Q & A: Common Ground on the Hill founder Walt Michael talks about this year's event

Q & A: Common Ground on the Hill founder Walt Michael talks about this year's event
Walt Michael (Richard Anderson / Photo©Richard Anderson)

For more than two decades, Common Ground on the Hill has produced Traditions Weeks at McDaniel College, an annual gathering of artists, musicians, actors, lecturers and dancers of every age and culture who share with one another during classes, workshops, concerts and demonstrations. This year, the effort has expanded from two weeks to three.

The Roots Music and Arts Festival closes the three weeks of classes, featuring music from Grammy nominated and winning musicians. This summer, Americana music trio, the Kruger Brothers, will headline Saturday, July 14 concert at 5 p.m. and more than 50 other artists will perform on four stages. Visit for more information.


The Times recently caught up with Common Ground’s founder, Walt Michael, to talk about this year’s event and what he’s most looking forward to.

Q: Some people reading this may not be familiar with Common Ground, what exactly is it and how did it start?

A: I founded Common Ground on the Hill 24 years ago with the help of a lot of great people here in Carroll County, including my former college professors on the McDaniel campus, former classmates and friends, as well as musicians and artists whom I had encountered during my 25-year career as a touring folk musician. Common Ground on the Hill is a community arts organization that produces two concert series, two festivals at the Carroll County Farm Museum, a town event and perhaps most importantly, Traditions Weeks, three distinct weeks of classes in roots-based music, art, film, dance, lecture and writing/literature. It is for people of all ages from all walks of life. Even though we are housed on a college campus, the events are open to the public. We are a community organization. Everyone is welcome. The concept is to bring people together through the arts and seek common ground in an increasingly divided and divisive world.

Q: What is new this year?

A: Lots! The lecture portion of our curriculum is deep. Our Monday evening ,weekly keynotes are very exciting including a one-hour play by the Mad River Theater about the Freedom Riders in the deep south. The award-winning HBO documentary Baltimore Rising brings us Shadow Barr, a profound community organizer and change-maker. Rachel Brown, a brilliant young communication expert recently returned from four years in Africa, presents her lecture “Resisting Division, Creating Active Peace.

Our music classes are, as usual, packed with talent. We are very excited about the young musicians joining us: Mile Twelve — a powerful young bluegrass band composed of members from the Berklee School of music and Connla, playing fresh new traditional music from Northern Ireland. Perhaps Scotland’s greatest fiddler, Pete Clark will be with us. It’s a long list!

Art classes abound with wonderful topics including photography and documentary film making. Our Arts Coordinator, Linda Van Hart, puts together a dazzling curriculum. Come help us build Thoreau’s Cabin, make some pottery!

Q: What classes are you most excited about?

A: It’s really difficult to make that choice. There is so much for everyone to choose from. Personally, I hope to spend some time in Pete Clark’s Scottish fiddle class and the jam class, School of Rock.

Q: What draws you to this festival and what do you hope people get out of it?

A: The festival itself, taking place at the Farm Museum on July 14, is a culmination of three weeks of inspiring programming. The Kruger Brothers, from Switzerland, will receive the Robert H. Chambers Award this year. Professor Louie will rock with the Woodstock Horns. There are four stages of music.

Q: What kinds of things would you like to bring to Common Ground in the future?

A: We are concentrating on bringing more young talent to our programming. We feel it is very important to keep traditions alive while encouraging change. What I’d really like to bring to Common Ground in the future is many more participants! If you have heard about Common Ground but haven’t checked it out, please come see and hear what you’ve been missing. We run from June 24 through July 14. Come to an evening concert and check it out!