This Weekend Brings Two Bluegrass Festivals And One Hard Decision

By Juli Thanki

The Hackensaw Boys play the budget-friendly Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival Saturday.
The Hackensaw Boys play the budget-friendly Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival Saturday.

Time to put the memories of parkas and polar vortices behind us, because we’re rapidly approaching summer concert season. There are two roots-music festivals coming to the area this Saturday, but without the help of a teleportation device or helpful clone, you’ll only be able to attend one. So which fest best fills your concert-going needs?

Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival
For casual Americana fans and people on a budget

The Kingman Island Bluegrass and Folk Festival (600 Oklahoma Ave. NE, 1 to 8 p.m.) celebrates all things local: Each of the 30-plus artists on the schedule hails from the area. You won’t catch a lot of big names here, but you’ll hear a wide variety of roots music, from the featured scrappy string band The Hackensaw Boys to the sophisticated folk pop of Vandaveer and uke-wielding singer-songwriter Don Kim. (WAMU’s Bluegrass Country is a media sponsor.)

Unlike many festivals, this one isn’t a budget-buster: Admission is a $10 suggested donation to the Living Classrooms Foundation, a Baltimore/D.C. nonprofit that supports environmental education programs for area youth. Best of all, parking is free at RFK’s Lot 6 and there will be a free shuttle to and from the Stadium-Armory Metro Station.

In addition to five stages, including a stage for kid-friendly acts like The Banjo Man and Bridgette & Dawn for little bluegrassers—while dogs are allowed at the festival, sadly there is no puppy stage—Kingman Island has got a slew of activities to keep you occupied should you need a break from the music. There will be a fleet of food trucks, beer galore, a climbing wall (you might want to save the beer until after you’ve reached the top), kayaking and an afternoon jam hosted by the DC Bluegrass Union.

Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival
For serious bluegrass fans

If you’re willing to spend an hour in the car and pay more than $60 for a ticket and $10 for parking, the second annual Charm City Folk and Bluegrass Festival (Druid Hill Park, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.) has the big names that Kingman Island lacks. Its headliner is Dobro virtuoso Jerry Douglas, who’s best known for his work with Alison Krauss & Union Station, though he’s played with everybody from Dolly Parton to Paul Simon.

Other acts include mandolin prodigy Sierra Hull, Noam Pikelny of progressive bluegrass quintet Punch Brothers, and traditionalists Audie Blaylock and Redline, along with local artists like Cris Jacobs from now-defunct roots rockers The Bridge and dulcimer/banjo duo Ken & Brad Kolodner. For $30 extra, you can purchase a ticket to the late night show with The Everyone Orchestra, which promises to be an “improvisational bluegrass party” that contradicts everything your mom told you about nothing good happening after midnight.

Kids under 10 will be admitted free, and, like Kingman Island, there will be some family-friendly activities for them, including the interactive musical experience Nature Jams, tie-dying and bluegrass jam sessions for pickers of all skill levels, while the grownups can indulge in Union Craft Brewing (which hosted last year’s sold-out Charm City Fest in its brewery’s parking lot), Millstone ciders and food from Mother’s Federal Hill Grille.

If you’re already a hardcore fan of bluegrass/Americana music, Charm City is where it’s at; if you’re new to the genre, tight on cash, or just want to get out of your D.C. apartment and discover some local bands not far from home, Kingman Island is the festival for you. But either way you go, remember to double up on sunblock.