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Growth of Blues Fest music to city's ears

March 08, 1997

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

The success of last year's inaugural Western Maryland Blues Fest has event organizers singing the blues.

Not that they're sad.

The biggest concern organizers have for the June 6-8 blues bash is not whether the event will be a hit, but whether they will be prepared to handle its success.

At least 16,000 people are expected to attend the festival this year - twice as many as last year, according to Downtown Coordinator Karen Giffin.

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Music lovers might get a better sense of how successful the Blues Fest has become when they get an earful of the headline act - Luther Allison.

"He is huge. He is an international star. He has been called the blues answer to Jimi Hendrix,'' said Carl Disque, the Blue Fest's executive chairman. "He is the hottest blues entertainer right now," Disque said.

Offers from other blues groups who want to perform at the festival are flooding in, officials said.

Organizers have raised $24,670 so far for this year's event, compared to about $2,000 that had been raised for the Blues Fest this time last year, Giffin said.

Last year the funding came in much later because many businesses weren't confident about sponsoring a first-time event, she said.

This year organizers already have about half of the needed $50,000 to $60,000 pledged, Giffin said.

Last year's festival was so successful organizers had pledges for $4,800 within a month of the festival's conclusion, Giffin said.

Pledges so far include $5,000 each from Wantz Distributors Inc. and the Maryland State Arts Council; $3,000 from the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau; $1,900 from the Washington County Arts Council; $1,500 from Allegheny Power; and $1,000 each from Antietam Health Services, Independent Cement Corp. and the Downtown Assessment District, Giffin said.

Home Federal Savings Bank will contribute about $5,000 in cash and in-kind services, including a VIP tent for sponsors, Giffin said.

The city will contribute about $9,000 in services, including police protection, portable toilets and public workers to set up and clean up.

Organizers are just beginning their major fund-raising drive, which includes a fund-raiser at the Ramada Inn and Convention Center on March 27.

To prepare for the thousands of blues fans expected, organizers are praying for good weather. They are adding signs showing people where to park, Disque said.

The event will be held at Hagerstown Junior College's Kepler Theatre, the Maryland Theatre, Public Square and City Park.

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