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Blues Fest call tough, but correct

June 15, 2003|By Carl W. Disque

As original event "architect," its current event chair, and as one of the significant decision-makers with respect to this year's cancellation of the second-half of the Western Maryland Blues Fest's Saturday Street Fest, my yearly tradition of preparing this letter praising those who substantially contributed to our event's success hung oppressively like a dark cloud on my personal horizon.

Given our decision to cancel a portion of our Saturday show, and the associated disappointment (and even anger) expressed by some of our patrons, could we even say that Blues Fest 2003 was a "success"? Had we made the correct decision?

When, despite the dire warnings of the National Weather Service, the weather initially cleared and the sun briefly shone shortly after our cancellation annoucement, our feelings of self-doubt became a deafening roar of internal self-recrimination. Emotionally exhausted, I never felt more foolish or alone.

Yet, it wasn't long thereafter that a higher power helped me sort out Saturday's events and gain proper perspective. A giant tree standing less than 12 feet from the rear of my residence endured a direct lightning strike - "frying" one of our TVs, our neighbor's home computer, and leaving them without power for about 18 hours.

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As I swept up leaves and bark thrown more than 50 feet away from the ugly scar burned into our tree's trunk, a moment of clarity swept over me. We were right to have feared that electrical storm, which had already produced about four nearby lightning strikes visible from our festival stages. Without any exaggeration whatsoever, my backyard tree could have been a Blues Fest volunteer, entertainer or patron.

Instead of the minor inconveniences my neighbors and I endured, Hagerstown could have been cleaning up after a human tragedy.

Many invested much of their personalities into the event after toiling hundreds of hours making advance preparations. Absolutely the last people wanting to cancel any part of Blues Fest are members of its organizing committee. Yet they, participating as equals with city leaders and staff, unanimously joined in that very decision.

Blues Fest 2003 was also a success story, if measured only in these terms: For the eighth consecutive year, event volunteers, municipal leaders, and business sponsors of a small town teamed together, and presented two days of a planned three-day, 100 percent outdoor family event, in the midst of the wettest May since at least 1898, and during one of the wettest years in anyone's memory.

Thanks to all who made our ambitiously expanded Friday Night "Lotta Blues" Kickoff an absolute smash hit! We'd like to especially praise first-time fest sponsor and Friday VIP area host, Mack Trucks. From the substantial level of Mack's monetary sponsorship, to its huge bulldog inflatable and lavishly stocked Friday VIP buffet, right down to the plush-toy bulldog giveaways, the size of Mack Trucks' festival sponsorship mirrored its significance to this community.

Friday night, in particular, was emblematic of what Blues Fest has always been - a chance to reinforce our sense of pride in community against a backdrop of fun, music, good times and great May weather.

While many contributed to the success of Blues Fest 2003, we'd like to also especially recognize the extra efforts of Pepsi in both marketing the festival and servicing our substantial needs for plenty of ice, water and soft-drinks.

On the committee level, David Fitzwater's leadership as programming chair led us to the brink of presenting our most exciting Saturday lineup ever, and marketing co-chair Cynthia Garland helped us realize the vision of a fun 60's "retro" look to our billboards, T-shirts and event advertisements.

Thanks also to Elizabeth Lay for continuing the Arts Council's partnership with the Board of Education in sponsoring a blues entertainer to educate our school-age youth, and for Citicorp for sponsoring our festival's Kids Jam Too children's area. Lastly, we want to recognize the special efforts of Erik Deike and Karen Giffin, just two of the many fine city employees dedicated to making our event go smoothly.

A hallmark of the Blues Fest's leadership has been post-event self-critique. Our improvement and success is largely attributable to this routine. Even in years without adverse incident, our committee actively examines how we can improve our event. That self-imposed discipline will be even more rigorous this year.

We have tried to be good and honest stewards of a unique and worthwhile community event. We certainly have heard the anger of some, who may prove to be "fair-weather friends."

Perhaps recognizing our substantial personal investment of time and energy, many of you went out of your way after Saturday's events with words of support and encouragement. Thanks. It meant more than you probably can appreciate. So many of you have expressed your belief that the Blues Fest is one of the best things going on in Hagerstown. Thanks for that too.

In closing, let us share a succinct, post-event e-mail comment from Michael Spier of Connecticut, who wrote to us on Sunday, saying, "Too bad about yesterday - I'm sure that it was a very tough call for you. This was our first year attending and we'll definitely be back next year. What we saw was so good, we look forward to more. It was worth the 760 miles of driving."

Thanks and safe journeys, Mr. Spier. It's people like you who make this all worthwhile, and who are the true spirit behind the phrase, "Keep the blues alive!"




Carl W. Disque is founder and event chair of the Western Maryland Blues Fest

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