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Faces of the Western Maryland Blues Fest

May 30, 2009

The following are the views of some of the fans who attended the Downtown House Party at the 14th annual Western Maryland Blues Fest in Hagerstown.

Marie Messick, 45, Martinsburg, W.Va.

Messick is originally from California. When she married Dennis Messick, 50, last year in the couple's living room in Martinsburg, only a friend and a minister were present. Several people short of a party, the couple headed off after the ceremony to the Western Maryland Blues Fest.

"It was like having a reception with all of these people that we just don't know," Marie Messick said with a laugh.

This year, the Messicks returned to the festival.

"It's like our own anniversary celebration. We're making a tradition of it now," she said. "We just love music. This is awesome."

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Messick said she danced for five straight hours last year. This year, she expected to top that.

"I'm standing in the same spot, but I'm still moving," she said.

Robin Dykes, 19, and Olivia Dykes, 16, Richmond, Va.

Robin and Olivia Dykes grew up in New Orleans with a hardcore blues fan father. Both say their father's passion has become a family affair. The two attended the festival with their parents.

"We just found out about the festival and drove up this morning," Robin said. "We go to a lot of concerts, but we haven't been to many festivals."

Olivia said they were most looking forward to seeing The Derek Trucks Band. Meanwhile, they got into the music of Willie "Big Eyes" Smith.

"This is classic Delta blues," Robin said. "This is good."

The Koons family, Craig, 45; Christina, 43; Abigail, 9; and Aaron, 12, Williamsport

Some Blues Fest fans are all about the music. Others are more interested in the festival atmosphere.

Craig and Christina Koons said they are "casual blues fans."

"We are not as hip as some people here, but we enjoy the festival. It's a fun event," Craig Koons said.

The couple has been going to the event with their children for five or six years.

"There are a lot of things to do. We like Sunday in the park, too," he said.

Dawn Borgardt, 30, Hagerstown, and Kelli Ulrich, 27, Clear Spring

Borgardt and Ulrich didn't exactly attend the Blues Fest, but they enjoyed a bit of it nonetheless. The two were among spectators outside the chain-link fence who stopped for a peek at the activity. They spied Willie "Big Eyes" Smith stirring the crowd and heard his music loud an clear.

The two said they had been out walking their dogs.

"We would go on in, but we can't bring our dogs," Borgardt said. "But it seems nice. We might be back later."

Nancy Verdier, Deafnet, Hagerstown

Each year, Verdier, a sign language interpreter for people who are deaf and hard of hearing, perches on the stage near the singers and translates using her hands, body and facial expression.

When singers bust phrases like, "I got my mojo runnin'," Verdier's entire countenance tells the story. And she said there are of plenty of deaf people there to listen.

"Deaf people come to the festival every year. Some are from here and some come from different places," she says. "Some people from the area even come back to town for the Blues Fest."

Verdier said there are degrees of deafness, and some deaf people can pick up the sound or at least the vibration of the music. Others, maybe not.

"They just like to have a good time, like everybody else. They dance, enjoy the food. They like the blues atmosphere," she said. "I just give them the words."

Trevor Swales, 55, Union City, N.J.

He lives in New Jersey and talks "the blues" in a British accent, betraying his English roots. Swales said he frequents blues festivals, and he had some suggestions for Blues Fest planners.

"It could have something afterwards where everyone could jam," Swales said. "Most big festivals have a bar or a hotel where everybody jams. I've found it better that way."

Still, Swales finds plenty to like about the Western Maryland blues affair he has attended for five years in a row.

"It's a good festival. It's good music," Swales said.

Joe Burger, 54, Hagerstown

Burger says he has attended Blues Fest each of its 14 years.

"I wouldn't miss it. It's the best thing going on in Hagerstown. If you are a blues aficionado, you have got to be at the Western Maryland Blues Fest."

Burger sees Blues Fest as a way of making Hagerstown a more appealing place. He said Blues Fest organizers consistently bring big name bands to Hagerstown.

"Normally, you would need to travel a distance to see them. This is a really great thing for Hagerstown's tourism, to bring people to the city and to promote downtown."

Bethany Dallagnello, 43, Frederick, Md.

With her shirt draped carelessly over her head, Bethany Dallagnello, lifted her head to the sun and swayed to the music.

"You know what? This is perfect weather. How can you wish for a more perfect day? There is music, beer, friends," she said.

Dellagnello said she has been to the New Orleans Jazz Fest.

"Anytime you can do something local to get close to that," she said, "I'm there."

-- Alicia Notarianni

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