Out in the pastoral landscapes of Darlington, MD, the sound of music wafts through Camp Ramblewood across campfires, out the doors of a barn, and into the hearts and souls of thousands. The commotion comes from the eclectic The Ramble Festival, now in its second year of delivering a fresh take on the music festival experience. [Tickets on sale here.]

Taking place roughly 40 minutes north of Baltimore and an hour south of Philadelphia, The Ramble Festival 2023 will bring in top acts including The Del McCoury Band, a guest-filled TAUK Moore set, The MotetThe Grateful Ball ft. The Travelin’ McCourysNeighborDogs In A Pile, and more for a three-day celebration. But more important than the artists onstage or the music emanating from the speakers are the people in the audience who have come together to form what has already become a tight-knit community in just one year.

That concept of community was pivotal to the festival’s creation, as co-founder Brandon “Brick” Lohr recently told Live For Live Music. As the festival gears up for its second installment October 6th–8th, it’s that same sense of community that will carry it forward for years to come.

Read a transcript of our conversation with The Ramble Festival’s Brick Lohr below, edited for length and clarity.

Live For Live Music: What is The Ramble Festival?

Brick: Well, it’s really an idea. It started as an idea that was the culmination of my ideas and [those] of my co-founder [Jason “J” Hubert], to create a festival that we’ve always wanted to attend. Not a festival that fits the mold of every other festival we’ve been to, but purposely breaks free from and deviates from that mold. …

We have cabins on site where we put up the artists, so that they’re part of the experience through the whole weekend. In fact, we purposefully book as many bands as we can for multiple sets on multiple days, so it facilitates them to stay overnight. Instead of loading right out and hitting the road again, to be a part of the community that we’re helping to build, because they’re integral parts of bringing it together. … It’s purposeful to create interaction because there’s not a human on-site at The Ramble Festival that doesn’t have an equally important role in bringing the entirety of the experience and what it is together.

Everyone from the person that is parking cars or picking up trash or running volunteers or a vendor, an attendee, a young attendee, a kid. … All of us, myself included, or the wook that’s drunk in the woods and not doing anything else but that, each come together to form an integral and, I believe, equally important part of the entirety of the experience that we’re trying to give space to really grow organically in a matter of days. … The music’s just the catalyst to bring people together.

Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is create space for people to be the freest versions of themselves. … That’s when the magic happens. That’s when people start dropping their defense mechanisms, when they start removing the mask that they wear in their everyday life as a spouse, a coworker, a partner or a parent, a child, whatever, and they start going, “You know what? It’s safe to be me here.”

Live For Live Music: The thing that I’m getting is that the music is almost secondary. 

Brick: In a lot of ways it is, and I think that in a lot of festivals and events, the music is frequently secondary, especially for things that happen over and over like a lot of music festivals and events do, because it becomes more important to be part of a community than it does what the lineup is. I’ve been going to DelFest for years and what I can tell you sitting here in August and in Asheville [is that] next Memorial Day weekend, I’m going to be at DelFest. It doesn’t matter what the lineup is, because the connections with the other humans that I know that are going to be there and the vibe of the place that I’m going to experience and the trust that I have in the brand that they’ve built is so strong that I know right now I’m going to be there.

Live For Live Music: As you’re talking about this, it relates back to me joking earlier about being a fan of the Cleveland Browns, a team that is very much not good. And it’s not as much about a guy throwing a ball as it is this community of people who are in this together. It’s the same thing at a music festival, all of us being in that shared experience. 

Brick: Have you ever been in a shared experience like that? Maybe it was at a party, maybe it was a family reunion, maybe it was at some point in your childhood, maybe it was a festival or at a show where you look around, you feel different, the resonance is almost lifted, not because simply you are having an amazing experience, but because it’s a shared group resonance and an elevation of the vibration of the people involved in whatever the group experience is.

Live For Live Music: Yeah, I’m that guy that’s turning around during the show and just looking around at all these beautiful people. It’s a wonderful moment.

Brick: That was the feeling at The Ramble all weekend [last year] and it got to the point where everyone started looking around and going, “Is it just me or are we part of something special right now?” I’ll be the first to tell you that I am the farthest from objective in this conversation … [but everyone at The Ramble], we were looking around all weekend going, “Pinch me. We caught lightning in a bottle.”

It’s about creating a community of human beings that can come together and say, “You know what? We want to take care of each other and we have these amazing common interests and ecstatic experiences and enjoying live music and enjoying both audio and visual experiences that are wonderful and ecstatic in and of themselves, but they’re even better when we share them as a community.” I talk a lot.

Live For Live Music: No, the passion rings through. Why did you start a music festival?

Brick: Well, the truth of the matter is I was hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2021 after walking away from a very inside-the-box traditional corporate job. I walked into Asheville on 4/20/2021 and I fell into the live music scene. When I walked into The One Stop [at Asheville Music Hall] that night, I met a lot of local musicians and made a lot of friends with people in the music industry very quickly. Next thing I knew I was going to band practices and going to barbecues at bands’ houses, and this is me off the trail. I have nothing but the clothes on my back and my backpack. For five weeks I stayed in Asheville. End of those five weeks, I went with some of my friends from trail and a friend I met in Nashville to Mountain Music Festival in West Virginia. …

I walked around and I looked at the logistics of the festival and the operations and I let the sparkly lights and pretty things and beautiful sounds fade to the back and allowed myself to see the bones of the festival happening around me, which was a really cool experience because it was in that moment that I realized that there was nothing going on at this festival that I couldn’t do.

I went home and I did a lot of thinking about it and I went to The Peach Festival about a month later, where I caught up with … my then future-partner and co-founder, Jason, and I said, “I’m thinking about doing this music festival, you want to do it with me?” He said, “Yeah, I’ve always wanted to do one. I’m in.”

I didn’t have music festival experience prior to this. I didn’t have music industry experience prior to this. Here’s the funny thing, it was probably June of last year leading up to the first Ramble Festival where I looked around and I went, “Holy s—t, I’m part of the music industry.” I seriously had no idea. I did not go into the festival thing having any clue whatsoever that I was actually becoming part of the music industry. I woke up one day and I looked around, I went, “Oh s—t, the only people that I’m hanging out with are musicians and venue owners and booking agents and managers and production teams.” I went, “I guess I’m part of this now.” Whether I realized it or not, whether I wanted it or not. Here I am.

Live For Live Music: One day, you’re just in the system.

Brick: Yeah, and you realize that there’s a very thin veil that separates the front of the stage and the back of the stage, and it’s really only an idea in the heads of people in front of the stage that there is a separation.

Live For Live Music: Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

Brick: Exactly. Everybody’s just a human trying to do what they do.

Live For Live Music: What’s it been like, being on that other side of the curtain? 

Brick: It’s bittersweet. It’s very bittersweet because part of this whole festival experience is, Jay and I made the call very early on… we knew the only way that we could get people to understand what the Ramble Festival was actually about is if we stood in front of it ourselves as human beings and said, “This is us. This is what we’re actually about and why we’re doing this.” We’re not afraid to say it’s not all about the music, it’s about the community and the music is just the ties that bind.

Because of that and because we wanted to be so focused on being as genuine as possible, we decided to put our faces in front. It’s been interesting and fun and it is almost impossible for me to go out to a show in D.C., Baltimore, or Asheville and actually see the show. I went to Billy & The Kids last night in Baltimore… and I got kicked out of three different areas because people turned around and got pissed because people kept coming up and talking to me and giving me hugs and taking selfies to the point where this one guy turned around and looked at me, “Who the f— are you?” I’m like, “Dude, I want to see the show like you do brother,” which is cool. [laughs] … It’s been bittersweet because I enjoy being able to go to a show and feel immersed in it and really be there.

Live For Live Music: As far as losing that anonymity and putting your face on the website, I don’t think you would have what you do now without giving up the anonymity. It’s not something you normally see. On your website, it’s not just the lineup—which is there—but there’s also a mission statement, like “Here’s what we’re about.”

Brick: That’s the whole idea behind it is, we are about building a community. … Our lineup may not be the primary focus of what we’re doing. From the outside looking in without knowing anything about what the Ramble Festival’s actually about and all you see is the lineup, it stands up. Especially for a first and now second-year festival. I feel very proud of the lineup we put together, with credit also going to our partner and talent buyer Phil Chorney of Charm City Bluegrass Festival. We work very hard and put a lot of purposeful, painstaking thought into every single lineup decision we make. It’s not, “Hey, can we get them for a good deal because they’ll sell tickets?” That is so far down the list beyond, “How do they fit the vibe? How is this going to create the kind of atmosphere that we want to create to build the community that we’re trying to build?” “How does it fit the vibe?” is the first question we ask in every single decision we make relative to this festival.

[The Ramble Festival team: (left to right) J, Phil, Brick]

Live For Live Music: Switching gears slightly to a little bit more analytical, what changes can people expect going from 2022 to 2023?

Brick: Well, I can tell you that we’ve got an overwhelming amount of feedback from the community that has been extraordinarily positive and flattering beyond anything that I would’ve expected after our first year. We took a few suggestions. We doubled the size of the car camping because the feedback from the people this year was, it was too small last year. We doubled the size, which means we have half as many car camping passes as last year.

We’re going to add a local coffee vendor this year. … Beyond that, one of the big changes is the main stage and the beer hall stage, which is our second stage, have no overlapping sets. They go right from one into the other. That’s where the bulk of our programming is, between those two stages.

We’re going to be announcing Joe Marcinek Band doing a late-night Super Jam curated on-site, so it’s going to start at like 1:30 in the morning. … The direction I’ve given to the production team is the production goes until the musicians are done playing.

Live For Live Music: Those late-night festival sets with no set end time, those are the holy grail. 

Brick: I’m setting it up so that that magic can happen. There was an experience last year where there were some musicians that wanted to keep playing on a stage late at night and we had to cut it due to some logistics. I looked at the team and I said, “This will never happen again at the Ramble Festival.” We brought our late-night stage production in-house, doing it with production equipment and a team that works directly for the festival who understands that as long as there’s a musician that wants to play on that stage, it will keep going even if the sun’s coming up.

That was important to me because that’s the ethos of the Ramble. We are leaning heavily into sit-ins. This year, we have an artist-at-large that we did not have last year, Kanika Moore from Doom Flamingo, the Queen of Jam Cruise 19, I might add. I was on Jam Cruise and she absolutely mesmerized me up one side and down the other such that before I got off the boat, I had already had conversations about her being the artist at large at the Ramble.

Isaac Hadden Organ Trio, Rebekah Todd, and Natalie Brooke, each of them are getting 60-minute sets between the support act and the headliner on the main stage each of the three nights of the festival. We’re taking young up-and-comers with lots of potential, great momentum behind them, and giving them an opportunity to shine in front of an audience in the Mid-Atlantic region where they would not normally get at the level that they’re at. It’s not on the main stage, it’s 200 yards away, but they get the hour between the support on the main stage and the headliner to showcase their talent as up-and-coming artists. That’s why we do the busking program that we do. We want to give opportunities to artists that are, in most cases, on the front side of their career, but that are looking for opportunities to connect with other artists. … I love to feed the music. When you see people with great young talent like that that have such potential, I can’t help but want to support that and do everything I can to help them take the next step.

Live For Live Music: Things like these, the sit-ins and the spotlights on emerging artists, go a long way in establishing festival “communities,” as you mentioned.

Brick: I will tell you this, the theme for this year’s Ramble Festival that I have instilled in the entire team is to surprise and delight. I want people surprised and delighted at being part of ecstatic experiences with other human beings in a space where they’re free to be who they are, and there’s some really cool ways that we’re going to do that this year. … Truth be told, it is my mission to surprise and delight every year now. … What we’re building is so much bigger than the festival. The festival is just a physical manifestation of a brand that is based on a community of humans.

The surprise and delight is going to happen in ways that I hope people find interesting. I know they will. If I’d find it cool at a festival, there’s a good chance other people would too. That’s the final gut check. If I went to a festival and it was done like this or this crazy thing happened, how would I feel? If I get a big grin from ear to ear and a warm fuzzy feeling in the center of my chest and go, “Hell yeah, that would be cool,” chances are we’re going to implement it at the festival at some point, because I’m probably not the only human that would feel that way.

The Ramble Festival takes place October 6th–8th, 2023 at Camp Ramblewood in Darlington, MD. Tickets are on sale here.


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