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Blues lovers come downtown for Blues Fest

June 02, 2007|By DAN DEARTH and ERIN JULIUS

The Western Maryland Blues Fest started 12 years ago with one stage, four bands and a $35,000 budget, said Julie Donat, Blues Fest co-chairwoman.

Since then, the annual festival has more than quadrupled in size, she said. Eighteen bands will have performed on two stages when the four-day event ends today.

On Saturday night, festival headliner Joe Bonamassa brought the crowd to its feet.

His fans agreed that Bonamassa is the best guitarist, and certainly the best blues guitarist, in the world.

"He's only 30 years old, but he plays like he's played for 60 years," said Bill Murdaugh of Mercersburg, Pa.

Murdaugh attends the Blues Fest every year, he said.

He loves the blues - the beat, the sound and the people, Murdaugh said.

"The people of the Blues Fest make you feel at home," he said. "Tell them never to stop the blues in Hagerstown."

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Donat said Blues Fest organizers have managed to maintain controlled growth.

"When our budget grew to $100,000, we started to get rain insurance to pay for potential losses," she said.

They've had to cash in on the policy only once, but Donat said the potential for a big financial loss is so great that coverage is a necessity.

Organizers begin drafting the blueprint for the next year's festival in August, Donat said. That includes everything from ordering portable toilets to booking acts and contracting vendors.

As people poured through the gates Saturday afternoon, they had to walk down a midway between two rows of vendors selling sandwiches, crab cakes, and ice water - a coveted item that people sucked down to rehydrate in temperatures that peaked near 90 degrees.

About 2 p.m., beer sales seemed to be slower than normal, said Bobby Ayers, operations manager of Wantz Distributors. The business usually brings about 150 to 200 kegs of beer to sell during Blues Fest.

"It's a little warmer than usual," he said. "That might make attendance a little lower ... but it's too early to tell."

Blues Fest is one of most lucrative festivals that Wantz attends, he said.

Donat said Blues Fest celebrated its inaugural year on the square in Hagerstown, but it had to relocate to the Central Parking Lot when things began to grow.

People now travel from several states away for the Blues Fest.

Melissa Durse-Mascarella of Youngstown, Ohio, brought her 4-year-old son, Nico Mascarella, to the Blues Fest this year.

Nico is one of Bonamassa's "obsessed fans," she said. Nico started listening to Bonamassa's blues music when he was 8 months old and calls the guitarist "my Joe," Durse-Mascarella said.

All of the money that organizers raise is spent on that year's festival, Donat said.

Typically, about 75 percent of the budget is used to pay the performers, Donat said. The remaining 25 percent goes toward other expenses.

"(Blues Fest) brings an artistic culture to the community," she said. "It gives Hagerstown something that is ours ... That is what I'm most proud of."

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