Sunday, September 6, 2009

Traffic Jam - Baltimore, MD - September 5

The "Traffic Jam" was advertised as a 3 day festival at the Sonar club in downtown Baltimore. Musical acts included Leftover Salmon, the Lee Boys, Medeski Martin & Wood, Sam Bush, and the Travelin' McCourys. Some streets were to be blocked off and there would be multiple stages including an outdoor stage. Sounded intriguing so the Bird and I headed up there Saturday to check it out. We were surprised that we were able to park in a public lot right in front of the club, the street was indeed blocked off and a small festival ground was created. There were a handful of vendors with your typical festival fare but there was no outdoor stage. Apparently there had been a snag with the City at the last minute, so the Sonar club used their three indoor stages. This was our first visit to the Sonar club, which appears to be the first level of a three level parking garage converted into a night club. There are 3 rooms, sort of reminiscent of Goldilocks, each room is a larger version of the previous one. When we arrived there was a band (never caught the name) playing in the middle sized room with about 4 people watching. They had a talented left handed lead guitar player, but the sound was so loud (and very poorly mixed) that we retreated back outside. Then we found the smallest room which had a teenage trio playing some progressive '70's style instrumental rock. They were actually very entertaining (couldn't figure out their name either), the crowd size doubled when we entered that room. After listening to them for a while we went to the Main Room, which was a large open space with 3 bars, a concrete floor, and some risers on one side that you could sit on. Playing in this space was Papa Mali, a blues guitar player from New Orleans. They played some fun music for the 30 or so fans hanging in the big room.

So the pieces were in place for a downtown music "festival" but it appeared that the crowd didn't show. The Bird and I decided to take a break and we jumped in the car, headed to Fells Point and had a nice early al fresco dinner. Then back to the Sonar in time to catch the Lee Boys and Leftover Salmon. We had seen the Lee Boys earlier in the summer at the Floydfest, these guys play a style of rocking gospel that is known as "Sacred Steel", probably Robert Randolph is it's most famous practitioner. A few more people had shown up and the Lee Boys were really rocking. They were joined onstage by a local blues guitarist name Bobby Lee Rodgers and then later by a guitarist called "Mike" (apparently they forgot his last name). This turned into a really good show as the guest guitarists traded licks with the steel guitar player known as "the Dr."

Leftover Salmon brought the energy level up even further as Vince Hermann, Drew Emmitt and the rest of the boys ripped into their unique brand of "polyethnic cajun slamgrass". The crowd had picked up a little by then, the sound was good, and so was the music. We rocked through this set and even though there were more bands scheduled to follow was time for us to make the drive home.

In summary I would say this was a good idea for a festival, but several things went wrong. An outdoor stage would have made it a lot more fun, there wasn't much food to be had, and there weren't enough people there. I don't know if it was poor promotion or just the fact that no one wants to hang out in a dark club on the last weekend of summer. It would be interesting to see what Saturday and Sunday were like. I'll keep the Sonar on my list of venues to watch and hope for better things to come.

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