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Blues are red hot in Hagerstown

June 06, 1998

[ See also the schedule of events ]

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

The 1998 Western Maryland Blues Fest blasted off Friday with rousing blues performances by Beulah Mae and the Belvederes, Chambersburg's own Dem Guise, and headlining act Hot Tuna's Jorma Kaukonen Trio in downtown Hagerstown.

The weekend festival kicked off with a lunchtime concert at Hager's Row attended by more than 200 people, many of whom had traveled to town specifically for the event.

The Jorma Kaukonen Trio played to hundreds more at the Maryland Theatre Friday night.

Flint Zeigler, 19, of Harrisburg, Pa., said he saw a billboard in Frederick, Md., touting the festival while making a delivery and decided to check it out.

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"It's really nice to see," he said.

Diane and Leonard Levin, 63 and 66, made the trip to Hagerstown from Baltimore to catch the Blues Fest.

They have driven through Hagerstown before but never found a reason to stop, until now.

"We'll come back here next year now that we know about it," she said.

Jim and Annie Bullman, of Middletown, Md., travel to blues festivals all over the country.

"It speaks to you," she said.

Jim Bullman said it's nice to have a blues festival close by.

For local blues musicians, coming to the festival is "a social event," said Steve Wright, 41, of the Blue Comets.

"I love this, it's really good," said fellow musician Jimmy Long, 42, of the band Mercy Mercy.

"You've got to support it. You've got to take advantage of it while you can," he said.

"Because I play the blues I'm ecstatic about (the festival)," said Dem Guise lead singer Mitch Morrill. Dem Guise featured several tunes by the late Stevie Ray Vaughn.

"This audience is so supportive," he said.

Larry Banks, better known as Larry B of 97.5 FM (the B is for Blues), is emceeing the festival once again.

"This right now is becoming bigger than any other blues fest going," he said.

Banks, Long and Wright said it's great to see how blues clubs have sprouted up in Hagerstown since the festival started.

"The blues in Hagerstown has really taken off," Banks said.

A nice thing about the festival is that it's a great way for families to get to experience the blues, he said.

Banks summed up the lure of the blues.

"The blues is all about life. The humorous side, the serious side. That's why people feel it. It's not just something you listen to. You feel it."

Beulah Mae said she's visited the festival a few times as a spectator.

"Now I'm happy to be a part of it," she said.

Mae said she tries to create "a feel and an emotion that comes through" with her soulful takes on classic tunes like Muddy Waters' "Don't Go No Further."

People of all ages enjoyed the event.

"It's a little loud, but I like it," said Peggy Stone, 80, of Hagerstown.

Dottie Henry, 77, was in town from upstate New York to attend the 60th reunion of Hagerstown High School's class of 1938.

"I like the blues," she said.

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