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Organizers' elbow grease powers Blues Fest success

June 09, 1999

Four years ago a group of community leaders and musicians decided that a festival featuring a classic American art form - the blues - could draw thousands of people to Hagerstown, not only to showcase many performers, but also to show off the area at the same time. By any measure, the festival that closed this past Sunday has exceeded everyone's expectations.

An estimated 20,000 fans, up 6,000 from last year, saw performances that ranged from traditional acoustic guitar blues to horn-tooting, big-band-style blues. The festival's store of commemorative hats and T-shirts sold out completely and local motels reported a sharp uptick in their occupancy rates for the weekend.

The success of the festival is the result of two things - the dedication of its organizers, who will begin meeting in about a month to plan the June 2000 version of this event, and its design, which features workshops on the history of the music and how-to instructions on harmonica and other instruments for young children.

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Carl Disque, one of the event's founders, says he doesn't foresee any major changes in the next event, although the lineup of bands will change somewhat. We agree; why tinker with success by making any major changes?

However, we would like to suggest one possibility: Let's see if we can get some of the performances on Maryland Public Television after the fact. That would provide statewide publicity for the festival and provide MPT with an alternative to acts like "The Three Tenors" during its annual pledge week.

Even without that, however, the festival should continue to grow each year, evolving just as the music evolves, with new performers and new people joining to help organize the event.

As organizers tote up the receipts from this year's festival, citizens ought to reflect on the fact that with very little cost to the public, a group of volunteers ands city officials has managed to create an event - an event that's on its way to becoming a tradition - that draws thousands of people here to enjoy, to spend and then go home happy.

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