What began 25 years ago as a backyard blues picnic at a Monkton farm has evolved into one of the region’s top music festivals.
Growing the Hot August Music Festival, formerly Hot August Blues and Roots Festival, from 300 people at his house to the now 5,000-6,000 concert-goers that show up at Oregon Ridge Park every year was guided simply by a love of music, according to Brad Selko, the humble 67-year-old at the helm of the event.
“Makes people happy,” he said in matter-of-fact tone. “I can give people 12 hours of happiness … you forget about everything at most music festivals.”
The 25th annual Hot August Music Festival takes place Saturday, Aug. 19, and features an eclectic lineup of blues, bluegrass, funk and more.
The main stage, sponsored by festival sponsor Stages Music Arts, features high-energy Americana band Old Crow Medicine Show; funk titans Lettuce, eclectic jamgrass outfit Cabinet; and local electro-rock fusion band Electric Love Machine.
“We’re really proud of the lineup this year,” said Rich Barnstein, who helps book artists and market the festival. He noted that Hot August sold out last time Old Crow played. “I think it’s just a knockout grand slam lineup of artists.”
Last year, Cabinet was part of what Barnstein called “one of the great moments” in Hot August history when the generator shut off on the second stage and the band took their acoustic instruments into the audience to continue performing.
His optometry practice, Professional Vision, sponsors the second stage, which features Brooklyn-based power-funk outfit Turkuaz; eight-piece roots band The Dustbowl Revival; three-piece Swedish folk band Baskery; and local funk-jazz band Squaring the Circle.
The Back to the Farm Stage, a nod to the festival’s early home sponsored by Guaranteed Rate, features John Mooney & Bluesiana, Lil Ed & The Blues Imperials and Memphis Gold with special guest Brett Wilson, who performed at the very first Hot August.
On Lil Ed, Selko said, “He’s a real little guy, walks around on his tiptoes and plays slide guitar.”
And Selko noted that John Mooney was taught guitar by Delta blues legend Son House.
“I have three stages and I think they’re all equally good in what they present,” he said. “People should try to get to all the stages.”
It was a quarter-century ago that a friend approached Selko to say he should have a picnic at his farm. That August, he had blues harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite and local musician Brett Wilson.
“At the time I was listening to blues,” Selko recalled. “I knew a lot of the players then. I had some amazing people at my house like [blues guitarist] Son Seals.”
The early days of Hot August Blues were chock full of legends — Selko even got singer Little Sonny Warner to perform with saxophonist Big Jay McNeely, who each had their biggest hit on the collaboration “There’s Something on Your Mind.”
“That was a really cool moment. They hadn’t spoken in 50 years,” Selko said. “And they played the one song that made them popular.”
For Selko, music is in his blood, and he’s always been drawn to its transcendental power.
“My mother and my sisters always sang. My grandmother sang on Vaudeville, her father sang. My grandfather threw people off the stage at weddings so he could be the singer,” he said. “So I always liked music. When I’m home I listen to music a lot of the times. I’m not worried about the television, the political part.”
Over the years, the festival branched out from its strictly blues format, and in 2014 changed its name to Hot August Music Festival.
“You change, you grow,” Selko said. “It’s morphed and morphed.”
Other than jazz and blues from the ’50s and ’60s, Selko listens to mostly new music and often checks out recommendations from younger acquaintances to keep up with the scene and figure out who he wants to book for the festival.
“I don’t remember people’s names, but if they tell me what kind of music they like, I remember it for years to come,” he said.
Selko attributes his 25-year run to surrounding himself with the right people and good volunteers — a couple hundred help out the day of the festival — some of which have been with him all 25 years. At the core of it, the main team that plans that festival consists of himself, his wife Tricia Joralemon-Selko, son Gabriel and Barnstein.
“He has endless energy,” Barnstein said of Selko. “They’re just really special, amazing people.”
About THE BEAT: Marc Shapiro, a lifelong musician and concert-goer, writes about regional and national musicians, concerts, festivals and the music industry. He is managing editor at the Baltimore Jewish Times, a sister publication of Baltimore Style. More of his photos can be viewed on his Facebook page, and he can be reached at [email protected].