Singin' the blues

June 04, 2005|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

Florette Orleans couldn't help but tap her feet Friday evening as The Tonehounds filled the air around her with their blusey-rock music stylings at Hagerstown's central parking lot on North Potomac Street.

A music therapist by profession, Orleans was quick to explain the bodily reaction as not only natural, but intrinsic, reflexive, innate.

"Music, it's just a necessary part of life," said Orleans, a self-described "old folkie from the '60's." "Blues, and music in general, is a means of expression. It is what it is, and it moves you."


Orleans was just one of a sea of music lovers that came out, umbrellas and ponchos in hand in case of rain, for the kickoff of the 10th annual Western Maryland Blues Fest Friday night, culminating in a performance by national bluesman and renowned slide guitarist Sonny Landreth.

Veteran Blues Fest emcee Larry Banks, who has hosted the event since its inception, said the essence of Blues Fest is in the collective energy that circulates between the crowd, the musicians and himself as emcee.

"It's a pleasure," Banks said. "This is my 10th year, and the biggest part that makes it pleasurable is when you can see all these people come together. They come together and have fun, and the bands feed off that energy I'm glad to see that there's a common denominator, so to speak, that all these people come together."

Being able to hear the music was not a requisite. Nancy Verdier, an interpreter with Deafnet of Washington County, said there is something in the blues for everyone, including the hearing-impaired.

"It does translate," Verdier said after interpreting The Tonehounds' performance from the stage for the benefit of the hearing-impaired in the audience. "There are a lot of deaf blues fans."

For The Tonehounds guitarist Mike Colyer, the chance to lead off the Blues Fest kickoff was a thrill after playing small clubs around the area.

"It was kind of overwhelming because it's a big sound and we're used to playing small places," he said, beads of sweat still coating his forehead following the performance.

The Tonehounds started playing to a crowd of just about three dozen to kick off Blues Fest at 4:30 p.m., though dozens more arrived before they finished their set. While the blues can be played for two or two hundred, Colyer said there is something electric about playing before an enthusiastic crowd.

"I think it's very important because it gives us a little bit of their energy, and a good vibe goes a long way," he said. "It's a collaboration between us and them."

Many in the audience, Colyer included, spoke not of the words or music of the blues, but rather of the mental and physical hold it has on its listeners.

"It's an all-encompassing thing," Colyer said. "The blues is just a feeling, it's a way of life."

Five-time Blues Fest volunteer Doug Britt of Boonsboro said he believes the Blues Fest has continued to evolve over the years, as has its attendance numbers.

"This is about my fifth time volunteering and it keeps getting better every year," Britt said. "I think it's great and I think it's great that the city's been doing this for 10 years."

Britt said for him, the blues is both intangible and clear at the same time.

"It's probably my favorite form of music," Britt said. "It's not only historical in this country, but it's good, it's very diversified. It's a particular beat, I guess. I'm not a musician, so I can't tell you what it is, but you know it when you hear it."

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