Jason Carter of The Travelin’ McCourys performs on the final night of the first ever Ramble Festival held at Camp Ramblewood in Darlington, Maryland, from Oct. 7-9, 2022. (Photo by Casey Vock)
This past year saw plenty of festivals cropping up from coast to coast, but not all of them have been so carefully created as to put a communal mindset above all else with the hope of creating a sustainable and meaningful gathering for years to come.
In hosting the inaugural Ramble Festival at Darlington, Maryland’s Camp Ramblewood from Oct. 7-9, organizers of this new event made their intentions known from start to finish that it was a concerted effort to foster a community around music over the course of three days in a picturesque, hidden outdoor resort setting just as the weather and leaves began to turn.
By way of an intriguing lineup mixing genres and emphasizing the groove and the boogie, the Ramble Fest featured bands on three different stages, as well as some on foot across the property, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, culminating with a series of esteemed headliners that, in their own right, made even a single day visit worthwhile.
Families and friends made their way into the grassy campground early Friday afternoon, and by midday, bands and singer-songwriters began taking to both the Main Stage, seated at the bottom of a tree-lined slope, and the Beer Hall Stage, located inside one of the camp’s barns modernized into an event space.
Local artists like Caleb Stine and Rufus Roundtree & Da Bmore Brass Factory helped get the festivities underway in earnest, and just about every musician stepping up to perform received a vibrant and detailed introduction from the event’s emcee, Libby Eddy, fiddler for The Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers.
Rising Rim South bluegrass outfit Arkansauce took the stage early in the evening, followed by a provocative, rampant showing from the likes of Western Mass circus punk phenoms Bella’s Bartok in the Beer Hall and then a 90-minute set of intense, funky jams by North Carolina-based Big Something in front of an audience that had grown on the main lawn.
Facing an unexpected electrical challenge on the big stage just as Friday night headliner Keller Williams prepared for his set, a nimble and dedicated sound crew made an impressive and seamless pivot to bring this anticipated show into the Beer Hall.
Bolstered by some folks involved in other events taking place in and around Baltimore, the Ramble Fest staff smoothly adjusted on the fly, working with Williams and his backing band — The Hillbenders — to queue a rewarding and intimate presentation of the current iteration of his longtime project titled Grateful Grass.
Listen to Keller Williams’ 2022 studio album, Grit, via Spotify:
A tradition each night following the headlining performance, fans made their way over to the Ramble Stage featured within one of the other barns on the property, the perfect venue for late night jams that twisted and turned into the wee hours and gave overnight campers every reason to take it all in. Burning even further into each night, two different campfires were ignited and offered another location for musicians to jam and be surrounded by fans in intimate and natural fashion.
Numerous “second line” performances were additionally scheduled at different times and locations each day of the event, making for some of the most memorable moments of the weekend thanks to participation from ticket holders, with each parade drawing families with little kids, some toting toy instruments. Roundtree and his group led the caravan Friday and then Annapolis’ own Naptown Brass Band took their turn on a second day that was brimming with music from start to finish.
More local musicians were among some of those playing sets early Saturday, including Baltimore’s own Charm City Junction and the Dirty Grass Players, who were among the late show hosts the night prior.
Indiana-based roots and blues outfit Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, AJ Lee and Blue Summit from the San Francisco Bay Area, and Armchair Boogie out of Wisconsin brought a healthy mix of sound as the second day progressed, with the sun shining bright from overhead.
Saturday would eventually bring a biting chill to the air, but it only made more festive an atmosphere that showcased art galore, offered good food and local craft beer and, most importantly, fostered a sense of community. Artists from nearby began painting numerous murals at the start of the music, and they painted right up until the end, donating their finished works to the festival to be showcased next year and for years after.
“The reason we created the Ramble Fest is we love to create space for people, and we want to build an amazing community for people to come together,” said Ramble Festival co-founder Brandon Lohr, better known in the local music scene as Brick. Looking on at one of the paintings, the bushy-bearded gentleman expressed his gratitude for the many folks who helped him and festival co-founder Jason “Jay” Hubert pull off a first-year event at a time when it’s trickier than it might normally be to do so.
“It’s about bringing people together in a place where they’re free to be who they really are so they can be their most genuine selves and create opportunities to connect with other human beings that creates community and brings people together, because we need more of that in this world,” Brick reiterated.
“There’s a lot of ways to build community and bring people together, it’s just that Jay and I believe that live music is one of the most powerful catalysts there is … When you bring people together in something they can share in, that they can relate to, that they have feelings behind, that’s when the magic happens.”
Learn more about The Ramble Festival and the goals of the founders via this YouTube video:
With the moon fully lit, Saturday night gave attendees plenty of reason to dance as the Kyle Hollingsworth Band delivered a rich and grooving set, as the longtime String Cheese Incident keyboardist navigated his four-piece group through a 90-minute set. A highlight of the evening, Hollingsworth shared his fond memories of the area — a Native of Maryland, he attended Towson University and was in the psychedelic group Black Friday before moving to Colorado and becoming a member of and songwriter for SCI. Nostalgic for the time he spent in the Inner Harbor, Hollingsworth shared his piece titled “Live Forever,” written about a relationship he had there.
A treat for fans who simply love to get down, it was just a short time later that Saturday’s headliner took to the main stage — the Boulder-based Leftover Salmon, a pack of jam grass veterans, having formed all the way back in 1989.
Led by longtime friends Vince Herman and Drew Emmitt, Leftover was greeted by an audience layered up for the cold but absolutely prepared to party. And Herman, fresh off the release of his first ever solo album (check this), was giddy to be helping the Ramble Fest get things going.
The changing fall colors, Grateful Dead stickers slapped all over road signs on the way in, friendly faces and a fresh golf cart upon their arrival, Herman said he and his mates were glad to be there.
“We had no idea what we were in for,” Vince said. “We’re pleasantly surprised.”
The jovial guitarist and singer-songwriter — who releases a debut solo debut album in November — was slick in working a variety of Ramble Fest references into the words of tunes, calling out several musician friends and playfully pointing to the full moon during a cover of Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising,” much to the elation of a crowd with two days of partying under its belt.
Stream the first single from Vine Herman’s forthcoming solo album, a track titled “Lost Lover’s Eyes,” via Spotify:
After another late-night shindig led by jam group Neighbor out of the Boston area, the third day brought what was arguably the most dynamic lineup of the weekend, kicked off with music on all three stages early in the day, including Annapolis-based Country Current, the U.S. Navy’s country-bluegrass ensemble.
Later in the afternoon, a busking competition hosted by Stine on the Ramble Stage gave an opportunity for up-and-coming solo musicians, many of them local, to give it their all in playing just a single song to an eager crowd of listeners in the barn.
Empire Strikes Brass, a brass funk rock posse out of Asheville, exploded in marvelous sound and fashion on the Main Stage early in the evening, giving way to another terrific performance, this one by renowned tribute act, Pink Talking Fish. With a bubble machine cranking away, and this act adeptly improvising their own take on a number of epic compositions — including Phish’s “Divided Sky” — the small valley containing the stage was seemingly transformed into what the event organizers had hoped, its own village of sorts.
And with the introduction of the weekend’s most notable headliner, the widely respected bluegrass outfit The Travelin’ McCourys, the vision for the weekend was realized, as this all-star group of five of the most talented musicians alive closed out the weekend with a choice set of tunes pulling from The Del McCoury Band catalogue, Grateful Dead covers and more.
Comprised of mandolinist Ronnie McCoury, banjoist Rob McCoury, fiddler Jason Carter, guitar player Cody Kilby and bassist Alan Bartram, the five award-winning musicians impressed and charmed the audience on hand, with the moonlight returning to illuminate a less than ordinary Sunday night. Kilby, already decorated and respected far and wide, was recently honored as the 2022 IBMA Guitar Player of the Year.
Ronnie, inspired by the celestial body, shouted out the great Peter Rowan for recently being inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame, and then led an inspirited take on his friend’s classic “Midnite Moonlite.” He’d later lead the performance of “Baltimore Johnny,” a song he wrote about the late Baltimore fiddler, Jon Glik.
Carter, who in November is set to release a new solo album, Lowdown Hoedown, showed his world-class abilities as a vocalist and one of the greatest violin players of our time with a take on his new single, “The Six O’Clock train and a Girl with Green Eyes.”
Listen to Jason Carter’s newest single from his recent album, Lowdown Hoedown, via Spotify:
And even though they sounded like they could play together forever—as polished a unit as anyone might find in live music today—even The Travelin’ McCourys had to bid farewell from the Ramble Festival Main Stage.
But of course, another batch of late-night jam sessions, these led by AJ Lee & Blue Summit, Arkansauce and Armchair Boogie, ensured that overnight guests had yet another dose of music to add to a weekend that had already provided an ample supply of it and set a bigger stage for what’s to come.
Here are images from the first-ever Ramble Festival, held from Oct. 7 to 9 at Camp Ramblewood in Darlington, Maryland. All photos copyright and courtesy of Casey Vock.
The Travelin’ McCourys
Pink Talking Fish
Empire Strikes Brass
Naptown Brass Band leading a “second line” parade
Event Emcee, Libby Eddy of Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers
Kyle Hollingsworth Band
Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band
AJ Lee & Blue Summit
Caleb Stine and Jim Hannah
Keller Williams and The Hillbenders: Grateful Grass
Musicians busking all over the place …
Late night in the Ramble Barn with Kendall Street Company and The Dirty Grass Players
More art at Ramble Fest …