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Sun, music heat up fest

June 07, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

After two chilly, rain-soaked days of music, the sun made an appearance Sunday in time for hot sets by Ronnie Ray and The Coolers and The Duke Robillard Band on the final day of the ninth annual Western Maryland Blues Fest.

The Blues Fest delivered close to six hours of live music at the City Central Lot in downtown Hagerstown on Sunday and drew a crowd city spokeswoman Karen Giffin said was between 3,000 and 3,500 in number.

The Family Blues Picnic, the third event of the three-day festival, was moved from City Park to the site of Saturday's Street Festival because of concerns about wet, muddy conditions from storms earlier in the weekend.

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Many in attendance Sunday said they did not mind the change of venue. Some laid out blankets and picnic baskets on the asphalt surface.

"It couldn't have been easier to park and hang out," said Carol Miller of Sharpsburg. "Honestly, I like it here better. It's less crowded."

Miller also lauded organizers for continuing a family-oriented day at the festival.

"It's nice to have stuff for the kids. Most festivals don't have that," she said.

Although there was space for children to play, a lecture and demonstration by festival performer Ernie Hawkins at the Washington County Arts Council Gallery and a row of busy food vendors, the bands drew the most attention Sunday.

Jay McShann, who was scheduled to perform during Saturday's event, which was delayed by rain, opened the Sunday concert about 12:30 p.m. McShann was followed by The Wallace Coleman Band and The Blue Rhythm Boys.

Ronnie Ray and The Coolers' high-energy, mid-afternoon performance inspired several couples to dance nonstop at the rail in front of the stage.

"You stay young if you get out and dance," said Shawn Schaeffer of Greencastle, Pa.

Ray, decked out in a gold suit, garnered one of the loudest responses of the concert when, during the band's set closer, he walked three-quarters of the way through the crowd, stood atop a chair and belted out a harmonica solo and one last vocal hook before returning to the front of the stage.

Ray and The Coolers were followed by an inspired solo performance by Hawkins, then Sunday's headline act, The Duke Robillard Band.

The band, fronted by award-winning guitarist Duke Robillard, who has worked with artists including Bob Dylan and Herb Ellis, closed its 90-minute performance at 6:20 p.m. to a standing ovation.

Paul Claffy of West Friendship, Md., said he could muster only one word to describe the performance by Robillard and Sunday's portion of the festival - "outstanding."

Hagerstown resident Jim Luther said he enjoyed Sunday's finale and already has a wish for next year's festival.

"It'd be nice if they got a year with two days it didn't rain," he said.

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