Blues Fest gets started with Nighthawks

May 28, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- When the Western Maryland Blues Fest started in Hagerstown in 1996, the Nighthawks were there.

They were back again Thursday, the first of four days of music at this year's festival.

The rain came with them, and briefly doused fans spread across the plaza at the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown campus, just as the Nighthawks were getting ready to wail.

Then, the rain got slower and lighter until it practically dissipated -- perhaps chased away by the powerful, piercing notes flying out of Mark Wenner's harmonica.

Shane O'Neill was tickled to be there. He ran up to the stage and, with his cell phone, snapped a few pictures of himself in front of the band as it played.


O'Neill said Wenner was his muse for wanting to learn the harmonica. They met almost 30 years ago in Frederick, Md.

O'Neill plays with a group called "Blues in the Attic" and loves teaching youths to play.

"Every time I open for (Wenner), I feel like I'm being tested," O'Neill said.

Steven T. Sager was one of hundreds of other people bopping and grooving to the Nighthawks' blues rhythms.

Some sat still on benches. A few danced and spun on the dirt and gravel near the school building.

Like the Nighthawks, Sager -- Hagerstown's mayor from 1985 to 1997 -- also is back.

Sager left Hagerstown for Frostburg, Md., then South Carolina, but said he returned about a year ago.

Blues Fest began when Sager was mayor. Sager, a Nighthawks fan, said he was supposed to introduce the band during that first Blues Fest, but he showed up five minutes late.

He was in time for plenty of Nighthawks music Thursday, including a cover of "Woke Up This Morning," the theme song of the HBO series "The Sopranos."

The band postponed its intermission as it tried to finish a set before the rain returned.

During a break, Wenner joked about the danger of playing with electronic equipment in wet weather.

"It's sort of like jumping in the bathtub with a toaster," he said.

The Nighthawks, who are based in Washington, D.C., opened their second set with a cover of The Temptations' "I Can't Get Next to You."

Blues Fest continues Friday with a "Lotta Blues" show in the central parking lot off North Potomac Street, starting at 4:30 p.m.

On Saturday, eight bands will perform on two stages throughout the day, also in the central parking lot. The Derek Trucks Band is scheduled to go on at 8 p.m.

Tickets are required for Friday's and Saturday's shows.

Sunday's acts will perform at the City Park band shell. There is no charge for admission.

"I'm hoping that's the end of the rain for the weekend," Karen Giffin, who helps organize the festival for the city, said Thursday.

Blues Fest schedule

Today -- Lotta Blues Show

City Central Lot, off North Potomac Street

Gates open at 4 p.m.

$25; $7 for ages 6 to 12; free for ages 5 and younger

o 4:30 to 5:15 p.m. -- Ronnie Ray

o 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. -- Chopteeth

o 6:45 to 8 p.m. -- Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials

o 8:15 to 9:30 p.m. -- Jimmy Thackery and The Drivers

Saturday -- Downtown House Party

City Central Lot

Gates open at 11 a.m.

$40; $7 for ages 6 to 12; free for ages 5 and younger

Beck's Stage

o Noon to 1 p.m. -- The Kelly Bell Band

o 2 to 3 p.m. -- Bonerama

o 4 to 5:15 p.m. -- Janiva Magness

o 6 to 8 p.m. -- Roomful of Blues

Bud Light Stage

o 1 to 2 p.m. -- Bad Influence

o 3 to 4 p.m. -- Willie "Big Eyes" Smith

o 5:15 to 6:30 p.m. -- The Mike Stern Band

o 8 to 9:30 p.m. -- The Derek Trucks Band

Sunday -- Family Blues Picnic

City Park, Hagerstown

Free admission

Band shell

o Noon to 12:45 p.m. -- The Rhythm Kings

o 1 to 1:45 p.m. -- Jumptown

o 2 to 3:15 p.m. -- Ruby Hayes Blues Band

o 3 to 5 p.m. -- Campbell Brothers

Washington County Museum of Fine Arts

o Noon to 1 p.m. and 2 to 3 p.m. -- Williamsport High School Jazz Ensemble

o 1 to 1:45 p.m. -- Campbell Brothers steel guitar demo

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