Blues Fest is back

May 29, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

Western Maryland Blues Fest has gone from a $25,000 blues party to a quarter-million-dollar blues showcase, and organizers say it's still a work in progress.

"We learn something new each year," said Blues Fest co-chairman and founder, Carl Disque, a Hagerstown attorney and saxophone player.

Now entering its 13th year, the Western Maryland Blues Fest is a four-day string of concerts set in and around downtown Hagerstown. Attendance has ranged from 8,000 to 18,000, making it one of the biggest events in Hagerstown.

Blues Fest starts tonight with a free show at University Plaza Park. The festival runs through Sunday, with another free concert at City Park. There are ticketed shows Friday and Saturday at Central Lot, the parking lot off North Potomac Street, between Franklin and Washington streets, downtown.

Albert Cummings kicks things off tonight at University Plaza. Four bands are scheduled for Friday, with British blues band Savoy Brown headlining. Saturday is the festival's focal point, featuring eight bands with Buckwheat Zydeco performing the last set of the night.


Guitar Shorty will close things out Sunday.

Disque said the Blues Fest committee has been looking at ways to grow attendance. This year, the festival opener - what used to be a lunchtime show - has been bumped to the evening. Also, more money was spent on performers, which means attendees can expect to pay more for tickets, Disque said.

Friday's tickets cost $5 more - $20 in advance and $25 at the gate. Saturday's tickets cost $10 more - $35 in advance and $40 at the gate. A $50 combo ticket is good for admission on Friday and Saturday.

Disque doubts the price increase will eat into attendance.

"When you think about it, the worst you could pay Saturday is $40," Disque said. "You're getting to see eight bands - some of them Grammy winners - for $40, that's $5 a band."

As with past years, organizers have kept the music lineup fresh. Only two of the 17 major acts are repeats from last year - Delta-blues singer Nora Jean Bruso and perennial Blues Fest performers, the Bobby Flurie Band from Frederick, Md.

The lineup also leaves room for local acts: The Blue Sky Traffic, Stack O'Blues - bands with Washington County ties - and Flat Foot Sam & the Educated Fools from Frederick County, Md.

The Smithsburg High School Jazz Ensemble will perform throughout the day Sunday.

Much has changed since the very first Blues Fest in 1996, which had concerts spread across three venues - Kepler Theater, The Maryland Theatre and City Park.

The idea to bring a blues festival to Hagerstown came in the mid-1990s, amid the city's push for promoting cultural tourism in Hagerstown - in this case something that didn't have to do with the Civil War, Disque said.

About the 2008 Blues Fest artists

The Blue Sky Traffic - The band of local guys competed in NBC's Internet reality TV show "StarTomorrow" in 2006 and recorded their first full-length album in Nashville, Tenn. Online at

The Bobby Flurie Band - Regional band performed at Blues Fest in 1999, '00 and '07.

Nappy Brown - Napoleon "Nappy" Brown is an R&B artist whose early musical influences came from gospel music. Online at; go to "Artists" link and click "Nappy Brown."

Savoy Brown - Blues-rock band originally from Britain, with frontman Kim Simmonds. Online at

Nora Jean Bruso - Bruso, a blues singer, grew up in a musical family from the Mississippi Delta. Online at

Buckwheat Zydeco - Louisiana-born Stanley Joseph "Buckwheat" Dural Jr. serves up zydeco and R&B. Online at

Eric Byrd Trio + 4 - The Washington, D.C.-area jazz trio's latest album, "Eric Byrd Trio + 4: Brother Ray" pays tribute to Ray Charles.

Albert Cummings - Cummings says he studied in the Stevie Ray Vaughan School of blues guitar. Online at

Flat Foot Sam and the Educated Fools - The blues band performs at venues throughout the Washington, D.C., region. Online at

Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials - Lil' Ed, who plays slide guitar, hails from the west side of Chicago. Online at

Bettye LaVette - The Detroit-bred soul-singer has rubbed elbows with Motown's finest. Online at

Charlie Musselwhite - The harmonica wiz describes his sound as country blues. Online at

Scofield, Medeski & Deitch - A collaboration of three artsts: John Scofield, jazz and blues keyboardist John Medeski, and rhythm wiz Adam Deitch. Online at;;

Guitar Shorty - Born David William Kearney, Guitar Shorty is known for his fretwork and showmanship. Online at

Gina Sicilia - The 23-year-old blues and R&B singer's debut album is up for a Blues Music Award for best debut album.

Stack O'Blues - The local blues band performs at venues throughout the Tri-State area.

Jimmy Thackery - A singer, songwriter and blues guitarist whom critics say lends a blue-collar approach to blues. Online at

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