Downtown crowds hear, see, feel the blues

June 05, 2005|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

HAGERSTOWN - Saturday came just in the nick of time for Joan Oriol, who wasn't ashamed to admit she was seriously craving a heavy dose of the blues.

Transplanted from New Orleans, Oriol made the drive to Hagerstown from Winchester, Va., with her fiance, David Watterworth, specifically for the music, and immersed herself in it from arrival 'til departure.

"I needed it. I just needed this injection of music," Oriol said as beads of perspiration ran down her forehead and that of Watterworth's. "We haven't stood still since we got here."


After swinging to several tunes from headliner Marcia Ball, a Bonnie Raitt-style vocalist with a talent for giving herself emotionally to the crowd, Oriol and Watterworth took the moment to catch their breath on a slow tune.

"She's just casual, and the atmosphere is good for dancing," Oriol said. "She knows how to play the crowd. She's so personal."

As day two of the 10th annual Western Maryland Blues Fest drew to a close, Oriol and Watterworth found themselves among a crowd of more than 100 still on hand to hear Ball dance her fingers upon the keyboard, moving through fast, rock-style blues to the slower, more soulful variety as the closing act of a day filled with the many varieties and incarnations of the blues.

"It's heartfelt," Oriol said. "It's something that, for me, expresses a sense of joy that you can release yourself and dance and sing and relax."

Blues Fest kicked off Friday night with four acts, including slide guitarist Sonny Landreth. The festivities began Saturday at 11:30 a.m. with opening act Texas Son on the Bud Light stage at Hagerstown's central parking lot on North Potomac Street. From there, on alternating stages, the music never stopped until Ball's final piece Saturday night.

Cephas & Wiggins, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and Larry Carlton and the Sapphire Blue Band were just a few of the acts that drew boisterous applause during the day, much of it from blues fans who shuffled from stage to stage careful not to miss a chord.

Blues Fest was not just limited to the city's parking lot, as events sprinkled along North Potomac Street, touched upon bars such as The Broad Axe for after-hours performances and as far down as the Washington County Arts Council Gallery, where Jerry Prettyman offered up his contribution to the legacy of the blues on canvas.

As the performances took place at the parking lot, bluesman Tom Borum spent the early afternoon with the young ones in the crowd to give them an entry into the music their parents came to hear. Essentially blues made-to-order, Borum invited the young ones to give some background about themselves and then play the harmonica as he composed a blues tune incorporating the information.

"I met this girl at the Blues Fest in Hagerstown ... she's from Morgantown, W.Va. ... she played that harmonica real well," one of his impromptu blues numbers began.

"We like to inspire kids to have fun with music," Borum said. "If you like it and you feel it, it can be easy. Blues can be as complicated as you want it to be."

Drawing heavy influence from Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert Cummings was the fourth act of the day and he took no time at all to electrify the crowd. Cummings delighted the crowd during several of his solo guitar pieces, at times toggling the line between music and feedback before pressing forward with the notes and music he has played professionally for the past three years.

George Ian Youngulez, a guitar slung across his back, waited patiently in line for about 45 minutes for Cummings to sign a compact disc for him. Youngulez made the trip from Johnson City, Tenn., for the Blues Fest and as much exposure as he could get to its performers.

Hoping for more than just a quick signature, Youngulez let several others jump in line ahead of him, anxious to get whatever advice Cummings could offer to help spark his own fledgling musical career.

"I think it was - just seeing him play was worth it alone because I like the guitar. I'm just sort of in love with my guitar," Youngulez said as he waited to ask Cummings how to break into the music scene.

Cummings smiled knowingly as Youngulez stumbled over his words and then offered up the best advice he could offer.

"Work harder than anybody else," Cummings finally answered. "That's all you've got to do. There's no (other) way to do it."

In an interview after all the autograph-seekers had departed and The Dirty Dozen Brass Band took the stage, Cummings said he understood Youngulez's nervousness.

"It's exactly what I'd say if I met Eric Clapton," Cummings said, not as much likening himself to Slow Hand, but offering the parallel.

And yet, the 37-year-old western Massachusetts resident is not so far removed from dreaming of the life he now lives. A fourth-generation house builder, Cummings decided three years ago to break from the family trade and try performing professionally.

"It's a dream," he said. "Lots of people won't go after their dreams, but I will."

The Herald-Mail Articles