For many local residents, the Western Maryland Blues Fest is more than just a four-day concert; it’s an annual pilgrimage.
Ed Branthaven, 74, of Williamsport said he hasn’t missed a day of Blues Fest since the event started 17 years ago.
“I don’t miss anything,” he said. “My wife tosses me out on Thursday, and she doesn’t see me until Sunday evening.”
The 17th Annual Western Maryland Blues Fest kicked off Thursday at University Plaza in downtown Hagerstown. Friday’s and Saturday’s shows were held a half block away on bigger stages at the City Center parking lot.
Blues Fest will wind up Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. at the City Park Bandshell. Admission is free for today’s lineup, which features the Bobby Parker Band.
Parker is best known for playing guitar with music legends Bo Diddley, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and The Everly Brothers.
Altogether, 18 acts were scheduled to perform at this year’s event.
Branthaven said he likes everything about Blues Fest.
“I like meeting the people. I love the music. There’s good food,” he said. “Last night it rained, but people came back. It’s a draw. It’s the best thing that ever happened to Hagerstown.”
A few thousand people were at the event early Saturday afternoon. Some ate catfish and pulled-pork sandwiches, while others seemed content to just drink beer and groove to the music of local blues band Moondog Medicine Show.
Wearing a festive orange shirt, shorts and sunglasses, Hagerstown resident Roger Wright, 51, said he hasn’t missed a Blues Fest for the last decade.
“Everyone is out here,” he said. “I’m a local. I’m into this community thing.”
He said he hoped Blues Fest stays around for a long time because the local entertainment scene would take a hit if the Hagerstown Suns, a minor league affiliate of the Washington Nationals, follow through with plans to move to Winchester, Va.
“All Hagerstown has is Blues Fest and the Suns,” he said.
Kevin Moler, 51, of Charles Town, W.Va., said he has attended eight Blues Fests since 2001.
“They always seem well organized,” he said. “They get top-notch, international acts. It’s well-run.”
He said he goes to a lot of music events, and ranks Blues Fest among the best.
“I hope they keep it going,” Moler said. “It’s one of the few remaining blues festivals in the area. It’s been going on for 17 years now. That’s awesome.”
While most of the people at the event seemed to be having a good time, others who appeared to really have the blues watched the bands from beyond a chain-link fence that was constructed to deter crashers.
One of the people watching from outside was, Randy Cooper, 50, of Hagerstown. He said he didn’t have $40 to cover the ticket cost.
“It’s a little expensive to come inside,” he said.
Cooper said he has watched Blues Fest from outside the fence for the last 17 years.
“I come just to get away from the house,” Cooper said. “It’s something to do. The music is pretty good. It’s got some rock in it.”