Faithful fans attracted to Blues Fest

May 31, 2009|By DAVE McMILLION

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HAGERSTOWN -- In its nearly 15 years running, the Western Maryland Blues Fest is starting to become a tradition to its followers.

The faithful fans who are drawn to the truthfulness of the lyrics and mourning, wailing sounds of a bent note on a guitar talk about coming to the festival as if it's a pilgrimage of sorts.

"I think I've come to every one, except maybe the first one," Ken Keebaugh said as he enjoyed the final day of music Sunday during the Family Blues Picnic at City Park.


"I really look forward to it every year. In spring, I start counting down the days," said Keebaugh, of Hustontown, Pa.

Keebaugh was sitting alone on a shady hillside high above the band shell where bands like the Rhythm Kings and the Ruby Hayes Blues Band performed as he analyzed his interest in the blues.

Keebaugh said he didn't even know he was a blues fan until he heard Deborah Coleman, who played at 1999's festival.

But after Keebaugh thought about it, he figured he had probably been struck by the blues back when he was listening to the song "Road House Blues" by The Doors many years ago.

Keebaugh said his favorite blues music is the slow, mellow kind, as opposed to the electric Chicago blues sound.

"I really like the old-time blues, too, like Blind Willie McTell," Keebaugh said.

Keebaugh analyzed the history of blues music and how it influenced bands like The Beatles, who put their own twist on it.

"We just ate it up," Keebaugh said.

Gayle Becker, another regular at Blues Fest, couldn't say for sure when he became a fan of blues music, but it might have been in the 1960s, when he was going to school.

Becker, of Falling Waters, W.Va., said the messages of protest and feelings of sadness in the music resonated with him.

Becker said some people tell him they are turned off by the music because of its negativity, but he does not see it that way.

"I see such a truthfulness," Becker said.

A Hagerstown Police Department spokesman said over the weekend that this year's Blues Fest crowd was probably the biggest ever. Its popularity was obvious Sunday as people poured into City Park. Fans crowded around the sun-drenched band shell stage while others sat and reclined in the shade.

In a food area not far from the stage, workers at a stand sold tall strawberry smoothies, while others offered pulled-pork sandwiches and sausage with onions and peppers.

A playground was full of kids whose squeals blended with the music. In a picnic pavilion, kids could pick up instruments and make whatever sound they wanted as Slim Harrison played banjo.

It's a place where musicians can be seen mixing with fans after they step off the stage.

Ruby Hayes, known as Washington, D.C.'s "Princess of the Blues," finished her performance with her band, then went to a table near the stage and signed autographs.

Fans crowded around a barrier next to the table where Hayes sat and stretched items over it for her to sign.

Patrick Williams of Hagerstown bought one of her CDs and had her sign it.

"I'm a blues fan and she's a great blues artist," Williams said.

The City Park event capped off music performed over a four-day period, which was highlighted by a performance Saturday night by The Derek Trucks Band.

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