Hot August Music Festival Celebrates 30th Anniversary

By Stu Kelly / August 27, 2023

The Hot August Music Festival celebrated its 30th anniversary last weekend as the event went off without a hitch, featuring a wide range of local talent and national touring acts. Nestled in Oregon Ridge Park in Cockeysville, Maryland, Hot August has become a beloved annual staple for live music fans and has a bustling community to show for it. Behind the scenes, the festival faced significant adversity and nearly went out of business. That was all before Ryan Glaeser and Robbie Cooper stepped up and took ownership of the event, ensuring its future and continued success. Glaeser and Cooper are two friends who used to work for the festival in years past. They’re also fellow music lovers themselves. When news broke that Hot August was in jeopardy, they had to do something to preserve this special event. With one year under their belts as new owners, the future is undoubtedly bright for the two young entrepreneurs. 

Gates opened at 11 a.m. to an enthusiastic crowd eager to get the marathon all-day event underway. Natalie Brooke and the Infinity Tribe christened the Hillside Stage, and Jonathan Sloane Trio opened up the Meadows Stage. The two first acts of the day are locals to the Baltimore/DC music scene, each respectfully gaining momentum as they cultivate their diehard fans. Cris Jacobs made his annual appearance to a large crowd already starting to bear the heat. This year’s heat index wasn’t as bad as years past, but it’s still something to be aware of. Jacobs kept the crowd entertained with such staples as “The Devil or Jesse James,” “Jack the Whistle and the Hammer,” and “Buffalo Girl.” 

Over on the Meadows Stage, Nashville native Sunny War graced the event and soothed the crowd with her sultry acoustic fingerpicking and mellow vocals. She performed most of her set solo with an acoustic guitar but brought out a few gusts towards the end, rounding out a trio. Ripe is currently on tour in support of their new studio album Bright Blues, and the band wasted no time kicking the energy into high gear as they made the most out of their 90-minute set. The Alternative-pop quartet boasts an explosive sound laced with elements of funk and rock. The audience was locked into the band’s infectious grooves as the energy was at an all-time high for the day. Ripe also found time to weave in a few surprising covers, including The Kinks‘ “Lola” and Phil Collins‘ “Sussudio.”

Karina Rykman brought her solo band to Hot August for the first time, and it was a treat to see her perform just one day after the release of her debut album, Joyride. Rykman has fully blossomed into a powerhouse of an artist. Having initially made a name for herself as the bass player in Marco Benevento‘s trio, she’s since gone on to write a plethora of solo material as the frontwoman of her new ensemble. Highlights from her set included “Joyride,” “City Kids,” and “Atom Dance.” The audience, which stretched back to the tree line, was fully engulfed in her band’s radiant sound. 

Another first-timer this year was Daniel Donato’s Cosmic Country, which’s been another rapidly ascending band among the jam band community. Donato has made waves as he’s established himself as a guitar virtuoso with a rich catalog of rockabilly-infused rock and roll. The crowd was eager to see what tricks Donato had up his sleeve as his band is known for their high-energy performances with the ability to break off an extended piece of improvisation well past the 10-minute mark at any given moment. Opening up with the crowd favorite “Why You Been Gone So Long,” it didn’t take long for Donato to showcase his prowess on the axe. 

Other highlights included “Lose Your Mind” > “Weathervane” > “Blue Skies” segue and a nearly 17-minute extended version of “Double Exposure.” Fans matched the energy flowing from the stage as the dense crowd was in full swing, hanging onto every note. The future is bright for Donato and his band, as a new album is coming out later this year. “Sugar Shack” made way for the short and sweet “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” before a monstrous version of “Dance in the Desert” that clocked in at 17 minutes flat, which was also the longest song of their set. That version was the cherry on top and the perfect way for the band to wrap up their time. Fans stood and gave an extended round of applause as Daniel and his crew were all smiles. 

Oteil Burbridge brought an all-star cast of musicians to round out his band this year. The collective unit boasted such talents as Steve Kimock, Duane Betts, Jason Crosby, John Kimock, and Lamar Wiliams, Jr. Burbridge is notably recognized for his work in the jam band scene and his association with the iconic band, the Allman Brothers Band. Oteil joined the Allman Brothers Band in 1997, taking over the bassist role from Allen Woody. He remained with the band until their final show in 2014 at the Beacon Theater in New York City. His contributions to the group helped maintain their improvisational rock and blues music legacy. Oteil & Friends opened up with “No More Doubt,” a tune originally released in 2005 by one of his first bands, Oteil & the Peacemakers, on their Believer album. It didn’t take long for the band to honor the Allman Brothers in the two-slot with “Every Hungry Woman,” a song from ABB’s debut self-titled album, which was initially released in 1969. “Dreams” surfaced next, which also originally appeared on ABB’s debut album, where Duane Betts took a beautiful solo. It was heartwarming watching him add his flair to the music his father, Dickey Betts, helped conceptualize. 

Other highlights from Oteil and his band were a beautiful cover of “Cats Under the Stars” by Jerry Garcia Band, “Waiting On a Song,” ABB’s marathon instrumental “Mountain Jam,” and the Grateful Dead‘s “Dark Star” to close out their set. 

The evening was headlined by the legendary band Little Feat. Initially formed in 1969 by singer-songwriter and guitarist Lowell George and keyboardist Bill Payne. Little Feat’s original lineup included Lowell George (vocals, slide guitar), Bill Payne (keyboards), Roy Estrada (bass), and Richard “Ritchie” Hayward. Little Feat quickly gained a dedicated following and critical acclaim for its intricate musicianship, catchy songwriting, and energetic live performances. Even though Payne is the only remaining original member, the band’s legacy endures through their influential sound and impact on the music industry. 

The band opened up with the beloved number “Fat Man in the Bathtub,” a bluesy, funky track that truly exemplifies the band’s musical versatility. As the setlist continued, the band effortlessly transitioned from one classic to another, each song flowing seamlessly into the next. “Let It Roll” kept the momentum going with its infectious energy, while “Easy to Slip” showcased the band’s ability to weave heartfelt lyrics into their rock-infused sound. The soulful “Rock and Roll Doctor” had the entire audience dancing, and “Oh Atlanta” transported us to a place where the music’s magic was palpable.

One of the night’s highlights was undoubtedly the performance of “Willin’,” a song synonymous with Little Feat’s legacy. The audience sang along, creating a magical atmosphere that exemplified the power of music to connect people. “Dixie Chicken” and “Day or Night” further demonstrated the band’s genre-defying prowess, seamlessly fusing elements of country, rock, and funk into a unique sound. And when the familiar notes of “Tripe Face Boogie” and “Spanish Moon” filled the air, it was impossible not to get swept up in the band’s infectious groove.

The night reached its pinnacle with “Skin It Back,” a song that allowed each band member to showcase their instrumental virtuosity. The solos were electrifying, the rhythms were tight, and the synergy between the musicians was undeniable. It was a reminder of just how proficient and talented the members of Little Feat genuinely are. In every moment of the performance, Little Feat exhibited a deep connection with the music and the audience. Their passion for their craft was evident in every note they played and every lyric they sang. The audience reciprocated this energy, dancing, cheering, and singing with unwavering enthusiasm.

As the final notes of the night faded away, it was clear that this was a concert experience that would stay with everyone lucky enough to be in attendance. Little Feat’s performance was a testament to the enduring power of music to bring people together, evoke emotions, and create lasting memories. This was not just a show; it was a celebration of the art of music, and it left all of us with hearts full and spirits lifted.

The Hot August Music Festival is truly a unique event. It’s hard to say just how much this single day of music means to the local community. Here’s to hoping for many more years of musical celebration and an abundance of success for Ryan and Robbie, who deserve it after everything they’ve done to keep this event afloat. 

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About the author

Stu Kelly