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Blues Fest opens

June 01, 2002

andrear@herald-mail.com

Hundreds of people parked themselves on the top level of the Hagerstown Municipal Parking Deck on Friday to enjoy the blues, brews and barbecues that kicked off the seventh annual Western Maryland Blues Fest.

"I think this is great. The whole weekend is outdoors-oriented and this fits right in," said Paula Keser of Hagerstown. "It's a picnic atmosphere."

Event organizers sold more than 500 tickets to the $7-per-person "Decked Out for the Blues" party atop the parking deck on North Potomac Street, and gave 300 tickets to Blues Fest sponsors, city Public Information Manager Karen Giffin said.

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"The response to it has been amazing," she said.

The deck party was to be held rain or shine. As if on cue, the rainfall forecast for Friday didn't start until the party ended at 8:30 p.m.

Blues Fest organizers this year changed the three-day festival's Friday format from the traditional free outdoor concert at lunchtime and evening headliner performance at The Maryland Theatre to the deck party because they "wanted to do something unique," Giffin said.

"I've played a lot of places but never on a parking deck," event headliner Duffy Kane said. "It's fun but I don't want to back up too far."

"Decked Out for the Blues," which featured performers Kane & Black Manhattan and Rudy and the Bluefish, was an opportunity to entertain the public and honor the more than 75 sponsors which contributed about $90,000 for the Blues Fest, Giffin said.

The event started at 4:30 p.m. with a sponsors' happy hour. The public was admitted starting at 6. As a security precaution, Hagerstown City Police officers checked all bags at the gate.

Many people said they preferred the casual deck party to the more formal concert at The Maryland Theatre.

"I think it's wonderful," said Martha Mills of Hagerstown. "It's like being on a tropical island resort."

Large plants lined the concrete of the deck, and fishbowl-like centerpieces graced the more than 100 tables with seating for 600. Food and drink vendors were set up under tents on the west side of the deck with musicians playing under an east-end canopy.

More than 40 event volunteers guarded the deck's outer wall and sold tickets and Blues Fest souvenirs.

Rob Tom of Arizona, who was in town to visit friends, danced with his infant son, Jude. Williamsport residents Christine Barnes, 11, and her sister, Renee, 7, munched on steaming sandwiches. John Walch of Hagerstown listened to Rudy and the Bluefish "attack the music."

"I like their style," Walch said. "They're probably the most accomplished band I've seen in a long time."

People of all ages ate pork barbecue and other treats provided by Kerch's Ribs and Chicken and Chesapeake Diversified Foods, drank beer and nonalcoholic beverages, chatted at tables and milled through the crowd.

"People socialize more in an open atmosphere like this," said Robin Nye of Hagerstown. "It's great."

Nye and others said they were looking forward to the rest of Blues Fest weekend.

"I can't wait," Nye said. "The entertainment couldn't be any better. We need more events like Blues Fest in our town."

Blues fans Wayne and Jenny Jeffcoat traveled from their Texas home for Blues Fest after hearing great things about the event from friends and on the Internet.

"We just had to come up," Wayne Jeffcoat said. "I'm really looking forward to Walter Trout. I've got every CD he's ever made."

Down the street from the parking deck on Public Square, Rocky's New York Pizza owner Vinnie DiCola was also looking forward to today's events, he said. DiCola stocked up on pizza ingredients and bottled water and cranked up the air conditioner in anticipation of offering a cool oasis in the midst of today's outdoor festival, he said.

"It's going to be fun and exciting," DiCola said. "I look forward to it all year."

Blues Fest events continue today starting at 11:30 a.m. in Hagerstown's Public Square and on Washington and Potomac streets. Tickets cost $15; $5 for ages 6 to 10. Children 5 and younger are admitted free.

Festivalgoers should limit baggage because police will inspect all bags at the main gate, Giffin said.

Sunday events are in City Park at the band shell starting at noon and at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts starting at 1:30 p.m.

More information is available on the Web at www.blues-fest.org.

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