Common Ground brings together a musical spectrum

More than 75 performers in Carroll Farm Museum


July 07, 2005|By Kate Campbell | Kate Campbell,SUN STAFF

In an age of digitally filtered vocals and songs neatly categorized into sub-genres, Walt Michael longs for something messier and more exciting.

The artist-in-residence at McDaniel College in Westminster and professional hammered dulcimer player will oversee the eighth annual Common Ground on the Hill Music & Arts Festival Saturday and Sunday at the Carroll County Farm Museum.

"I wanted to do a program that brought artists together and nurtured dialogue," said Michael, the founder of the nonprofit organization. "The performing arts and musical fields have become so specialized. If you liked blues, you would go to a blues festival. If you liked bluegrass, you would go to a bluegrass festival."

For Michael, the magic's in the '60s-style festival-- a mishmash of talent in one venue. This weekend will feature more than 75 performers exhibiting blues, folk, jazz, Native American, gospel, Celtic, African drumming and other styles.

The festival splits two weeks of musical workshops taught and attended by the musicians featured on the weekend's stages. Workshop groups will also perform every weeknight.

Michael said another focus of the festival is to provide entertainment for all ages.

"We're not a heavy-metal festival," he said. "This tends to be a not-so-loud festival where people aren't worried about their ears."

Prospective performers must pass a "winnowing process" for stage time.

"The first thing I'm looking for is quality," Michael said. "If you have quality, you don't have to worry about [propriety]," he said.

One of the four stages will be designated a "family stage," with specific acts for kids, including Grammy Award-winning Tom Chapin, the folk banjo and guitar player who has recorded numerous children's albums.

Michael has personal connections to many of the festival's acts. He played with a member of Hot Tuna, one of the festival's premier groups, for seven years. He meets groups at music conferences and contacts others after they send him demo tapes.

While the festival is too eclectic to be swayed by trends, he said the 2000 film Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? helped popularize roots and bluegrass music.

The Carroll County Farm Museum occupies 180 acres, which Michael describes as an "intimate" performance venue with lots of shade, and "less of a museum than it is a farming residence." Based on past years, he expects 3,000 to 5,000 guests over the weekend.

For the festival's future, Michael said, he would enjoy audience growth, but he maintains his focus on solid performances.

"I'd like to continue to see it do what it does-- offer music that is pleasing to the ear and is high quality," he said.

The festival runs 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. A weekend pass is $40, and admission is $25 for Saturday and $20 for Sunday. There will be additional fees for concessions. At 8 p.m. Saturday, the adjacent Carroll County Agricultural Center will host an old-fashioned dance with live string performances. Hot Tuna performs at 6 p.m. Saturday. Tom Chapin will perform Sunday at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. 500 S. Westminster St., Westminster. Visit or call 410-857-2771.

For more family events, see Page 33.

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