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Blues fans pack downtown for fest

May 30, 2009|By ERIN JULIUS

One of the largest crowds to attend the Western Maryland Blues Fest packed into the city's central lot Saturday for what many called "a good variety" of music at the 14th annual music event.

"It's a wonderful day after all the rain," said Susan Scarvalone, who traveled from Baltimore with her friend, Kathy Ruble, primarily to see The Kelly Bell Band, the first act to perform Saturday afternoon.

Scarvalone had also seen one of the performers, Janiva Magness, perform at Rams Head Live in Baltimore.

Saturday was Ruble's first Blues Fest.

"The people are friendly. Hagerstown is just wonderful," she said.

The Derek Trucks Band was clearly Saturday's main attraction.

The entire crowd got to its feet when Trucks, who also plays with The Allman Brothers and is a relative of one of that band's founding members, got on the stage.

"People told me I should hear him. That I got to be here for Derek Trucks," said John Mathias of Frederick, Md. Mathias, who hadn't heard Trucks' music before, was at Saturday's Blues Fest with his girlfriend and little sister.

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"He's got phenomenal ability. The technical skills. He's off the charts," Mathias said. "And he's mellow on stage. He rocks the show."

This weekend's crowd was probably the biggest Blues Fest crowd ever, Hagerstown Police Sgt. Kevin Simmers said Saturday afternoon. But everyone was well-behaved, and about 10 police officers were on duty throughout Saturday's portion of the festival, he said.

Jennifer Kerns grew up in Hagerstown, but had never been to a Blues Fest until her friend, Kane Staley, convinced her to see Derek Trucks. She drove from Baltimore for Blues Fest.

"I'm a big Allman Brothers fan ... If he jams like the Allman Brothers, I want to see him," she said.

Staley had one word to describe Derek Trucks.

"He's a phenom. That's it."

Truck is the youngest player to make Rolling Stone's list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time" and has been called "the anointed one" by Carlos Santana, according to Blues Fest promotional materials.

People crammed in between the stage and seating area long before Trucks' performance. About 30 people also set up lawn chairs just outside the gated area for the evening's final performance.

Jennie Avila and Steve Wright were among a group of local musicians chatting Saturday afternoon.

Wright has been to all of the Blues Fests. He played the first one, and two or three subsequent ones, as part of The Blue Comets. He lives in the area and sees a lot of people he knows during the festival.

"It brings everybody out," he said.

Avila started attending Blues Fest in 2004, when she played at the Grille at Park Circle as part of the festivities.

"It's like a big reunion, meet all your friends. The music is fabulous. I always hear some really interesting new folks," she said.

Both enjoyed Bonerama, a band described on its Web site as a brass funk band from New Orleans, made up of five trombones and a tuba.

Blues Fest organizer Carl Disque described Bonerama as "immensely exciting." It's one of his favorite bands, he said.

"They didn't let us down at all," Disque said after Bonerama's afternoon performance.

For Disque, the Blues Fest is a community celebration.

"It's that people come together in music and just realize we're all human beings trying to get along," he said.

Dan Wallace of Williamsport is a local musician who has been to the Blues Fest three or four times, he said.

"It's always good quality music here. It's the real deal, and you don't have to drive far," he said.

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