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DJ K-Swift's Final Set, the New Dru Hill, and Other Artscape Highlights: Artscape, July 18 and 19


| Image by Puja Patel

We'd already started writing up our memories of this year's Artscape when we received some shocking news this morning about a performer who was responsible for one of our favorite moments from the festival. Khia Edgerton, aka DJ K-Swift, passed away at Good Samaritan Hospital from injuries sustained in a swimming-pool accident on Sunday at 29 years old, only a day after we watched her set at the DJ Culture Stage at Artscape (pictured above) on Saturday night. K-Swift, who also performed earlier in the day on the main stage and headlined an all-star bill at Paradox on Friday, went out at the absolute top of her game, as the most popular radio personality in Baltimore and arguably the biggest Baltimore club DJ in the world. And we're grateful we got to catch the frenetic dance party that was her set on Saturday, even if we had no idea that it would be the last time we'd ever see her.

Before we let that tragedy overshadow the rest of the weekend, though, let's remember all the good things that happened at the festival this year. What had been a relatively mild summer finally gave way last week, just in time to spend hours and hours out in the unbearable humidity for Artscape. But it was still worth braving the elements for one of the best lineups in recent memory, and an expanded area stretching farther up Charles Street that made way for some great new art installations. And local music figured heavily this year, between Artscape finally giving Baltimore club music ample representation, including the aforementioned K-Swift, and Saturday's original headliner, Ne-Yo, who canceled earlier this month, being replaced by hometown R&B stars Mario and the recently reunited Dru Hill.

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We left the office on Friday afternoon and got up to the festival grounds just in time to catch a set by local indie-rock institution the Oranges Band. Things have been quiet on the Oranges front for the past couple years, but they've recently been gearing up to release their third full-length and adding Guided by Voices alum Doug Gillard to the lineup. A sunny outdoor summer show is a great atmosphere for the band's chugging tunes, and the new stuff sounded promising mixed in with oldies such as "Success" and "Ride the Nuclear Wave."

With the sun still beating down, we ducked into the festival's one indoor concert stage, the University of Baltimore Student Center Theater, to get a taste of the avant-garde bill that the High Zero folks had put together. Cellist Nancy Kulkarni was playing

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dhrupad

, a form of Indian classical music, transposed to a Western instrument, with a prerecorded backdrop of sitar. And after a slight delay, Chiara Giovando and Jenny Graf Sheppard took the stage with their project, Harrius, a pleasantly shapeless set of noise that went surprisingly well with a relaxing break in the air-conditioned theater.

Back out in the heat, we headed to the DJ Culture Stage to wait for Blaqstarr to start the first of several Baltimore club sets. As a producer, Blaqstarr has enough dance-floor mixes these days that he could throw on a different track of his own every 60 seconds and never run out of hits for an entire DJ set, and that's pretty much what he did on Friday. Then, we hurried over to catch most of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts' headlining set. You've gotta give Jett her props: She may still be on the festival circuit playing a set full of hits that are a couple decades old, but she's also still playing new songs, and is in amazingly great shape, performing in a bikini top at nearly 50 years old. And she covered Lungfish once, so she's got Baltimore cred for life. "Crimson and Clover" sounded fucking amazing on Friday.

On Saturday, we were back at the DJ Culture tent to watch K-Swift turn the crowd into a vibrating mass of moving bodies. But as soon as she handed off her decks to the next DJ, we were off to other stages. Over on the main stage, Mario was singing his hits to an appreciative crowd, and it was heartening to see the young star doing what he does best. Over the past couple years, the Baltimore native has struggled to follow up the success of his 2004 chart-topper, "Let Me Love You," and with his recent stint on

Dancing With the Stars

, he's depressingly hit the reality-show has-been circuit at the tender age of 21. On Saturday, though, his heartthrob status was alive and well: When he sang the 2002 single "Braid My Hair," he invited a female fan up onstage to play his hair braider, but instead a young lady in a red dress opted to give the singer a straight-up lap dance.

After running back up to the rock band stage to catch the end of ex-Soul Coughing frontman Mike Doughty's ho-hum solo set, we returned to the main stage for the headline event, the first Baltimore concert by the new lineup of Dru Hill. It's been a rocky, surreal experience the last few months to watch the local R&B heroes mount their current comeback. First, there was the fiasco that was the initial

, which hit a snag when Woody Rock mentioned that he wouldn't be participating, to the surprise of his bandmates. Then, the group held a

for Woody's replacement a few weeks later, and chose a talented young singer named Tao (pronounced like tay-oh, not like the metaphysical concept of Chinese philosophy), who

. And after a few out of town dates opening for Jaheim in May, the new Dru Hill lineup was making its Baltimore live debut.

Billed on the festival program as "Dru Hill with SISQO," the set began with the group's most famous member taking the stage on his own and running through solo hits like "Incomplete" and the deathless novelty smash "The Thong Song." Soon, the whole group's big, blaring harmonies took over as Nokio, Jazz, and Tao joined Sisqó onstage. At one point, the group took a moment to mention that they were "taking the high road" in reference to Scola, who was briefly the group's fifth member a few years ago but hasn't been a part of the current reunion, although it was unclear what acrimony they were hinting at. The group played as late as Artscape would let them, scraping past the 10 p.m. cutoff to sneak in a new song for fans, running through most of their hits and still neglecting a few (including personal favorite "How Deep Is Your Love"). There's no telling whether the new Dru Hill will ever attack the radio airwaves the way it did in the '90s, but it was clear from Saturday's set that the new Tao-powered lineup can kill it vocally, and there's still a fervent demand for the band's live show, at least here in Baltmore.

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