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Baltimore enjoys its second bluegrass festival on a perfect Saturday

The Second Annual Charm City Folk & Bluegrass Festival couldn't have taken place on a more fortunate day. Saturday, April 26 turned out the be perhaps the most pleasant day weahterwise in Baltimore in what has turned out to be so far an extremely cold year. Temperatures hung in the low 70s during the day and 60s in the evening with a slight breeze. The threatened rain never materialized.

Though I didn't attend the festival last year, several attendees told me the organizers found a much better venue this year in Druid Hill Park than last year. For a one-stage festival, the area proved just right. The stage was located on the bottom of a hill so even the people in the back could see well. You had to bring your own chair or blanket to sit on as there were virtually no seats provided. It might have been difficult for some people with disabilities to get around. But people who didn't want to sit passively through the music had plenty of room to play Frisbee on the north side and twirl in hula hoops (yes, hula hoops!) on the south. Some attendees were also openly smoking pot. But the audience seemed appreciative and well-behaved and needed the diversions as there was often long gaps between sets.

The consumables were better than many festivals of that size need provide. On the north, local vendors served a variety of local alcoholic beverages. And on the south end, you could buy a variety of foods, from Jamaican to barbeque.

The bluegrass festival shared the park that day with the Baltimore EcoFest. The Baltimore Police had it all planned out, charging everyone $10 to park and directing people where to park, depending on which fest they were attending. But the parking area wasn't close to the Bluegrass Festival so you needed to find your own way through the park and around the conservatory – and back in the dark with no guidance or paths.

The entertainment featured a lineup of local and nationally-known artists. The decibel level was kept mercifully sane so even up close, you could hear clearly but not get your eardrums blasted. Sound was pretty good, with only a few feedback problems. Don't know why they put “folk” in the title as almost all the music consisted of bluegrass but all of the artists I heard deserved to be on stage and the audience seemed appreciative of them all.

We got to hear the 22-year-old singer-songwriter and mandolin virtuoso Sierra Hull, but she only played not quite half an hour – said the festival cut her set short because of a wedding. She played a few pieces with a string quartet, then a few solo – jokingly telling the audience that she had to pay the band extra if they played the whole time. But when she played solo, you could appreciate her voice and mandolin playing in a way that got obscured by the bass, guitar and banjo. Was good to hear some of each.

The biggest act came on last, naturally, the internationally-known Dobro virtuoso Jerry Douglas. He didn't disappoint. He took the stage at 9:10 p.m., playing more than an hour with his quartet. Had a marvelous fiddle player too with him whose contributions rivaled Douglas' himself. Unfortunately, many attendees had left before his set.

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