Big for the blues


The U.S. Congress has proclaimed 2003 the "Year of the Blues" to commemorate the musical form's birth a century ago in the backwater towns of the Mississippi Delta. The eighth annual Western Maryland Blues Fest will celebrate the centennial of the blues with a weekend-long event that promises to be "a continuation of the best things Blues Fest has brought to people in the past," festival founder Carl W. Disque said recently.

"We're not focusing on making it bigger, but making it better," he said. "I think this year we've got the best balance of local, regional and national blues talent. ... The blues have really conquered the world."

The festival's top-notch entertainers, the return of popular event master of ceremonies Larry Banks, a variety of food and interesting children's activities will bring an estimated 18,000 people to Hagerstown on Friday, May 30, through Sunday, June 1, said Karen Giffin, spokeswoman for the City of Hagerstown.


An estimated 130 people have volunteered man the Lotta Blues Festival at the central parking lot off Potomac Street between Franklin and Washington streets on Friday evening, Saturday's Street Festival downtown and Sunday's free Family Blues Picnic at City Park, Giffin said.

Mack Trucks is sponsoring the Friday evening event, which was so popular last year that festival organizers had to move it from atop the city's parking deck to the more spacious parking lot, which can accommodate about 1,500 people, she said.

Two local bands and a regional band will entertain visitors at the opening night festivities - the start of a weekend entertainment lineup that blues aficionado Disque considers one more step up from previous festival lineups. The crowd-pleasing Blind Boys of Alabama, John Mayall, Charlie Musselwhite, Deanna Bogart and The Nighthawks are among the 15 artists and groups slated to perform at the festival.

Blues artists worldwide have requested stage time at the Western Maryland Blues Fest, and the group that runs a touring Jimi Hendrix museum this year contacted Blues Fest organizers to get in on the action, Disque said. The "Experience Hendrix" museum, which is housed within an air-conditioned tractor-trailer, contains exhibits of clothes, guitars, video, news accounts and other information about the life of the the late, great rock guitarist.

"Jimi was very much influenced by the blues, and supposedly he borrowed the idea for some of his initial sound and flashy stage moves from blues guitarist Buddy Guy," Disque said.

Blues Fest visitors can tour the museum for free all weekend.

In addition to great blues music, festival-goers will enjoy a variety of edible offerings. Hamburgers, hot dogs, barbecue, grilled chicken, steamers, nachos, Chinese food, crab cakes, Philly cheesesteak subs, Italian sausage sandwiches, popcorn and the ever-popular butterfly potatoes are among the festival's menu items, Giffin said.

Vendors will also be on hand to satisfy sweet teeth with chocolate-covered bananas, fried candy cakes, ice cream, funnel cakes, fruit smoothies and Hawaiian shaved ice, she said. And beverages ranging from beer and sodas to lemonade and frozen coffee drinks will be sold to quench the thirsts of festival patrons.

For the first time, festival organizers are working with the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention & Visitors Bureau to sell advance tickets online. Those adult admission tickets to Saturday's street festival cost $20, plus a small processing fee, as opposed to $25 at the gate, Giffin said.

It cost $15 for adults to enter the street festival last year. The price hike was needed to cover event costs, and bring the festival's admission fees in line with similar events in other areas, Giffin said.

"We spent more than ever before to book great entertainment," she said. "We jam-packed Saturday full of nationally known acts."

This year's comprehensive festival budget is about $172,000, which includes funding for performers, facilities, souvenirs and children's activities. The festival fund-raising committee hopes to secure $192,500 from ticket sales, vendor fees, grants and corporate and individual donations, Giffin said.

"One of the reasons the Blues Fest has been such a successful event is the community pride and the support of the sponsors who put their own money into the event," she said.

CitiCorp Credit Services will once again sponsor the Kids Jam Too, children's activities slated for Saturday's street festival and Sunday's family blues picnic in City Park. Music workshops hosted by Slim Harrison and the Sunnyland Band are sure to be a highlight for young blues enthusiasts this year, Giffin said.

Kids also can enjoy magic shows, harmonica workshops, arts and crafts and other activities.

Blues Fest hats, T-shirts, posters, lapel pins and other merchandise will be sold throughout the event. For the first time, merchandise from past festivals will be sold at discounted prices in the "bargain barrel," Giffin said.

For more information on the Western Maryland Blues Fest, call 301-739-8577, ext. 116, or visit the festival's Web site at

Blues Fest showtimes

Friday, May 30

Lotta Blues Festival at central parking lot off North Potomac Street, Hagerstown:

4:30 to 5:45 p.m. - Bonedaddy

6 to 7:15 p.m. - KoKo Blue

7:30 to 8:45 p.m. - The Nighthawks

Saturday, May 31

Festival at Hagerstown's Public Square:

Washington Street Stage

11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. - Pete Lancaster

1:15 to 2 p.m. - Bad Influence

3 to 4 p.m. - Duke Robillard

5 to 6 p.m. - Charlie Musselwhite

Potomac Street Stage

12:15 to 1:15 p.m. - Mary Anne Redmond

2 to 3 p.m. - Maria Muldaur

4 to 5 p.m. - The Blind Boys of Alabama

6 to 7:30 p.m. - John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers

Sunday, June 1

Family Blues Picnic at Hagerstown's City Park:

Noon to 12:45 p.m. - Ray Bonneville

1 to 2 p.m. - The Blue Comets

2:15 to 3:15 p.m. - Alvin Youngblood Hart

3:30 to 5 p.m. - Deanna Bogart

The Herald-Mail Articles