To the attendees who amused themselves by casting aside all inhibitions in order to freely enjoy the danceable polyphony of the 2nd Annual Grassroots Music and Arts Festival... kudos! Those who remained cautioned by the omnipresence of low barometric pressure and decided to spend the day inside, missed out on an extravaganza of eclectic electric (and acoustic) performances by artists both seasoned and fresh.
For a brief and mild moment, the sun showed itself at Oregon Ridge State Park in Cockeysville, MD, hinting that the gray cloud cover was about to unfold. That tease occurred close to 3:30 p.m. and by 4 p.m. the sprinkles from Heaven resumed. No matter though, as the music was aptly creating a little slice of Heaven, here on Earth. The setting was spectacular and pristine, if not for the black throated winds from the north. Oregon Ridge State Park is a perfectly appeasing piece of real estate to hold a festival of notable performers, including: the All Mighty Senators, Lake Trout, The Word, David Grisman Quintet, Sam Bush Band, Galactic, and Medeski, Martin & Wood.
The festivities cooked up by promoter Tim Walther consisted of a fine blend between sponsors, vendors, and musicians. Food vendors offered zesty fare, from Italian smoked sausage to Greek falafel in a pita, silencing even the stingiest of food critics. Sponsors offered microbrews (both domestic and imported) which, generously complemented all meals. Of particular interest, was intriguing presence of original artwork (Stanley Mouse work was on display, famous for creating psychedelic mixed media from the late 60’s and on, particularly for the Dead), as provided by art vendors who characterized the vibe of the show; laid back with a touch of class. Other vendors and sponsors marked the festival with a refreshing and epicurean presence. Then there was the music...
Having not arrived until 2:30 p.m. (due to slow moving traffic; the result of schizophrenic drivers scared of everything H2O in the sky) and consequently missing the All Mighty Senators and Lake Trout, I was immediately greeted by the newly found talent of The Word. Self described as one of the most electrifying, dynamic, and altogether ass-kicking rock-gospel-blues bands, The Word played a courageous and encouraging set of highly motivated music. The pedal-steel guitar picking crafted by Robert Randolph is something to be heard. In conjunction with John Medeski and the North Mississippi AllStars (3 of them), the band reached admirable heights by stretching out, now well-rehearsed, songs into 10 minute, 15 minute, and even 20 minute jams. Their brand of music was put on display with a kindred spirit that simply would not quit. The bust-out rendition of “Voodoo Chile” quickly proved that my initial expectations of The Word were grossly low. I later spoke briefly with an excited Robert Randolph backstage and learned that he will be hitting the road early this fall, playing a string of shows well into February. That is the plan at least, and I highly recommend you persuade yourself to see a show of his.
My second course for the evening was the David Grisman Quintet, who slowly emerged one by one from backstage, each member adding harmonies to his predecessor onstage. Finally, “the Dawg” emerged, mandolin in hand, strutting the stage, a la Chuck Berry’s duckwalk. Though describing any one highlight of the Quintet is a difficult task, my stab at doing so, revolves around the old favorite, “Bag’s Groove.” Warming the crowd with sweet harmonization and very ethnic poly-rhythms (Argentine and Sengalese come to mind), the band took a breather and then proceeded to calmly and loosely fall into this crowd pleasing song. David and company wove a blanket of melody and acoustic warmth which enveloped the drenched crowd. The song bobbed and weaved through changes with an eloquence akin to an Allen Iverson crossover, fade-away, three-point jumper. The band hit nothing but net with this number, upping the anti that the remaining performers would strive to match.
When one thinks of mandolin, David Grisman immediately comes to mind, but Sam Bush has emerged as an equally talented brainteaser. His performance, following DGQ, had spunk and funk, with every bit of rootsy bluegrass that one has come to expect from his shows. This Kentucky cat had the crowd in stitches with his brand of high-energy bluegrass/rock, coupled with on-stage antics by fellow band members. Not an ounce of energy was left on-stage following a performance which saw masterful renditions of “Face Tomorrow,” a spirited “Coming in from the Cold” (Bob Marley), and the crowd pleasing “Celebrate.” Likening Sam’s performance to spiced rum cake, his playing was soft and sweet with just enough tang and bite to take you to the moon.
Ahhh... and then there was Galactic. By the time this band hit the stage, the rain was steady yet soothing, splashing the face, but soaking the soul. The mood of the crowd at this point in the day was wholesome and energetic. The calisthenics of non-stop trance dancing was conjuring a fantastic vibe throughout a crowd, which was ready for the interstellar onslaught of the horn driven funk rock Galactic is known for. With occasional lightning bolts blasting some 10 miles away, Galactic made some lightning of their own. Yes, yes, there was electricity in the air and on stage. Galactic’s set proved remarkable as an attentive crowd kept pace with the band. By the time their set had ended, I wasn’t sure how much more music the crowd could take. It seemed as though everyone had left all... oomph on the table. But if anyone could arouse the crowd, it was MMW.
Go-go-gadget grooves!! The three made their way to the stage and immediately took off where Galactic left. Hook, line, and sinker: MMW distilled the crowd with infectious and sassy precision, leaving no doubt that they deserved the headlining slot at this festival, for the second consecutive year. The encore, a capricious “Bubble House” from their 4th album, Shackman, was laced with bursts of syncopated harmonies to which the crowd could to nothing but surrender to.
MMW’s set provided the penultimate thesis to an outstanding day of camaraderie and festivity: unpredictable and salving, tasteful and touching, rocking and rolling. Together, with the thousands of willing fans, vendors, sponsors, and musicians, the entire lot of merry-men and women created an atmosphere of forget-me-not moments, which thoroughly juiced the senses, characterizing the 2nd Annual Grassroots Music and Arts Festival as a grand event marked by felicity and festivity.
James S. Houck
JamBase | Maryland
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