Common Ground hosts speakers and musicians

Westminster residents traveling past McDaniel College for the next two weeks may hear the muffled sounds of banjos, African drums, dulcimers and jug bands during Common Ground on the Hill's Traditions Weeks.

The two weeks of classes, performances and speeches from nationally renowned artists begin Sunday, June 29, at McDaniel College.

Each day of the traditions series features classes taught by musicians, fine artists and performers from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., followed by evening art exhibits, lectures, concerts and dances. At the end of the two weeks, they will hold the Common Ground on the Hill Roots Music and Arts Festival, featuring Hot Tuna, Guy Davis and more.

Though most of the classes have been filled, the majority of evening events are open to the public.

Filmmaker Leo Eaton will be hosting a keynote speech at 8 p.m. Monday, discussing the role of pilgrimages in personal growth. Eaton recently completed the documentary series "Sacred Journeys" which follows people on their paths of religious pilgrimages. He will be offering a sneak peek at the program which debuts in December on PBS.

"The big question that I will try to tackle is what exactly does a pilgrimage mean, and not necessarily in a religious sense," Eaton said. "It's about moving outside of our comfort zone, in an internal or external journey, to experience something new. The minute you're outside of your comfort zone, you're seeing the world in a different way, and that is very much the point of Common Ground."

Eaton began his career in the British film industry working on productions including the Roger Moore series "The Saint." He currently runs a production studio in New Windsor where he has worked on series for A&E, Discovery and primarily PBS.

The second week keynote will be given at 8 p.m. July 7 by Jeff Singer, a community organizer, former head of Health Care for the Homeless and professor at the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

Singer will discuss the criminalization of homelessness throughout the country. Walt Michael, executive director of Common Ground on the Hill, said Singer has spent years advocating for and working with Baltimore homeless and provides a unique viewpoint to the topic.

Each of the nightly concerts features a coming-together of Common Ground staff to perform in different genres of music. Michael said he anticipates two of the most popular concerts to be the bluegrass staff concert Wednesday and blues night July 10.

Wednesday's bluegrass concert will feature a performance from banjo-musician Tony Trischka, who has performed on "The Merv Griffin Show," "The Late Show with David Letterman" and "The Ellen DeGeneres Show."

Trischka said bringing musicians together is a way to keep the traditions of niche music alive.

"There's a lot of cultural heritage with this music," Trischka said. "We live in a world of technology with iPhones and computers and McDonald's, and all of that commercialization. This is a way to get back to a time that predated all of that. It's about going back to a simpler time and a lot of the good messages it stands for."

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