New features await blues fans

May 26, 2004|by TAMELA BAKER

The Western Maryland Blues Fest may have made a believer out of William Breichner.

One of his first official duties after being elected mayor of Hagerstown in 2001 was to host a news conference announcing the event.

"Quite frankly, I'm going to tell you, I'm not a blues fan. Someone's going to have to convert me," he said then, noting he preferred the swing sound of Doris Day.

But at a Tuesday news conference for this year's event, city Public Information Officer Karen Giffin introduced the mayor as "one of our newest blues fans in Hagerstown."


The Western Maryland Blues Fest, scheduled for June 4 to 6 this year, has become "one of the premier music events in the country," Breichner said.

The ninth annual festival begins June 4 with a downtown concert featuring three blues bands at 4:30 p.m., continues with a series of shows downtown on June 5 and ends with a free series of concerts at City Park on Virginia Avenue on June 6. Among the highlights will be performances by guitarist Robben Ford and jazz musician Jay McShann.

Giffin said festival organizers raised $77,000 from sponsors, and Breichner said that with added in-kind contributions from local volunteers and businesses, the figure is "well over $100,000."

"It's hard to estimate what it brings into the community, but we're probably getting pretty close to $1 million," Breichner said.

In addition to the usual food and merchandise vendors and "Kids Jam Too" activities, this year's festival has some new features, according to event chairman Carl Disque.

For the first time, all the downtown activities will take place at the Central Lot off North Potomac Street, he said. Two stages will be set up, and on Saturday, featured performers will rotate between the stages.

"You can see every act and you don't miss a note," Disque said.

Planners decided to move both stages to the Central Lot for several reasons, he said, including a desire to avoid construction projects under way downtown or blocking businesses.

"It should save us some money and give us more space and an easier flow," he said.

Disque said that using the lot would cost the festival some parking, but said some parking would be gained by keeping Washington and South Potomac streets open.

Rain dampened last year's festival, and the threat of severe weather prompted organizers to cancel part of the Saturday lineup. This year, Disque said, they'll try to get better forecasting and likely will delay, rather than cancel, shows should the weather turn ugly.

Sunday's events in the park will include a performance lecture by musician Ernie Hawkins at noon at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, Disque said. Hawkins will perform later in the park.

Tickets for Friday's concert are $10 and for Saturday's shows are $20 in advance and $25 at the gate. A $2.50 transaction fee will be applied to advance sales.

For more information, call 301-739-8577, ext. 116, or go to on the Web.

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