The Sugar Maple Traditional music festival, which marks its 15th anniversary this year, has a lineup and a structure that consistently aims to add a bit of context to how local audiences conceive of American folk music. The artists themselves tend to have a genuine interest in pursuing and re-interpreting the elusive strands that informed the folk music we hear today, highlighting little-known material and reminding us that folk music can't and shouldn't be neatly codified. Carolina Chocolate Drops member Hubby Jenkins (Saturday, 5:30 p.m.) uses banjo, guitar, and a supple but gravelly voice to make songs from across the history of blues, ragtime, and "old-time" music feel fiercely present—not really through attempting to update these traditions, but by inhabiting them with neither inhibition nor pretense. Nashville quartet Hawktail (Friday, 7:30 p.m.) channels bluegrass traditions into instrumentals that often make space for complexity and contemplation, favoring lyrical bowed bass parts as much as it does rapid-fire fiddle and mandolin.
In addition to a dozen-odd musical performances, over the course of two days, the festival offers audiences the chance to engage more deeply with traditional music via talks and workshops. This time around, the offerings include fiddle workshops, in-person interviews with Jenkins and Pieta Brown (who also plays Saturday at 7 p.m.), and even a session of "musical yoga." —Scott Gordon