I shall be leaving Baltimore very shortly, and I can’t say that I’m especially nostalgic about that. I came here as a Johns Hopkins graduate student, so the university has been my community far more than the city has been. And even if that weren’t the case, I am at heart a homebody; getting out into the world, it just isn’t me.
In fact, I only know about this bit of local flavor because I happen to live literally across the street from it.
The Charles Village Festival is a two-day fair of sorts in Baltimore’s Wyman Park Dell, held on the first weekend of June every year. You’ll find more or less what you expect there: arts and crafts vendors, food stands, kids’ activities, a 5K race, and so forth. But for me, the big draw has always been the live music.
Although, my first summer in Baltimore, “the big draw” was more like “the big gripe.” See, the tunes at the festival get so loud that if I recognize a song, I can sing along to it from my fourth floor apartment. That’s admittedly nice every once in a while (who doesn’t want to shout the chorus to Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So”?), but I like peace and quiet, and after awhile even the crowd-pleasers wear out their welcome when heard through closed windows.
Of course, the festival wasn’t going anywhere, so eventually that weekend I set aside my annoyance and waltzed on down to the dell. And I had myself a good time, even though as a temporary resident of Charles Village I felt like an interloper. It was kind of crowded by then; I remember having to peer through some overlapping tree branches to see the main stage. But the tunes were lively throughout. I especially enjoyed hearing the U.S. Navy’s bluegrass band, which for the record exists. Their version of the country standard “Big Spike Hammer” ended up inspiring a poem for one of my MFA courses, so if nothing else, the festival gave me that.
And last year’s festival served as my indoctrination into the cult of Steely Dan, when local tribute act Technicolor Motor Home (taken from a line in “Kid Charlemagne”) closed out the proceedings. It was a weird experience, hearing a tribute band for a group I knew basically knew nothing about. Going in, I knew Steely Dan for “Do It Again,” and I’d probably heard “Reelin’ in the Years” without registering it, but beyond that, nothing. But the locals’ musicianship on the main stage enraptured me, and I’ve slowly been delving deeper into the Dan ever since.
(That recording is from several years prior, but “My Old School” was probably my favorite performance from last year’s set.)
But I think the musical highlight of festival tends to be the kids from The Music Workshop, a private music school in Baltimore. In various configurations, they play covers of popular rock songs between the main stage acts. (That cover of “Say It Ain’t So” I mentioned above? That’d be them.) It’s not they are the best at what they do, but they’re charmingly unpolished—like pint-sized Crazy Horses—and seeing kids bring some energy to yet another rendition of “I Won’t Back Down” or “Blitzkrieg Bop” always warms my heart. And gets my foot tapping.
Rain is threatening to hang over the entire weekend, so I don’t know how much more of the festival I’ll be able to see. (I sure hope it holds out late tomorrow: Technicolor Motor Home is supposed to wrap things up again.) Just in case that’s the last of it: I’m gonna miss you, Charles Village Festival.
No matter how loud you get on a Saturday morning.