The popularity of the Family Blues Picnic continued Sunday as people packed into the area around the Peter Buys Band Shell in Hagerstown’s City Park for the final day of the 18th annual Western Maryland Blues Fest.
Bands such as the Skyla Burrell Blues Band offered a steady dose of the blues at the band shell, while the talents of local school students were highlighted when the Washington County Public Schools All-County Jazz Ensemble offered two performances at the nearby Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.
Then Mother Nature offered a show of her own.
Storm clouds rolled up and rain suddenly fell, sending people scurrying for cover for a moment.
Festival emcee Larry-B said things were getting too hot anyway. “I hope you appreciate that,” Larry-B told the crowd.
Then heavy rain accompanied by thunder and lightning started again, and festival organizers briefly stopped the music. An announcer said from the stage that safety was a priority and advised fans that the safest place in that environment was their vehicles.
Many fans who come out for the Family Blues Picnic said they like the final phase of the festival because of its laid-back atmosphere.
Allan Bare of Hagerstown had a spot picked out on a hillside looking down on the band shell and the crowd. Bare, who was sitting with Deb Danner of Leitersburg, said he has been coming to the festival for about 10 years, but said he usually only comes to the Family Blues Picnic.
It all boils down to some of the basics.
“It’s free. And we’re in the shade,” Bare said with his fold-out chair, newspaper and drinks in tow.
Jeff Bonhoff of Hagerstown was wrapping up a weekend of the blues, which included watching Friday night’s performance of Trampled Under Foot, a band Bonhoff said he saw a few weeks earlier in Philadelphia.
The Skyla Burrell Blues Band was giving a taste of electric blues, the type Bonhoff likes.
“I actually enjoy this more than Friday night, I think, as long as they got somebody good here,” said Bonhoff, referring to the Family Blues Picnic.
Chris Wolfensberger of Hagerstown was walking around the back of the band shell with a bass guitar strapped around his shoulders. Wolfensberger said he was just “playing around” as he showed off a miniature amp attached to his hip through which he was playing.
“This year, it seems like there’s a lot more people here,” Wolfensberger said.
Karen Giffin, Hagerstown’s community affairs manager, said Sunday at City Park she did not have any attendance figures for the four-day festival, although she said there were “thousands of people over the weekend” attending the event.
As in past years at the Family Blues Picnic, food vendors tempted fans with the aromas of shrimp and crab cakes, and people operating other booths offered drinks, ice cream and kettle corn. Kids Jam Too was a staple of the picnic, offering harmonica workshops, a magic show and temporary tattoos for children.