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A blues Christmas

Secon annual concert draws fans to benefit Toys for Tots campaign

Secon annual concert draws fans to benefit Toys for Tots campaign

November 22, 2004|by BRIAN SHAPPELL

shappell@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - A lighted, inflatable Grinch stood watch outside the Elks Lodge on Robinwood Drive as the sound of the blues trickled out from a door at its back Sunday.

But the toys inside weren't stolen from the fictional Whoville, they were donated as admission to the Second Annual Blues for Tots concert.

About 50 music fans gathered Sunday for performances by local bands such as Rudy and the Bluefish, Koko Blue, and Ronnie Ray and the Coolers. Event organizer Ron Spruill, also known as "Ronnie Ray," said the toys donated Sunday would be turned over to U.S. Marine Corps groups based in Washington and Frederick counties as part of the annual Toys for Tots campaign.

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Spruill, a Smithsburg resident, said he started the event last year because "there wasn't any big drive around here." He added that he believed local bands would be interested in playing in November each year for free because the event benefits children and because of the lack of a large fall and winter blues event.

"It's a great cause, and you gotta give back," said Tony Formica of the Harrisburg, Pa.-based band Slaughterhouse Blues.

Attendance, however, was sparse in the large lodge room Sunday, possibly because the event was competing with NASCAR's final Nextel Cup race of the season, which determined its series champion, and a late-afternoon Washington Redskins game against a division rival, the Philadelphia Eagles. A few people remained huddled around televisions at the back of the room until the race was completed.

Unfettered by the relatively small group, those who attended and played said they enjoyed watching the blues artists and were glad that children would reap the benefits of the toy-filled table in front.

For Phillip Jones and Maria Carter, both of Hagerstown, getting to see six local bands for the price of one toy was too good a deal to pass up on a weekend day. Jones said he believes the annual benefit has potential to draw more people every year like other events in Maryland and beyond.

"The first time I went to the (Western Maryland) Blues Fest I thought, 'this is nice,'" Jones said. "There was only 150 people there that day. A few years later, there was like 5,000."

Spruill said he hopes that a similar attendance spike can be seen at Blues for Tots in the future.

"Maybe we'll have to move it," he said with a smile. "You never know."

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