no filler’ mantra for this year’s talent. Several afternoon acts (Tauk, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Cabinet, Turkuaz, Big Something) are capable of headlining large club shows in the Baltimore/D.C. region, with a few even hosting their own, smaller festivals.
In the case of burgeoning Baltimore jam stalwarts Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, who formed while undergrads at University of Maryland, a chance to play at All Good represents a new high-water mark both professionally and personally. Reached by e-mail recently, lead singer and rhythm guitarist Greg Ormont, known for his stage presence and enthusiasm, shared a profound appreciation for the event, having appreciated its music and vibe previously as an attendee. “It really is a dream come true and will be a full-circle experience for most of us,” he said. For Ormont, whose experience at All Good in 2010 opened his eyes to the community aspect of jam-oriented festivals, coming back to play means a lot.
“Since All Good 2010, I’ve gone from gigging on the weekends while juggling a normal job to quitting that job and touring year-round with Pigeons, playing 150-200+ shows a year for the last two or three years,” he said. “We’ve played tons of festivals, big and small, and seen most of the country as a band, yet nothing compares to getting the call for All Good Festival. I’m ready to pour my entire being into our All Good 2015 performance as a giant ‘thank you for changing my life in 2010.’” To some degree, Ormont’s enthusiasm is enhanced by an ever-growing horde of fans, lovingly dubbed “the flock,” whose strong mid-Atlantic presence means a healthy sized crowd at the band’s 1:00 pm performance on the festival’s Dragon Stage is likely.
Think of Camp Barefoot as a younger sibling of All Good. Sharing a home state and a common thread of genre, Camp Barefoot presents an option for those looking for a smaller, more intimate festival experience. At Barefoot, the smaller fish in a bigger pond at All Good ascend to a higher rank in the respective lineup, given more prime placement and longer sets (TAUK, Big Gigantic, ELM, Turkuaz). Worth noting, the festival still features some heavyweights—this year’s headliner, DJ/sax experiment Big Gigantic is a weighty name for any lineup and an act with appeal crossing over EDM and improvisational instrumentation boundaries. Supremely talented funk and jazz acts round out the top of the card, with The Greyboy Allstars and Dumpstaphunk.
When Foo Fighters front-man and ultra-likeable rock star dad Dave Grohl broke his leg during a gig in Gothenburg, Sweden earlier this month, the Foos were forced to cancel some high profile gigs in England, including a stop at Wembley Stadium and a headlining set at the massive Glastonbury Festival. Their upcoming 4th of July blowout at RFK Stadium appears, however, to be safe—and promises to be noteworthy as Grohl’s first time back on stage after his incredible, headline-grabbing effort to perform with a broken leg.
Grohl’s leg issues and the Foo Fighters’ 20th anniversary aside, the holiday extravaganza accompanying the band has all of the signs of a fantastic festival, with a diverse supporting lineup including blues legend Buddy Guy, younger bluesman Gary Clark, Jr., hip-hop superstar L.L. Kool J, New Orleans funk/jazz/rock dynamo Trombone Shorty and longtime D.C. go-go staple Trouble Funk. With the Foo Fighters going all out to celebrate their big milestone—fireworks, a motorcycle rally—this event presents a better, more festive Independence Day alternative to the tourist crowds swarming downtown D.C. for fireworks.
Now an annual event at Columbia’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, the Summer Spirit Festival follows an attractive format by bringing one or two famous r & b draws to town and allowing locally themed artists of a similar bent to support. Neo-soul phenom Erykah Badu fills this year’s star slot (occupied last year by Lauryn Hill), and among others supporting Badu, D.C. go-go outlet Junkyard Band will lend local flavor to the day’s offerings.
When it comes to festivals focused on indie rock acts, the Baltimore/D.C. area has, for the last several years, taken what it has been given in Sweetlife—an advertising and branding-heavy festival thrown yearly at Merriweather by D.C. fast casual salad chain Sweetgreen. Announcing itself with gusto and offering a more music focused alternative and fuller lineup is the brand new Landmark Music Festival, which will bring massive names like Drake, The Strokes and Chromeo to Washington’s West Potomac Park. Alongside the aforementioned headliners, rock-solid supporting acts like Chvrches, Dr. John, T.V. on the Radio and Wale should ensure an influx of out of town visitors for the festival. With an existing tourism infrastructure, Washington is primed for hosting such a weekend. Expect many formidable future incarnations of this event.