(Sept. 19, 2014) The 2014 Berlin Fiddler’s Convention brings three days of free, live bluegrass Sept. 19-21.
Local bluegrass mainstay Nate Clendenen is organizing this year’s event in downtown Berlin, featuring performances by Frank Solivan and the Dirty Kitchen, and the Wood Pickers.
“I’ve had a blast competing and playing the Berlin Fiddlers Convention in the past and have always been proud to be a part of it,” he said. “Early this year I was approached by a friend who works for the Chamber of Commerce about coming on board to help plan the event and I was more than happy to say yes.”
Clendenen called bluegrass “a music of the people.”
“It’s about work and heartache and travel and celebration and love and all sorts of very human things,” he said. “It’s organic, honest and genuine. There are no special effects on the instruments – no autotune on the vocals. It’s real, authentic and one-of-a-kind – and so is the Eastern Shore.”
Headliners Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen perform on Friday evening from 8-10 and Saturday morning at 11. The Washington, D.C. based band received nominations for four International Bluegrass Association awards this year. Solivan was nominated for Mandolin Player and Male Vocalist of the Year, Mike Munford was nominated for Banjo Player and the group received an Instrumental Band of the Year nomination.
“I plan on playing a few fiddle tunes being that it’s a fiddler’s convention, but I mostly gravitate towards the mandolin these days,” Solivan said. “We play a lot of stuff off the cuff – we have some really cool arrangements, but within those arrangements there’s space to improvise and have some really cool jams and kind of let loose a little bit, which is fun.”
Solivan said the Mid-Atlantic region has been a hotbed for bluegrass for as long as he can remember.
“More recently there have definitely been some younger bands kind of popping up under the umbrella of bluegrass music,” he said. “I don’t know what the cause is, but there’s a lot of inspiration from artists like the Country Gentlemen, the Seldom Scene, Emmylou Harris is from this area – there’s definitely been some really great bluegrass here in the past.”
The band and the individual players in the group have earned enough accolades to fill a trophy case during the last few years, including earning a Best Bluegrass band of 2013 nod from Popmatters.
“First and foremost we’re all friends,” Solivan said. “That’s kind of the underlying deal. We all care about the music and we care about how we sound, and we all believe in the music that we play. I think that’s the key component of any band to be able to play well and be successful.
“In the last handful of years the band has gotten a higher profile and has gotten a lot of attention,” Solivan continued. “Mike Munford was the Bluegrass Association Banjo Player of the Year and Chris Luquette pulled in a Momentum award for Instrumentalist of the Year (in 2013), and now we’re up for four more awards, including Instrumental Group of the Year, which is awesome. We’re really stoked.”
Last month was a bittersweet one for Solivan. The band’s latest album “Cold Spell” came out in August and the band were prepping for a national tour running from Washington, D.C. to California. Solivan was struck by a family tragedy days before the tour started.
“The tour was right after my mom died,” he said. “She died just a little over a month ago, so I went on this national tour and just really put my heart and soul into it like she would have wanted me to, I suppose. We got onstage and wore our hearts on our sleeves and just raged. It was a tough tour and it’s still a little tough, but it’s great because it’s keeping me busy and keeping my mind occupied.”
Solivan said the most important part of any show is finding a way to connect to the audience.
“When you do wear your heart on your sleeve – when you’re sharing an emotional moment with someone – I feel like music kind of brings people together,” he said. “If they’re able to connect to it someway and relate the music that we play with their own lives and feel some kind of emotional response, then our job has been done. That’s the key to any performance, I think.”
The Wood Pickers, who won the band competition during last year’s Fiddler’s Convention, open the festival at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday at 10 a.m.
Fiddle player Melissa Adams said the group was happy to win, but that “we just like have fun playing our music.”
The Gaithersburg-based band, who won the competition as a three-piece, will bring a few friends along for the ride during this year’s performances.
“We’re bringing a few extra people from another band that we play in,” Adams said. “We’re playing a mix of bluegrass and a few country songs and a few Celtic songs. We have a few original songs we’re going to be playing, and we’ll also play a few contemporary songs to show how you can take a modern rock song and make it bluegrass.
“We just want everyone to have fun with the music,” Adams continued. “We’ve played to a lot of big crowds, but this is definitely one of the biggest that we’ve played. We’re really looking forward to it.”
Youth and adult competitions begin on Saturday at noon in categories including Best Band, Fiddle, Banjo, Guitar and Mandolin. The winning band earns a spot as the opening act at the 23rd Annual Fiddler’s Convention.
Clendenen said musicians are traveling from as far away as Utah to take part in this year’s competition.
“It brings other musicians together to play and learn from each other,” he said. “It brings spectators together to watch and listen to it happen. Most importantly it’s great to be able to have an event like this that people care so much about.”
The festival concludes on Sunday at noon with the Bluegrass Gospel Jam on the lawn of the Calvin B. Taylor House Museum.
“The focus is on the great music, but there will be a bunch of tasty food from the area restaurants, all the cool Berlin shops will be open, craft vendors, kid’s activities, etc.,” Clendenen said. “I’m sure I can speak for Elaine, Tom, Michael, and all the other folks that have been working to get this event together. We just want folks to have fun, and it will be a blast.”
For more information visit www.berlinchamber.org/fiddlers-convention.