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Thousands drop in on Blues Fest

June 06, 1998

By LAURA ERNDE

Staff Writer

Picture-perfect weather - temperatures in the 70s with a breeze - helped make Saturday's Western Maryland Blues Fest street party a success, organizers said.

A crowd estimated at more than 8,000 jammed Public Square from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

"I knew this was going to be the best ever and I wasn't disappointed," said Carl Disque, blues fest committee chairman and founder.

The festival continues today with a free "Blues Picnic" in Hagerstown City Park.

The main stage on South Potomac Street featured such well-known blues acts as Deborah Coleman and Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers.

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A second stage on West Washington Street had such regional blues musicians as Duffy Kane, The Blue Comets and Johnny & the Headhunters.

The music stopped just long enough for master of ceremonies Larry "B" Banks of WKMZ radio in Martinsburg, W.Va., to get from one stage to the other to introduce the next band.

"There's some serious musical talent here," said organizer Ed Lough.

As guitarist Kane wailed, spectators Steve Stinnette and Barbara Nail-Chiwetalu, both of Washington, D.C., played along on miniature harmonica necklaces.

"This is the third stage. This is the stage no one talks about," Nail-Chiwetalu said, laughing.

Stinnette and Nail-Chiwetalu met at a blues jam three years ago.

"We've been to a lot of blues festivals. This one everybody's so polite and so nice," she said. "They make you feel right at home."

As early as 7 a.m., people were asking to reserve one of the many round tables set up in the square, said organizer Karen Giffin.

It was an all-ages show. There were men with long, gray beards and babies sleeping in strollers.

Smells of barbecue and bratwurst filled the streets.

Teenage boys wearing wide-legged pants played hackeysack.

Just like at the beach, a small plane circled overhead pulling banner advertisements.

People-watchers had a heyday, gawking at festival-goers like Harry Appleby and his "tigger" beard.

Appleby, 42, of Damascus, Md., said he enjoys the attention he gets from shaving his brown beard into zebra stripes.

"I always talked to strangers and now strangers talk to me," he said.

As the day went on, the stacks of empty plastic beer cups on the tables grew taller.

Although the beer was flowing fast, Hagerstown City Police said the crowd overall was orderly.

Police removed some people from the VIP tent for passing free beer to their friends outside the restricted area.

Some people complained that the lines for the six portable toilets got too long around 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., when the lines were more than a dozen people deep.

But most of the crowd seemed to be having a good time enjoying the music.

Rick Young, 52, of Hagerstown, wearing a T-shirt from last year's Western Maryland Blues Fest, went solo to the street festival so he could mingle.

"It pumps a little lifeblood back into this community and that's what we need," Young said.

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