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This year's Blues Fest 'best ever'

June 06, 1999

Rory BlockBy KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI / Staff Writer

photos: JOE CROCETTA / staff phototgrapher




Record-breaking crowds jammed the city this weekend for the fourth Western Maryland Blues Fest, which culminated Sunday in a free daylong blues concert at Hagerstown's City Park.

"Things have gone incredibly well. We predicted it would be the best ever and it was," said Carl Disque, organizer and blues performer.

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An estimated 18,000 to 20,000 people attended the three-day music festival, up from 14,000 last year, he said.

Hagerstown City Police directed traffic and patrolled the festival all weekend and brought along the Mobile Command Center. Crowds were peaceful with only a few arrests for minor incidents, police said.

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The festival started on Thursday with the "Blues Prelude" at the Miller House. On Friday the official kickoff featured music in The Maryland Theatre Courtyard at noon and in the evening and a nearly sold-out performance by legendary blues artist John Mayall at The Maryland Theater in downtown Hagerstown.

Saturday's Street Fest attracted around 10,000 people, who heard songs from 10 different blues artists on stages at Public Square and Potomac Street stages.

Clarence SpadyOn Sunday, musicians played at the City Park band shell to a crowd of 1,500.

The event brought out scores of families with blankets and chairs to watch the show and picnic at the park.

The day's festivities included activities for children, workshops for serious music-lovers and a variety of performers at the park's manicured 50 acres. Interpreters were on hand to sign the words along with the music all weekend.

City Park's ponds and playgrounds provided their own appeal. People looking for a break from the music enjoyed a stroll under sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 80s.

An exhibit at the Mansion House Art Center on the Hill displayed the work of several local watercolor artists.

Along with good music came plenty of food as attendees dined on barbecue by Kerch's Ribs and Chicken and German delicacies from Schmankerl Stube restaurant. Ice cream, popcorn, snow cones and funnel cakes were also crowd favorites.

Stands selling musical instruments, magazines, compact discs and souvenirs were also busy.

For Gene Gibson, of State College, Pa., the Blues Fest was the chance of a lifetime.

"I've died and gone to heaven," said Gibson, who attended a music workshop and received personal instruction from featured performer Rory Block.

"I love blues - it's my type of music, and they've all been great," he said about the musicians.

"It's really impressive," said Gene Benjamin of Hagerstown. "John Mayall was a great concert and the acts today are great."

The lesser known artists more than held their own with the headliners, he said.

Sunday was the first time Hope Reid of Middletown attended Blues Fest.

"I've enjoyed the music a lot. The park is a beautiful setting for such great performers," she said.

"It's a good scene," said Troy Dunmire, of Greencastle, Pa.

A musician himself, Dunmire walked along the park's path playing his own guitar and harmonica.

Jackie Brewer, of Hagerstown, has been coming to Blues Fest since its inception.

Her friends and relatives from Ohio, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia visited the city just for the event, she said.

"We try to get here early so we can have a choice spot" in front of the band shell, she said.

On Sunday, she needed to lay five blankets to accommodate everyone who wanted to come to listen to the blues artists.

"We love to come each year," she said. "And it keeps getting better and better."

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