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True blues ... Ninth annual festival kicks off

June 05, 2004|By CANDICE BOSELY

HAGERSTOWN

Blues music has come a long way since guitarist Robert Johnson made a supposed deal with the devil at a Mississippi crossroads just before midnight in the 1930s.

One thing that has not changed is the blues' innate ability to cause people to tap their feet and bob their heads.

At the ninth annual Western Maryland Blues Fest Friday night, Sue and Ray Meeker of Bridgeport, Conn., agreed to be interviewed, but only if the conversation ceased before the next band came on stage.

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That's when they planned to dance.

"The music is real important to us. We love the music," Ray Meeker said.

"And we love to dance, too," his wife added.

The couple said they travel around the country attending blues festivals. Recent venues included festivals in California, Memphis, Tampa Bay and Fort Lauderdale. The best festival is an upcoming one in Wheeling, W.Va., they said.

"It keeps the blues alive. That's our goal," Sue Meeker said.

Hagerstown's festival is nice because it's not too large and because two stages keep music fans from waiting for bands to get ready, they said.

The couple said they were especially looking forward to seeing 88-year-old Jay McShann perform.

"He's not going to be around much longer," Ray Meeker said.

He said he enjoys blues for its improvisation and roots.

"It kind of gave birth to everything else. Rock and roll. Jazz came out of the blues," he said. "It's something unique to America."

Sue Meeker said she enjoys the camaraderie among festival-goers and the friendliness of the musicians, who are never too busy to talk to fans.

"They're out there for us. So we're here for them," she said.

Barefoot and dancing her way past the food vendors was Linda Stewart, who lives near College Park, Md.

"My husband and I love the blues," she said. "We go to every blues festival we can get close to."

Stewart is looking forward to seeing Indigenous, a group of Nakota Sioux Indians, play today.

"The music just is your life," she said of the blues. "Everything they sing about I can relate to."

Gray skies overhead were of no concern.

"We have ponchos. We're ready for it," Stewart said.

Only high wind or lightning, not rain, will halt the show, said Karen Giffin, public information manager.

"That's the only thing we can't control," Giffin said, looking toward the overcast but rain-free skies Friday evening. "So far so good, but every hour seems to be changing."

If high wind or lightning hits today, visitors will be asked to seek shelter at City Hall, the nearby parking deck or the Elizabeth Hager Center lobby. Announcements about the show's status will be made every 30 minutes, Giffin said.

"If it's just rain, we'll still go on," she said.

Standing just outside of the chain link fence, a young girl danced amid plants and mulch. She refused, however, to dance her way into a yellow jacket being held out toward her.

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