Blues picnic hits the right note for families

June 05, 2011|By DAVE McMILLION |
  • Ernie Hawkins and the Ernie Hawkins Band perform at the bandshell in Hagerstown City Park Sunday during the Western Maryland Blues Fest.
By Colleen McGrath, Staff Photographer

It was a warm spring day with the sun's rays reaching down between the large trees scattered across Hagerstown's City Park.

The aroma of food being cooked in the distance mixed with the laid-back sound of the Ernie Hawkins Band.

It was practically everything that Claude Varron needed.

"This is so comfortable. I can't do this downtown," said Varron, who had his spot on the park's grounds set up with blankets and a folding chair.

Varron, of Keedysville, was among an estimated crowd of at least 4,000 people who gathered at City Park Sunday afternoon for the final day of the Western Maryland Blues Fest.

The last day of the music festival in City Park is known for its more relaxed, family-oriented atmosphere, which Varron said he prefers over listening to music in the city's Central Lot, where Friday's and Saturday's performances were held.

A part of the festival since the beginning, the Family Blues Picnic in City Park is designed to give something free back to the fans after two days of paid-admission blues music events, said Carl Disque, chairman and founder of the festival.

Four musical acts performed in the park's band shell while festivalgoers sampled food from booths like Uncle Moe's Soul Food.

Sunday's sounds included acoustic music, which stems from the early days of the blues when the music was played on instruments like a diddley bow, Disque said. A diddley bow had a single string and players run bottlenecks up and down the string to create notes, he said.

Varron said he has been listening to the blues since he was a kid and became fascinated with the music when British players like Eric Clapton became influenced by blues music. He said he enjoys introducing friends to the music, then watching them learn about the players and being able to identify the sounds of different artists.

"You got to pass that stuff on," Varron said.

Viola Allen of Hagerstown sat on a shady hill above the grandstand enjoying her third festival in a row.

Allen, a fan of hip-hop, said she was not familiar with blues music the first year, but started to enjoy it.

"It's like a story, and I enjoy hearing a story," Allen said.

Many of the children's activities were being offered behind the band shell, including one offered by the Washington County Antique Tractor Club. A tractor pulled kids riding in small cars, while a line of parents and children extended from a starting gate.

Nearby, Tammy Schowalter's daughter Isabella was playing a few notes on a plastic harmonica that was given to her during a children's harmonica workshop.

Schowalter said her daughter often plays around with music in their Waynesboro, Pa., home.

"It's wonderful," Schowalter said of the festival.

Sunday's event included lectures and performances in the nearby Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.

For the first time this year, two music lectures were held in the museum, Disque said. The lectures, which included tips on guitar playing, were offered by Ernie Hawkins and Toby Walker, who performed in the band shell. The North Hagerstown High School Jazz Ensemble was scheduled to perform at 1 and 3 p.m. at the museum.

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