City sings the blues

June 03, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

HAGERSTOWN - For the crowd that got a free primer Thursday for this weekend's Western Maryland Blues Fest - despite B.B. King's famous cry - the thrill is not gone.

"This is perfect," said Gray Hebb, a 51-year-old engineer for the Washington County government who was on lunch break taking in some of the first tunes of the weekend festival.

An thermometer across the street read 74 degrees and the sun glimmered off the cityscape. Of the music, Hebb said, "I think it's great. I'm a part-time musician and I enjoy watching fellow artists play and jam."


The 10th annual festival began Thursday as two bands played in the city's newest venue, University Plaza, a one-acre park next to the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown building on West Washington Street. While Thursday's show was free, paid events begin tonight.

The brick-paved park with grassy lawns is a new addition to the city. This time last year, a vacant building stood in the same place. More than $1 million later, students and others can enjoy a day in the park.

Marquita Sanders, 20, of Hagerstown, was sitting at the edge of one of the grass sections, enjoying some pepperoni pizza and taking in some blues with fellow students.

"I like it," Sanders said, as a version of "Hoochie Coochie Man" buzzed over the public address system. Sanders pledged, however, that she would not be playing hooky today.

John Kriner, 78, of Waynesboro, Pa., said he dropped into town just for Thursday's show. On the bill was one set each from local acts KoKo Blue and Rudy & the Bluefish.

He said he's drawn to the music.

"Oh, I guess it's the melodies and things like that - the picking and the playing," Kriner said, as his sandal-clad foot tapped in synch with the band on stage.

Thursday was both the first performance of Blues Fest and the first of a weekly free concert series that will take place in the park throughout the summer, said Karen Giffin, spokeswoman for the City of Hagerstown.

There were about 100 people in the park as the bands played, some coming and going with their lunch breaks.

Hebb said he thought the concert was just about right. He was on his way from one building to another when he heard blues coming from the park.

"I mean, walking by here, you can't help but stop by," Hebb said.

The new venue might be as a good of a match for performers as it is for concert-goers. Giffin said that there had been an attempt a few years ago to get some regular summer concerts in the city, but there was no good place to do it.

Tom Borum, who was singing and playing guitar for Rudy & the Bluefish, said he liked the new spot.

"I think it's really a perfect venue," Borum said. "A touch of grass in the city's really beautiful, and the day's great. ... You couldn't ask for a better day."

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