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Blues Fest gets rolling in Hagerstown

June 06, 1997

By TERRY TALBERT

Staff Writer

The sound of the blues pulsed over downtown Hagerstown Friday at lunchtime, giving spectators a taste of what they'll be getting this weekend at the Western Maryland Blues Fest.

People packed benches and spilled out on the sidewalk in front of The Maryland Theatre courtyard to hear The Push and the Steve Kemp Trio perform from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The blues groups' performance was sponsored by the Washington County Arts Council.

Hagerstown Downtown Coordinator Karen Giffin and others involved in organizing the fest were selling T-shirts and hats, and handing out programs for the weekend's events.

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Beverly David of Williamsport, who described herself as a baby boomer, came to the theater for lunch and music. She brought her son, who is in town from Phoenix.

David said she likes some forms of jazz, but isn't particularly crazy about the blues. She said she listens to jazz on Sunday mornings on the radio. "It's catching on fast," she said. "I think country western's going to have to move over."

Hagerstown resident Estell Kuhn, who is 79 "and proud of it," said she was on her daily walk when she ran into the crowd in front of the theater and stopped to talk with a friend.

"Jazz is not my type of music, but it's OK," she said.

Eddie Waltz of Smithsburg walked from his office on Cleveland Avenue to the theater on his lunch hour. He said he plans on coming to town for at least part of the day Saturday to soak up some blues. "I like the blues, mostly the second-generation type thing," he said.

Beverly Kipe had the day off work. "I really enjoy listening to the blues," she said. "But there's some music you just like better live." She'll be coming to the fest both Saturday and Sunday.

Downtown Coordinator Giffin said her office has been getting about 50 calls a day this week from people from around the country wanting information on the blues fest. "We've also had requests faxed and e-mailed," she said.

Crystal Bennett of the Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau in the Square said a lot of people have been picking up schedules and calling the a toll-free number set up for people who want to make motel reservations.

A lot of calls are coming in to the toll-free number from the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. metro area, she said.

Giffin said a trolley will be picking up guests at motels on the Dual Highway and bringing them in to town for the jazz fest on Saturday and Sunday.

Friday night, Rory Block gave a concert at the Hagerstown Junior College. Block, who learned her blues from the masters, entertained the crowd with deep country and Delta blues from the 1920s and 30s.

Today, the blues fest goes bigtime. A street festival will give music lovers the run of downtown, and the opportunity to hear performances by a number of national and international headliners.

The main event will be at 7:30 tonight at The Maryland Theatre, when Luther Allison hits the stage following an opening performance by Kelley Joe Phelps. Tickets are $15, $20 and $25.

Allison is a blues legend who has been described as the blues' answer to Jimi Hendrix. He swept every major blues award last year, including the Living Blues' Critic Choice Award as Blues Artist of the Year, and the W.C. Handy Award as Blues Entertainer of the Year.

His 1996 CD, "Blue Streak," has been at the tops of the blues charts since its release last year. Allison is an Alligator Records artist who lives in Paris.

Phelps, who plays country/Delta blues, is a star in his own right. The Portland, Ore., resident has captivated international audiences with his lap-slide guitar technique and baritone voice.

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