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The first Maryland Traditions Folklife Festival drew more than 3000 visitors to experience folk and traditional arts live and up close. The indoor-outdoor festival featured performances on multiple stages by singers, musicians, and dancers, as well as workshops for children, crafts demonstrations, and traditional foods. The event marks the 10-year anniversary of the founding of Maryland Traditions. Learning how to do screen painting. Photo: Michael G. Stewart 

April 04, 2011Press Release

“The traditional arts are a vital part of our culture, keeping us connected to our heritage and enhancing awareness of Maryland’s unique folk artists,” said Governor O’Malley. “The Maryland Traditions program nurtures living traditions, forges bonds to history and inspires young people to be a critical part of this chain of humanity.”

This year’s festival featured:
• Bill Kirchen & Too Much Fun (Charles County), Grammy-nominated honky-tonk (“dieselbilly”) guitarist, with special guest (and Grammy-winning guitarist) Marcy Marxer (Montgomery County);
• The Legendary Orioles (Prince George’s County) Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees and progenitors of Doo-wop;
• Virtuosic Irish button accordionist Billy McComiskey (Baltimore City) with an all-star cast of Maryland’s Irish traditional musicians, including Donna Long, Brendan Mulvihill, and Laura Byrne;
• Blues harmonica master Phil Wiggins (Montgomery County) showcases the soulfulness that has made him the foremost practitioner of acoustic blues, with special guests Eleanor Ellis and Warner Williams;
• Grammny-nominated griot and ngoni master Cheick Hamala Diabate (Prince George’s) demonstrates the West African roots of the banjo and more.

Other performing groups will include the Zionaires (Dorchester County) and their dynamic brand of African-American gospel, boogie-woogie pianist Daryl Davis (Montgomery County), Ahmad Borhani and the Persian National Music Ensemble (Baltimore County), jazz master Carl Grubbs (Baltimore City) as well as dozens of traditional crafts and foodways demonstrations, highlighting several of Maryland’s most distinct folk traditions: Baltimore painted screens, Maryland beaten biscuits, decoy carving, Lumbee (Native American) beadwork, coverlet weaving from Mountain Maryland, Chesapeake Bay boatbuilding, arabber wagon-making, and more. The Creative Alliance at The Patterson is located at 3134 Eastern Avenue in Baltimore. The event is free, and information about Creative Alliance is available at

Now in its tenth year, Maryland Traditions is a collaborative statewide folklife partnership program of the Maryland State Arts Council with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, designed to create a lasting infrastructure for the documentation, promotion and celebration of traditional culture in Maryland. Maryland Traditions and its partners conduct cultural documentation, produce public programs and publications, and create public resources through archives and grant programs. For information contact Cliff Murphy, 410-767-6450 or or Elaine Eff, 410-767-6570 or

The Maryland State Arts Council, an agency of the Maryland Department of Business & Economic Development, Division of Tourism, Film and the Arts, is dedicated to cultivating a vibrant cultural community where the arts thrive. The lastest economic impact report show that Maryland State Arts Council grantees’ activities support more than 12,000 jobs and generate $1.4 billion in local economic activity and $41.4 million in state and local taxes. For more information about the Maryland State Arts Council visit the MSAC web site at or call (410) 767-6555 or TTY 1-800-735-2258.

Brief Profiles of Headlining Artists

BILL KIRCHEN is known as the “Titan of the Telecaster, and lives up to his billing as "a one-man living history museum of the coolest rock guitar licks ever performed.” One of the foremost electric guitarists in traditional county music, Kirchen first achieved national fame in the 1960s as a member of Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen, whose version of the song “Hot Rod Lincoln” reached the Billboard top ten and cemented that group’s place as one of the forerunners of Americana music. A virtual encyclopedia of rock and roll knowledge, Kirchen’s live performances, inspired by American guitar heroes like Merle Travis, Danny Gatton, Duane Eddy, James Burton and Buck Owens, are high-energy romps through the last 50 years of American guitar history. Kirchen's band plays American roots music that Bill sometimes refers to as “dieselbilly.” He describes it as "country-flavored music… as well as western swing, rockabilly, bluegrass, country tear-jerker and truck-driving music." The band has won multiple Washington Area Music Awards (WAMMYs) in Washington, D.C.. Kirchen’s most recent CD – Word to the Wise – was profiled on National Public Radio and features appearances by Elvis Costello, Paul Carrack, Nick Lowe, and Dan Hicks.

MARCY MARXER is a multi-instrumentalist, studio musician, performer, songwriter and producer with 30 years of experience and a shelf of impressive awards. She has won two Grammy Awards for Best Folk Album as a member of the acclaimed duo Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer. She has played acoustic music on Emmy Award winning National Geographic specials, and on over 50 recordings and instructional materials created with her partner, Cathy Fink. Marcy's guitar playing spans a variety of styles- swing rhythm and lead, bluegrass, old time, celtic fingerpicking, folk fingerpicking and some of the most tasteful backup you can hear. The C.F. Martin Co. has honored Marcy with her very own signature model guitar, the MC3H which she helped design. She has created several online social networks for musicians, including “Girls With Guitars,” a networking site for female guitar players.

THE LEGENDARY ORIOLES represent a vibrant form of African-American quartet singing whose roots stretch back into the 19th Century. The Orioles were founded by Earlington “Sonny Til” Tilghman on a Pennsylvania Avenue street corner in Baltimore in the late 1940s and predate Baltimore’s baseball team by six years. Blending African-American gospel quartet styles with the light jazz inflections of groups like the Ink Spots, the Orioles achieved national success in 1948 with the hit song “It’s Too Soon To Know,” which many historians call the first doo-wop record. The Orioles were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.

When Sonny Til passed away in 1981, leadership of the group turned to Diz Russell, who grew up singing on street corners in Cleveland, Ohio. Following a successful debut at the Apollo Theater in Harlem in 1952, Diz made a series of recordings for Atlantic Records as a member of the Regals and joined the Orioles later that year. The Orioles now reside in Prince George’s County and include: Diz Russell, Ray Apollo, Clark Walker, and David Warren.

PHIL WIGGINS is arguably America’s foremost blues harmonica virtuoso. While rooted in the melodic Piedmont or “Tidewater” blues of the Chesapeake region, his mastery of the instrument now transcends stylistic boundaries. Born in Washington D.C. in 1954, Phil Wiggins achieved worldwide acclaim over three decades as one half of the premier Piedmont blues duo of Cephas & Wiggins. Since the death of guitarist and singer John Cephas in 2009, Phil has brought his harmonica wizardry to bear in a variety of musical collaborations – on June 18 he will appear with Maryland’s leading lights in Piedmont blues: guitarist, singer and Smtihsonian Folkways recording artist Warner Williams and guitarist/singer Eleanor Ellis. Wiggins, Williams, and Ellis reside in Takoma Park, Maryland.

BILLY MCCOMISKEY, a true virtuoso on the button accordion, began playing Irish music when he was eight years old in his hometown of Brooklyn, New York. He learned from the late Sean McGlynn from East Galway and Paddy O’Brien of County Tipperary. In the 1970s, McComiskey moved to Baltimore and has been a central figure in the Baltimore-Washington Irish music community ever since. His reputation extends far beyond this area however, as Billy has played and recorded with many of the greatest Irish musicians of our time, including Liz Carroll, Seamus Egan, and Mick Moloney. Billy McComiskey has assembled a supergroup of the region’s foremost Irish traditional artists for the Maryland Traditions event, including pianist Donna Long, fiddler Brendan Mulvihill, singer/guitarist Brian Gaffney, and flautist Laura Byrne. McComiskey, Long, and Byrne reside in Baltimore, Mulvihill lives in Silver Spring, and Gaffney lives in Washington, D.C.

CHEICK HAMALA DIABATE is part of a centuries-old lineage of West African griots – community musicians, historians, storytellers, and intermediaries. Cheick first came to Maryland as a touring musician from a small village in the West African country of Mali. The folklore of the griot and his musical tools– the ngoni (a four-stringed lute), the kora (a harp-like gourd), and the bala (a xylophone-like instrument) – were in demand in Maryland’s West African community, prompting Cheick to settle in Adelphi (Prince George’s County). A growing interest in the historical and cultural connections between the banjo, the ngoni , and the kora have brought a number of banjo players to Cheick’s doorstep seeking lessons, including Bela Fleck, Tony Trischka, and Taj Mahal. He received a GRAMMY nomination in 2008 for his work with banjo player Bob Carlisle.