Brad Selko has been deciding Hot August Music Festival's lineup for the past 22 years.
“It’s not easy,” says the 64-year-old Baltimore native, who founded the festival. “I study everything and listen to everything, talk to family and friends both young and old.”
This year’s festival—August 16 at Oregon Ridge Park in Cockeysville—features bluegrass-folk band Old Crow Medicine Show, Americana band Nickel Creek, and indie rockers Dr. Dog. There will also be local acts like electronica quartet ELM, soul band Bosley, rock trio Jordan August Band and blues rockers The Solicitors.
The one-day event focuses primarily on bluegrass and country music, genres that Selko holds near and dear. That being said, he doesn’t shy away from bringing in different genres to diversify the musical offerings, inviting bands such as Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Gov’t Mule, and Trombone Shorty to play in past years.
“People like [Nickel Creek and Dr. Dog] down here,” says Selko. “I think they’re great rock and roll bands. I don’t choose straight down the line of bluegrass and country—I like to go left and right a bit.”
That kind of go-with-the-flow attitude has defined Hot August Music Festival since the days it was held in Selko’s barn. But the festival still remains largely intimate and revolves around what Selko prefers as a music fan, first and foremost.
“One thing that I don’t like about festivals are the short sets,” says Selko. “At festivals with hour-long sets and shorter, sometimes the bands take 15-minutes just to warm up. I make sure that Old Crow is the last band and that they have a full two-hour set.”
His fan-first philosophy also spills over into the other areas of the festival, as well.
“I hate lines,” he says. “That’s why I’ve hired extra beer staff, got more bathrooms, and brought in more food vendors. You’ve gotta keep people happy.”
This year, concession options include organic falafel wraps, pit beef, and beer offerings like Natty Boh and Magic Hat.
And, although the festival has grown in size and brings in bigger, more nationally recognized acts, one thing that hasn’t changed is Selko’s pre-show ritual.
“Every year, my sister or my wife picks me up a box of Berger Cookies,” he says. “It’s the only thing I can eat during the festival. I even turned [blues musician] Susan Tedeschi and [Gov’t Mule drummer] Matt Abts onto them. And, the funny thing is, I never want to eat them any other time of the year.”