Common Ground celebrated its third year with a bigger crowd and, for the most part, nice weather (it rained Friday, but that didn't stop the events). The festival was organized so that timely discussions/ presentations and live music could be gathered in one place. Theoretically, one could have attended Common Ground and left with some comedy improvisational skills and the know-how to tan the hide of a roadkill deer while breathing fire.*
The band and artist line-up at Common Ground was impressive this year, and quite diverse. I missed out on the presentations during my time at the festival Saturday and due to prior commitments, I could not attend Friday and Sunday.
The Working Week is the latest project from B.J. Lewis (Soulmobile & The Hourlys). The Working Week could easily be a Ben Folds Five tribute band, but Lewis has written some fine original pop songs so there is no need to go the all-covers route. They did, however, play what will now be the obligatory Ben Folds Five cover during their set ("Army").
The Great Unknown followed The Working Week and performed a great countrified set. The three-piece from Philadelphia had a stripped-down sound and finished their set on the floor with an intimate performance.
Religious fervor and an intense Gypsy punk sound erupted from the stage when the Psalters performed. The Psalters, also from Phillie, played a very high energy set that was interjected with spiritual in-between banter.
John Francis returned to Allegany County with his guitar and took the stage after the Psalters. Francis has performed in Frostburg on many occasions and recently performed with Soulmobile at "Saturdays On Broadway" (in Frostburg). Francis also conducted a protest song workshop earlier in the day.
The 88th (or is it the 89th? I'm losing track...) variation of Soulmobile followed John Francis and picked up the pace. As one of the organizers of Common Ground, Jon Felton has a lot riding on this year's results. Running a festival is a stressful thing but none of that responsibility showed up on Felton's face as he performed for the crowd. B.J. Lewis returned to the stage and sat behind the drum kit. He was one of the first members to join Soulmobile (Soulmobile used to be Jon Felton and His Soulmobile, a one-man band with Felton playing guitar and drums). Soulmobile also provided a rousing soundtrack to the Poi and Firebreathing presentation by Tara Toms and Chris Geil.
Mike Nau of Cotton Jones closed out Saturday night's music with a powerful one-man acoustic set. Nau pulled out some Gram Parsons and Big Star covers along with his own original material.
Charles McCord and Tom Dodd, of Dante's Bar, ran the sound for the festival.
The food at Common Ground was tasty. Josh Horevay presided over the Common Ground "kitchen" and whipped up candied Brussels sprouts (and a vegan option), caramelized snap peas, beef brisket, and more. Ian Nagoski provided dining music by spinning 78s near the kitchen and dining area.
Common Ground has grown considerably in just three years and Saturday turned out to be a great day for the festival. The fourth Common Ground ought to be bigger yet.
*I've done two of these... the third was an accident.