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The Beat: Samantha Fish, Litz Amplify Hot August’s Eclectic Lineup

Samantha Fish is branching out from the blues, a fitting evolution for her performance at the Hot August Music Festival on Saturday.

The singer and guitarist’s move away from the conventions of the genre parallels that of the Hot August Music Festival, which was founded 24 years ago as Hot August Blues when Brad Selko hosted 400 people and legendary bluesman Charlie Musselwhite on his Monkton farm. As the festival grew, it moved to its current home at Oregon Ridge Park in Cockeysville. Over the years, its musical offerings widened, and the festival changed its name from Hot August Blues to Hot August Music in 2014.

And now, Fish is following suit: “It’s nice to be in a spot where our music can maybe transcend the genre a little bit and we can stretch out and go other places,” the 27-year-old Kansas City native said. “My new album, it’s got more of a rock ‘n’ roll edge to edge it. It’s not that I shy away from the blues, I just incorporate more of my true self in it.”

Fish joins an eclectic lineup that includes D.C.-based hometown heroes Thievery Corporation, Grateful Dead tribute Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Americana/bluegrass band Railroad Earth, Cajun “slamgrass” band Leftover Salmon, bluegrass/jam outfit Cabinet, rock/soul band The Revivalists and two Maryland-based groups —The Eastman String Band and funk sextet Litz.

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Thrown into that mix will be Fish’s monster guitar playing, which got its start in the blues clubs of Kansas City.

“I definitely pulled a lot of what I wanted out of the Kansas City style,” she said. “I think what I connected with was the North Mississippi sound, the delta sound. There was something so raw and so real about it that I hung on to.”

At Hot August, she’ll be ready to rock.

“Everybody on this lineup has such a unique sound. It’s a neat opportunity,” she said. “When I play festivals like this, it’s time to throw down the gauntlet. We put on the most high-energy, powerful performance we can.”

Selko, along with his right-hand man Rich Barnstein, who also sponsors the Professional Vision Zeiss Stage, is sure she’ll captivate Hot August’s crowd and earn herself some new fans.

“We try to find artists where there’s a certain level of energy and it translates live,” Selko said. “She’s got it.”

For up-and-coming local bands such as Gaithersburg natives Litz, the festival presents an opportunity for the band to further expand its reach. Litz opens up the main stage and anchors the after party at the Greene Turtle in Hunt Valley.

Austin Litz, who plays flute, saxophone, keys and sings in the band, said that while his band’s sound is diverse — they play an upbeat, electronic-influenced psychedelic take on funk — he expects playing alongside Cabinet and Leftover Salmon might impact the band’s sound, which doesn’t include any fusion of bluegrass at the moment.

“To be affiliated with a festival that is this cool is super, super exciting for us,” he said. “It’s an eclectic lineup and we’re an eclectic band.”

The band’s name pays homage to his musical family. While Austin wasn’t initially thrilled to use his last name, he and two of his brothers, fellow bandmates and twins Logan and Mike, are the grandsons of Victor Litz, who opened a music shop in his name in the 1960s that is still open to this day. (Their father now runs the store.)

“We all played music our entire lives,” Austin said. “It’s with huge thanks to our father and grandfather. We named the band Litz for a reason.”

Litz has been going strong for about two-and-a-half years.

“Now we’re gonna see how far we can take it,” Austin said.

While this year’s lineup certainly stands up to previous years of the festival, Selko said as the festival scene has blown up, remaining independent and still attracting big names is a challenge.

“Bands have so many choices [in where to play],” he said, “but luckily we’re smart enough to be able to pull together a consistently good festival somehow.”

Barnstein added: “It’s a gut-wrenching rollercoaster booking the lineup.”

To add some more pizzazz to this year’s festival, Hot August upgraded its light show for Thievery Corporation, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, and Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, which has earned a reputation as one of most noteworthy tribute projects to play the pioneering jamband’s music.

“They get that same energy the Dead had in the ’70s,” Selko said.

For fans of bluegrass, the festival features several bands that put their own spin on the old-time string music, although each bluegrass-based band at the festival has a drummer, breaking with tradition.

“I like the energy level,” said Selko, who attended bluegrass festivals in the ’60s and ’70s. “There’s so many great players.”

For those looking to show off their bluegrass chops or pick up some new tricks from more seasoned players, Fried Pickin’ and bluegrass aficionado Tim Newby will be hosting a pickers grove at the festival. Fried Pickin’ will also play to those who arrive early as gates open.

For families bringing the little ones, the festival offers hat making, face painting, a kids’ drumming circle, family yoga and percussion and harmonica workshops.

“It’s a family festival,” Selko said. “And then at the end of the night, go out to the after party.” Fans take note: festival artists have been known to wander over to the party, too.

For more information, visit hotaugustmusicfestival.com.

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].

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