On Saturday, a lineup of bluegrass and folk musicians from across the country gathered on an island situated in the Anacostia River to perform in D.C. The festival supported a worthy cause, proceeds benefiting the Living Classrooms Foundation.
Down-to-earth residents of all ages, with their dogs, came to Kingman Island to have a genuinely good time. They parked their rides at the bike valet, drank beer, cheered for their favorite band members and enjoyed a laidback day spent listening to country twang in the sprinkling rain. This smooth, collaborative festival is what attracts almost 15,000 people to the event year after year.
The day started off steady with bands like Blue Plains, Gravel Road Bluegrass and Buds Collective. Some festivalgoers listened to these sets from their kayaks on the river as part of the REI Outdoor School. These kayakers circumnavigated the island with a guide, stopping at an area with honeysuckle flowers for a taste.
Maryland band Brian Farrow & What Gets Over jammed on a stage in the woods, with Farrow strumming his bass and smiling while he sang accompanied by the drummer’s brush strokes and melody from a mandolin. While they listened, audience members roasted marshmallows in a fire for s’mores.
Guitarist A.J. Head filled the time in between sets with what she called “blues-ish” music, carrying a tune on stage alone with her scratchy voice over catchy alternative rock guitar bits. For heavier rhythms, she looped her beatboxing vocals and a few clapping tracks to play melodies over.
At another stage near some rocks, a cigar merchant and jewelry vendors, The Torches showed off their collection of eclectic instruments. With GW librarian Tina Plottel on electric bass and others on oboe, cello, horn, drums and guitar, the band brought energy to the forest. The frontman screamed into the microphone, in the way that Isaac Brock might, along with a turbulence of bass, drums and cello. The oboe and horn players added some nice harmonies to the pieces.
L.A. pop folk band, Magic Giant, brought even more energy to the festival. A unique mix of falsetto, jumping while playing drums and a lot of finger picks, Magic Giant seemed to tastefully fuse bluegrass with indie pop. Their slowed down, folky cover of “Hey Ya!” got the crowd excited as the band jammed with the harmonies. Towards the end of the set, the band also brought up two kids, who cooed along through the last song.
As the festival went on, it was easy to see that sustainability was important, especially in such a beautiful location. Still not as green as festivals like Sweetlife Music Festival, which has vendors use only compostable containers and provides adequate facilities to avoid the crowd running into the woods to get things done, the Kingman Island Festival organizers seemed to try their best to promote zero waste products and had volunteers help clean up during the event.
As everyone attending the event came together, the Spirit Family Reunion performed the last set of the festival. Farrow filled in for the bassist who was out sick and the folky twang began. The New York City-based band consisted of a banjo, plenty of rhythm and drums, bass, guitar and a washboard. But, despite their very country, bluegrass sound, the band was able to appeal to most of the attendees. Previously touring the District with Dr. Dog, the versatility of their music allowed for a nice rhythmic and acoustic jam that had the crowd literally hopping to the beat.
The festival was an overall great time and a not-to-be-missed event to look forward to again next year.
(Photos: Everly Jazi and Anna Crosby)