The 20th Anniversary of Hot August Blues (HAB), Brad Selko’s “backyard” blues picnic -– this year with over five thousand attendees –- was more than impressive. By now, if you are a blues & Americana music fan, you’ve surely heard of this annual fest. If not, put it on your radar for 2013. If you didn’t go this year, you missed Gov’t Mule, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Cris Jacobs Band, Magic Slim, and other stellar blues stars.
Selko and friends have perfected this festival experience, and that’s an understatement. They allow tents and pop-ups in certain areas, provide great food & drink, and, most importantly, give blues and music fans a new bill of top-notch musicians every year. The weather was amazing, too, with lower temperature and humidity than last year. The picturesque setting makes this a family friendly event, with plenty of space to spread out, explore, and be a child, no matter what your age.
As stated, almost a dozen impressive acts were on the bill this year—here are some highlights:
Drifting between the two stages, between sets, one could take in performance art, attractions, and dozens of merchants and food vendors. For the ticket price, there was a lot of choice of activities and attractions. The food and drink were very reasonably priced, and this year the fest featured Magic Hat’s award-winning craft beer.
The side stage bands continue to be interesting and showcase new local and national talent that Selko and his friends discover and share. Sweet Leda became the artists to watch in the past, and this year offered Matt Pless and his group of talented musicians, including the multi-talented Jon Patton. JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound was a nostalgic rhythm & blues romp, with modern energy and talent. Brooks’s soaring, soulful vocals and the band’s tight rhythm and melodic keys and horns, put on a pot of jump and bump out in the side-stage area, affectionately named the B-side Stage.
Closing down the B-side Stage, Magic Slim and the Teardrops reminded everyone of the roots of this music, providing some good ‘ol foot-stomping tunes in the blues masters’ tradition—think BB King. Playing a beautiful sunburst Les Paul guitar, Slim showed us how it’s done. For fans of King, Waters, Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, and their contemporaries—Jeff Beck, Robert Cray, Eric Clapton, and more—this certainly set the right tone for the day. Powerful.
If you like Keb Mo and Lyle Lovett, and bands like Clutch, with a touch of bluegrass-country tossed in, of course, then you’re getting close to the original voice and perspective of Cris Jacobs and his band. “Dragonfly” and “Little Piece of Heaven” were highlights. The group also headlined the fest’s after party later that evening, over at the Green Turtle in Hunt Valley.
For the dancers in attendance, or lovers of Latin-flavored, Afro-Columbian music, Locos Por Juana provided some spicy tunes reflecting their salsa, hip hop, jazz, and blues influences. Fans of Santana, Los Lobos, and related artists were very pleased. Lead singer Itagui Correa expressed gratitude to be included in HAB’s festivities. The crowd returned the love.
Justin Townes Earle and his band pleased the well-chilled crowd, probably introducing many to his own variety of blues, folk, and Americana. The son of (Steve) Earle proved he was worthy of the main stage with a subdued but powerful set.
We were all transported to New Orleans as the first notes rang out from Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. What a showman and what a band! Shorty could’ve easily headlined this event on his own. That being said, Warren Haynes joined Orleans on stage for a few tunes. Later, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews returned the love, joining Gov’t Mule. As a blues fan, these are the moments you live to see.
Gov’t Mule opened up with “Blind Man in the Dark” and then transitioned into “Broke Down on the Brazos”, with things getting seriously funky. Haynes’s blistering guitar leads and melodies, coupled with his smooth-whiskey voice, worked like voodoo. Two songs in and the crowd was already in a frenzy. Next, they played two Beatles’ covers: adding new swamp-fire to “She Said She Said” and “Tomorrow Never Knows”. Haynes slowed it down with the soulful, reflective “Beautifully Broken”, followed with the Americana-flavored “Railroad Boy”, another tune from By A Thread.
“Birth of the Mule” showcased the blues and jazz chops of the band. Spiritually moved, the fest-goers rocked, jumped, and swayed, with Haynes & Co. feeding off this vibe; their sonic music actually caused the sun to set! Other highlights during their set included “The Letter” with Trombone Shorty, “Red House”, a Hendrix cover, “Bad Little Doggie”, and “Higher Ground”. They came back for a quick encore, considerate of the curfew, with the popular “Soulshine”, Ron Holloway joining the mix.
Next August, make sure you’re Oregon Ridge, Cockeysville, bound – for the 21st HAB fest. It’ll be another great celebration of life, summer, and blues. It might just save your soul.