Music in review: Baltimore Folk Festival

November 5, 2015
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By VERONICA REARDON Your Weekend Columnist

Even in the middle of midterms a couple of weekends ago, I found time to get out and hang out in Baltimore. Oct. 24 was the Baltimore Folk Festival (BFF), an event at the Ottobar that featured local folk, bluegrass and jazz musicians from 6 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.

We arrived a little late and missed the first few bands, which included Sweet Saro and The Plate Scrapers, among several others. However, I was still able to catch several acts.

The Ottobar is designed so you can sit at the back and watch the band downstairs on a screen on the wall while you’re back at the bar. If you chose this option, as I did, you can’t hear very well, but you can hear a bit, and the atmosphere was really lovely. A lot of people who regularly attend the bluegrass jams at Liam Flynn’s Ale House were there. They are such friendly people it’s difficult to remember that they are famous in certain circles. That night almost all of them were playing in bands that tour very regularly and are quite popular.

Founded in 2012, the BFF started out very small, but this year it was crowded and featured a number of great bands. The demographic was varied: There were a lot of older people there especially early on, but I also saw Hopkins students (shout out to Alycia Skarzinski) and many twenty- and thirty-somethings who dominated the crowd later on in the night.

Personally, my favorite band was the Bumper Jacksons. One of the last two to play, they are hands down one of my favorite local acts to see live. They call Washington, D.C. home, but I’ve seen them in Baltimore at the Creative Alliance, and their bassist, Alex Lacquement, lives in Hampden, just a ten-minute walk from Hopkins.

“Dixiegrass” could be a word used to describe their music, or maybe New Orleans jazz or country would be more accurate.

Their sound is definitely what you might think of as coming out of New Orleans, with a trumpet and clarinet playing bright, jazzy sound alongside a banjo, steel pedal guitar and bass. They have one of my favorite versions of the song “Trouble In Mind” and are very fun and easy to dance to.

Prize for quirkiest band goes to the upstairs band we saw, The Manly Deeds, who came in bodysuits decorated with Christmas lights from the Lantern Festival.

The Ottobar, the venue for the BFF, has two floors, one of which I had never been on before. The lower floor has a stage, an open floor in front of it and a balcony area, which is sometimes a VIP area and sometimes open to all.

The upper floor, which was new to me, has pool tables and perhaps a cozier atmosphere, although it could have just been the folk music making me feel that way. It certainly was a great choice of venue.

Next year I’m sure the BFF will return, and I’d highly recommend checking it out. At $20 for general admission, it’s perhaps a little pricey for students, but it is very worth it!

Correction: A photo caption previously misstated the location of the Ottobar – it is in Remington, not Hampden.

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