Organizers expect bigger, better fest

May 24, 1997


Staff Writer

Although still in its infancy, the upcoming Western Maryland Blues Fest is already on the cutting edge of blues festivals around the country, music industry sources say.

"It's the kind of lineup we like to see. Your headliners are right there," said Bob Vogel, publisher of Blues Review Magazine in West Union, W.Va.

Rory Block, who takes the stage at Hagerstown Junior College's Kepler Theatre on Friday, June 6, will appear two days later at the famed Chicago Blues Fest.


Block and co-headliner Luther Allison were both big winners this month at the W.C. Handy Blues Awards in Memphis, Tenn., which is like the Grammy Awards for blues music.

June 6-8 will mark the second year of the three-day festival in Hagerstown. Organizers expect attendance to double to 16,000 if the weather is good.

That would make it bigger than last year's 14,000 turnout at the eighth annual Rocky Gap Music Festival, which features country music near Cumberland, Md. At its peak, that festival drew 30,000 fans.

Carl Disque, creator of the blues festival, has high hopes for the future.

"I think we have a following and created one fairly quickly," Disque said. "Maybe Hagerstown was ready for a community-type celebration."

One reason for optimism is $45,000 in business sponsorship that allowed festival organizers to more than double their advertising budget to $12,000.

"I think that this is the year we're going to see a significant out-of-town presence," he said.

Organizers have advertised in two major blues magazines. Interest from that and its web site at has generated interest from as far away as Germany.

The festival is well timed with a resurgence in blues music, said John Moore of Sedalia, Mo., who runs a clearinghouse for blues festivals on the World Wide Web.

The blues comeback over the last six to eight years has infiltrated everything from popular music to television commercials, Moore said.

The most common misconception about the blues is it is slow, depressing, cry-in-your-beer music, Vogel said.

"It's the antithesis of its own name," he said. "It's the most culturally comfortable music. It just feels good."

Even though blues clubs all over the country have been closing, festivals have stepped in to fill the void for performers, Vogel said.

There are hundreds of festivals listed on Moore's web site at

The festivals come in all sizes, from small gatherings of 500 people to large blow-out parties for hundreds of thousands of people.

If organizers get as many people as they are expecting, Western Maryland Blues Fest would place itself among the larger blues festivals in the country, Moore said.

There is no master plan on how to grow the festival, but if it gets too big organizers say it may have to be moved from downtown, Disque said.

Right now, organizers say they are happy to show off some of the city's best features, City Park and historic downtown.

The beauty of the festival is that it involves a wide range of community organizations, Disque said.

The Hagerstown Suns minor league baseball team is tying into the festival with a pre-game blues concert Friday, June 6, at Municipal Stadium.

The nonprofit Community Action Council will raise money by selling soft drinks and food on Saturday, June 7 and Sunday, June 8.

Even the Municipal Band will play the blues at its Sunday, June 8, concert at City Park. The performance, which will also include songs with the word "blue" in the title, starts at 5:45 p.m.

Some blues festival events, like the Block and Allison concerts, require admission fees of between $5 and $25. But many concerts and children's workshops are free, including all day Sunday at City Park.

Anticipating a bigger crowd this year, there will be more seating and food vendors downtown on Saturday, June 7, said Downtown Assessment District Coordinator Karen Giffin, who is handling logistics.

Interstate signs will tell travelers to tune their radios to 530 AM for directions on festival parking.

"The only thing we can't control is the weather," she said.

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