In the summer of 2012 Jordan August and Phil Chorney began jammin to some epic bluegrass music on a front porch in Baltimore City. Soon Phil decided to research the history of Folk and Bluegrass music in the city and learned of its rich and vibrant history. And so an idea was born. Union brewery was chosen as a location for the event because of its quality beer and its local ties. The Believe in music charity was chosen to be a beneficiary of the event becasue where would music be without brite and curious music students.
It's not often remembered today, but in the '50s and '60s, Baltimore was a major center for bluegrass music. A Baltimore band, Earl Taylor and the Stoney Mountain Boys, was the first bluegrass act to ever play Carnegie Hall. It was in Baltimore rowhouses that Hazel Dickens first met Mike Seeger, who co-founded the New Lost City Ramblers, a well-known old-time revival band, and Alice Gerrard, with whom Dickens formed the first major female bluegrass duo. And it was here that Del McCoury first met bluegrass godfather Bill Monroe and got the break that changed his life.
Back in 1966, "The Streets of Baltimore" was one of the biggest hits on country radio. Despite Chet Atkins' string-sweetened countrypolitan arrangement, Bobby Bare's warm baritone made Tompall Glaser and Harlan Howard's lyrics ring true. Like the characters in the song, hundreds of thousands of rural Southerners moved to northern cities in search of work from the 1930s to the '60s--a migration that changed Baltimore forever.
When these Southerners moved, they brought their music with them, and for white Southerners that meant hillbilly music--a catch-all term encompassing the mountain ballads, old-time string bands, bluegrass, and Grand Ole Opry country that Appalachian people scrambled together whenever they pulled a guitar or fiddle out of its case. And it's in that music we can most readily discern how those mountain immigrants remade themselves to fit Baltimore--and remade Baltimore to fit themselves.
Even today, that Southern Appalachian influence is part of what makes Baltimore so different from other stops on the Washington-to-Boston Amtrak line. When people talk about Baltimoreans' earthy frankness, their stubborn nontrendiness, and their willingness to dance at the drop of a hat, they're often referring to lingering hillbilly traits. From meat-and-potatoes diners to John Waters' poor white film characters to the Deer Creek Fiddlers convention, the mountains still affect Baltimore culture.
When young people fled the mountains in search of better jobs, they had a choice of destinations. Cincinnati was the most popular, followed closely by Baltimore, Chicago, Washington, Columbus, and Detroit. Most often, the new migrants chose the town where relatives or friends had already landed. That was the case for Dickens, whose older sister Velvie was in Hampden, and for Hensley, whose divorced mother had moved to Dundalk.
When these Appalachian refugees poured into Baltimore in the '40s and '50s, they were not met with welcoming arms; rather, they were usually were shunted into bottom-rung industrial jobs and "hillbilly ghettos" in Dundalk, Hampden, Highlandtown, Lower Charles Village, Middle River, and elsewhere. (City Paper)
As it can be seen, Baltimore has a rich history of Folk and Bluegrass music, this festival aims to revive that traditon and create a yearly event that families, musicians and friends will want to gather at.