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Blues Fest fund-raiser

May 27, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

Five years ago, Hagerstown banker Julie Donat didn't know anything about blues music.

So when lawyer Carl Disque asked her to help raise $25,000 for the first Western Maryland Blues Fest in Hagerstown, it was especially challenging for her to sell sponsors on an idea she herself could scarcely envision.

"Nobody knew what it was going to look like," she said.

But Donat took a leap of faith. And she got major corporate sponsors to join her.

"I said, 'It's going to be great. Trust me.' I used every technique you could imagine short of running them over," she said.

Donat met that first fund-raising goal, thanks to her employer, Home Federal Savings Bank, and four other core sponsors: the City of Hagerstown, Antietam Cable, Budweiser and the Washington County Arts Council.

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Blues Fest has grown every year. And every year, Donat and a team of volunteer fund-raisers has been able to meet higher goals.

This year, Donat has recruited nearly 90 corporate sponsors who will contribute $80,000.

The event would not be the success it is today without the help of hundreds of volunteers, Disque said.

Of those volunteers, Donat is one of the most important because of her special talent for bringing in the money that makes it all happen, he said.

"She's a true asset. Julie makes something that for a lot of us looks like a Mount Everest look like a small hill," said Disque.

The total cost of this year's Blues Fest is $165,000. Besides sponsor donations, the event makes money from selling tickets, hats and T-shirts.

Admission to Saturday's street festival is $10 for adults this year, double the original price.

For their extra money, those attending will get a larger and more sophisticated show with twice as many acts.

The more laid-back Sunday concert in Hagerstown City Park remains free.

Disque is often credited with being the festival's brainchild, but he says he simply recognized the talents of Donat and others in the community and convinced them to pursue a dream.

Donat said she's just glad Blues Fest is getting regional and national recognition as a cultural event.

"To have something right in Hagerstown is exciting for us who are Hagerstown natives," said Donat, who graduated from Smithsburg High School in 1980.

Donat said the generosity of the community made her job fairly easy. Companies such as Citicorp stepped forward to organize children's activities.

In exchange for their sponsorship, companies get free advertising in Blues Fest literature. They also get tickets to the exclusive Blues Club tent Saturday, where they can listen in the shade while eating free food and beer.

Donat also gives credit to her former administrative assistant, Terry Smith, who does most of the legwork of mailing letters to potential sponsors and keeping track of donations.

"I just make the calls and beg," said Donat, who now works in the Frederick, Md., office of Home Federal's corporate parent, Farmer's and Mechanic's Bank.

Because of her involvement in Blues Fest, Donat has developed an interest in blues music, adding to her earlier interest in pop, rock and jazz.

"It's a cultural diversity I didn't have before," she said.

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