Guitarist Ronnie Earl says he wants to bring positive energy to Blues Fest

May 25, 2012|By AMY DULEBOHN |

Blues guitarist Ronnie Earl said he is counting the days until his performance next month at the 17th annual Western Maryland Blues Fest.

His Saturday, June 2, appearance will mark his first in Hagerstown.

"I usually take an air trip every year to a festival. We try to stay on the East Coast," the 59-year-old said during a telephone interview from his home "out in the country" in Grotton, Mass.

"Since I've slowed down (the shows) are all special to me now," he said. "People are very kind and offer hospitality to us. When you play all the time, it's not as special, I've found."

And Earl knows a thing a two about playing the blues. The Queens, N.Y., native picked up his first guitar at the age of 20 while attending Boston University. The self-taught guitarist said it was around that time he first saw B.B. King and Muddy Waters perform.

 "It turned my whole life around," he said.

Following his graduation, he became a special-education teacher. While teaching, he landed his first professional job was as a rhythm guitarist at The Speakeasy in Cambridge, Mass. He began to play along with and learn from the blues guitarist and vocalist Otis Rush, as well as harmonica player Big Walter Horton. 

By the late 1970s, Earl had spent time in the Chicago Blues scene with Koko Taylor, and traveled through Atlanta, New Orleans and Austin, Texas. It was at this time he decided to leave his teaching career to focus on his emerging musical profession.

In 1988, Earl formed his own band, The Broadcasters, named after the first Fender guitar.

Earl is a two-time W.C. Handy Blues Award winner as Guitar Player of the Year. He has served as an associate professor of guitar at Berklee College of Music, taught for five years at the National Guitar summer workshop in Connecticut, and has given private lessons. In 1995, he released "Ronnie Earl: Blues Guitar with Soul," an instructional VHS tape that was then re-released on DVD some 10 years later.  

Earl has played alongside genre legends such as King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton, the Allman Brothers Band, Muddy Waters, Big Joe Turner, Earl King, Junior Wells and Buddy Guy. 

B.B. King has said of Earl, "...he is one of the most serious blues guitarists you can find today. He makes me proud!" When asked if Earl agreed with King's assessment, he quipped, "Well, if (King) said that, I'm not gonna disagree."

Earl is the first to admit his path to prominence in the blues world was not without pitfalls. He battled alcohol and cocaine addiction, as well as clinical depression, which rendered him unable to perform for a time.

He said was on tour in Dearborn, Mich., more than two decades ago, when he woke up one morning, looked in the mirror and said, "‘You know, you really are a drug addict and an alcoholic.' That was the beginning of my first 12-step program, and I have been doing it for 23 years," he said.

He said he owes his sobriety to the grace of God. "Not in a religious way, just a spiritual way. I was pulled out of the fire," he said.

Earl further noted other prominent musicians including Bonnie Raitt and Eric Clapton who said they have undergone similar transformations. "I want people to know there's hope, and you can change your life," he said.

He said Elton John once said that his biggest accomplishment was being sober, and Earl said he feels the same way in his own life.

"I'm hoping to bring a lot of love and hope and spirituality," he said.

Earl also is known for playing for developmentally disabled groups. This experience came about, he said, when he had clinical depression and was unable to perform as he had previously.

"I got a lot of pleasure out of that, being with other human beings who might just be wired a little different," he said. 

Because he performs only two to three gigs per month, Earl said he is committed to doing shows that don't disappoint fans. "I love playing. I like to play for 3 or 4 hours at a time. Then I'm tired for two weeks," he said.

The Hagerstown gig, an outdoor venue on the City Center Lot downtown, works for Earl, too, he said.

"I love the outdoor shows, but the indoor ones are good, too. Plug me in and I'm ready to go," he said.

If you go ...

WHO: Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Saturday, June 2

WHERE: Downtown House Party during the 17th Western Maryland Blues Fest, City Center Lot, North Potomac Street, downtown Hagerstown

Cost:  Tickets cost $35 in advance and $40 at the gate for the day; $7 children 6 to 12 years old; admission is free for children ages 5 and younger.

MORE: More information about Ronnie Earl is available at; more information about Blues Fest is available at, or call 301-739-8577, ext. 116

Traffic advisory for Blues Fest

The 17th annual Western Maryland Blues-Fest will be held in downtown Hagers-town on Thursday, May 31, through Sunday, June 3. 

Beginning at 6 a.m. on Saturday, North Potomac Street between Franklin Street and Washington Street will be closed to through traffic to allow for set-up of the Saturday portion of the festival. Vehicles will be allowed to turn left onto Potomac Street at Franklin Street to access the North Potomac Street Parking Deck, but they will not be allowed beyond the  parking deck's entrance. This section of North Potomac Street is expected to be reopened by 12:01 a.m. on Sunday, June 3. 

Emergency vehicles will not be able to pass through this block of Potomac Street on June 2.  

For more information, call 301-739-8577, ext. 178.  

Schedule for 17th annual Western Maryland Blues Fest

Combo tickets For Friday and Saturday cost $50 if purchased by Tuesday, May 29. A transaction fee of $2.50 per ticket applies to advance sale tickets.

Schedule and artists are subject to change. No chairs, coolers, food or beverages may be brought into the festival area Friday or Saturday. No animals (except service animals) and no audio or video recording permitted. All parcels and bags are subject to inspection.

Thursday, May 31, Blues Prelude

University Plaza, 50 W. Washington St., downtown Hagerstown.

Admission is free    

Gates open at 4 p.m. ID is required.

Rudy & The Bluefish, 5 to 7 p.m.

Blues Fest poster art exhibit opening featuring artist Kate Fortin is from 6 to 9 p.m. at Washington County Arts Council, 14 W. Washington St., downtown Hagerstown


Friday, June 1, Lotta Blues Kickoff

City Center Lot, North Potomac Street, downtown Hagerstown

Tickets cost $20 in advance plus transaction fee;  $25 at the gate; $7 for children ages 6 to 12; free for children ages 5 and younger.

Gates open at 4 p.m. ID is required.

Blue Moon Stage

4:30 to 5:15 p.m. Skyla Burrell Band

5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Billy Thompson

6:45 to 8 p.m. Walter "Wolfman" Washington & the Roadmasters

8:15 to 9:45 p.m. Matt Schofield Blues Project

Saturday, June 2, Downtown House Party

City Center Lot, North Potomac Street, downtown Hagerstown

Tickets cost $35 in advance plus transaction fee; $40 at the gate. $7 for children 6 to 12 years old; and free for children ages 5 and younger.

Gates open at 11 a.m. ID Required.

Blues Fest Stage     

Noon to 1 p.m. Hard Swimmin' Fish

2 to 3 p.m. Mike Westcott Band featuring Tommy Lepson

4 to 5:15 p.m. Trampled Under Foot

6:30 to 8 p.m. Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters    

Blue Moon Stage      

1 to 2 p.m. Moondog Medicine Show

3 to 4 p.m. Moreland & Arbuckle

5:15 to 6:30 p.m. The Lee Boys         8 to 9:30 p.m. Walter Trout

Sunday, June 3, Family Blues Picnic

City Park Bandshell,

Admission is free; lawn chairs and blankets are encouraged.

Noon to 12:45 p.m. Paul Pfau Blues Band

1 to 1:45 p.m. Stack O' Blues    

2 to 3:15 p.m. Bad Influence Band         3:30 to 5 p.m. Bobby Parker

Washington County Museum of Fine Arts      

Noon to 12:45 p.m. Barbara Ingram Contemporary Ensemble

1 to 1:45 p.m. Bobby Parker         2:15 to 3 p.m. Barbara Ingram Contemporary Ensemble    

Children's activities for Saturday and Sunday

Noon to 12:30 p.m., and 2:30 to 3 p.m. harmonica workshop

1 to 1:30 p.m. magic show

1:45 to 2:15 p.m. and 3:30 to 4 p.m. storyteller

Other activities include:

 face painting by Barbara Ingram School for the Arts students (noon to 4 p.m.)

 Make your own musical craft (noon to 4 p.m.)

 Balloon bending (2 to 4 p.m.)

 Barrel cart rides (Sunday only)

For more information, go to

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