Over the years, Baltimore’s DIY scene has birthed a number of dynamic music festivals. Whartscape. Scapescape. Fields Festival. Ladyfest. Most have petered out—some losing their venues and others with founders who have moved on to bigger projects—while a small few still remain, like the punk-forward U+N Fest.
Now, after a three-year hiatus, the Ratscape music festival has announced its return to Station North with three days of underground music during Artscape weekend on July 20-22. Named for the city’s prolific rodent but also as a celebration of the scene’s underdog status, the event will feature more than 40 acts across multiple genres, playing for free or small covers outside at the Ynot Lot and inside at The Windup Space.
After the festival’s last event at the Ottobar in 2015, “we decided to take a break for a couple years because we wanted to move things into our own venue and do things by our own rules,” says Joshua Schleupner, who co-founded the festival with Mike Franklin at the now-defunct Hour Haus on North Avenue in 2012. Lack of sufficient space has long been a point of conversation and contention in the city’s various arts communities. In the wake of 2016’s Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland, CA, the DIY Bell Foundry was shut down on North Calvert Street, and while Mayor Pugh’s Safe Art Space Task Force released recommendations for the creation of new safe and affordable arts spaces in December, there is still no timetable for their implementation.
But while the Ratscape founders have yet to open their own venue—they’re currently looking at buildings in Station North, Remington, Mt. Vernon, and the Bromo Arts District—Schleupner, Franklin, and fellow artist Caroline Devereaux recently founded the Baltimore Music Preservation with the long-term goal of creating a new, inclusive music space to help nurture the city’s artists.
“The current political climate can really contribute to the breaking down and separating of arts scenes, even further than they already were—and never should have been in the first place,” says Schleupner. “We just want to bring people together and let them realize that they’re appreciated.”
This year, the organizers hope that the festival, located within walking distance of Artscape, will have a community block-party atmosphere. In the tradition of their past lineups, which have included such revered local artists as Arbouretum, Celebration, Eze Jackson, Wet Brain, and Wing Dam, the bill features a diverse mix of both up-and-coming and national news-making acts.
On Friday, be sure to catch experimental rappers JPEGMAFIA and 83 Cutlass, followed by late-night sets from synth-pop singer Pale Spring and Giddeon Gallows, the new solo project by producer Drew Scott of electronic duo Blacksage. On Saturday, check out hardcore punk band Joe Biden, pictured, rising rapper Butch Dawson, and the Champion Sound 4 showcase, featuring some of the city’s top beat makers and emcees. On Sunday, wrap things up with garage “un-pop” group HexGirlfriends, R&B singer Bobbi Rush, rapper Dyyo Faccina, and experimental duo Wume, followed by late-night sets from drummer-producer Josh Stokes and electro-pop singer Gurl Crush.
“There’s this constantly evolving idea of what music is,” says Schleupner. “These young artists will keep pushing us forward and innovating, paving the way for more.”