Diverse musical groups–the Wammie award-winning Afrofunk orchestra Chopteeth, the alt-country/bluegrass band Burt the Dirt, jazz pianist Mark G. Meadows, inspirational vocalist Nikki Lerner and the traditional festival opener Olney Big Band–will take the main stage of the Sandy Spring Museum’s annual Strawberry Festival from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 4.
“We are trying to bring the big city into the small town,” said Bronson Hoover, the jazz pianist museum board member who helped book the acts for the festival. “Having bands like Chopteeth and Burt the Dirt play locally is just a chance to see some really talented groups without having to drive into the city. It’s great music in a venue like no other.”
When choosing the line-up, the goals were variety and ties to the area. “To get those kinds of bands to come out to this event is a big deal,” said Laura Reese, the museum’s director of marketing and sales. “The music is going to be amazing.”
Chopteeth features a 12-piece Afrofunk orchestra that plays a combination of modern jazz, Yoruba tribal music and James Brown-inspired rhythms. Regularly performing at top Metro area venues like The Hamilton, the 9:30 Club and Amp by Strathmore, the band sings in seven different languages within a show.
Rockville-based Burt the Dirt showcases music in a similar vein to the Punch Brothers with some Bob Dylan influences. Shaped by music from both past and present, North and South, the five-member band regularly has gigs throughout the county.
Meadows is well known to D.C. jazz enthusiasts. He was a Strathmore Artist in Residence for the 2014-2015 season and was named Artist of the Year and Composer of the Year by Washington D.C.’s City Paper in 2014. An instructor at the Duke Ellington School of Arts, he opened for Kendrick Lamar when he recently played the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Lerner and her three bandmates are based in Columbia, Md. She is known for her soulful songs, addressing life themes, love, and relationships.
Hoover, who joined the board last year, lives just a few minutes from the museum. “One of the problems that I see with the museum is how it is viewed,” he said. “It is viewed as a stodgy, old museum. …The museum is a pretty neat place, and it is becoming more and more of an art center. It’s a cultural hub that we need in this area. It is important for me to help it grow and become what I think it is going to be, what it is capable of being.”
He also co-produces the museum’s concert series Jazz in the Round, bringing four or five performances a year by well-known artists to perform in the intimate setting. “Jazz in the Round is my baby,” Hoover said. “I only (produce) that (event) when I have the right acts. …Getting these guys to show up for this gig, for me, it is a dream.”
The Strawberry Festival, featuring headliner bands, serves as a great way to introduce the community at large to the museum. “Seventy percent of people who are introduced to the museum are introduced by way of the Strawberry Festival,” Reese estimated.
The Sandy Spring Museum, opened in 1981, takes visitors on an exploration of community history through visual, literary and performing arts. The festival is its largest fundraiser every year. “We rely on donations and fundraising efforts throughout the year to help support all the programs that happen here,” Reese said. Planning the festival takes all year and operates with the help of about 250 local volunteers.
In addition to the music, the festival will include activities for children such as a rock climbing wall, moon bounce, pony rides and a 4-H petting zoo. And strawberries will, of course, play a big role. Attendees will be able to buy fresh strawberries from a local farm, and sample some sinfully delicious desserts—such as strawberry shortcake and chocolate-dipped strawberries. The Garden Club Plant Sale will feature botanical treasures and seedlings. “It’s a favorite place where people come and buy their plants for the spring,” Reese said.
While it may be hard to tear away from the main stage, a community stage will present karate demonstrations, dance performances, a magic show and local bands. “It’s really a great opportunity for high school bands and other performers to get in front of a crowd,” Reese said. “Each year the (community) stage has grown.”
Because the festival is celebrating its 35th year, “everyone who is participating as a vendor is asked to come up with something creative around (the number) 35,” Reese said. They may also have a few games highlighting the number along with a giving campaign urging $35 donations.
Hoover said this year’s event will be a big party, but he is already thinking about next year’s music line-up. “For me, as a musician, I want to hear real musicians who can really cut it,” he said. “…I am trying to set the bar as high as possible and create a buzz so we can bring in even more talent next year. I’d like to see us get some serious national touring acts headlining the Strawberry Festival at some point to really bring people in.”
For more information, visit www.sandyspringmuseum.org.