Summertime BLUES /Festival’s 9th Life Strikes Seasonal Mood Indigo

by Nathan Oravec


It’s interesting to consider - before the Blues Fest, how did Hagerstown know summer had arrived? For years, the season has been heralded here not by opening day at citywide swimming pools; raised concession windows at ice cream stands and snow cone vendors; or vehicles loaded with beach gear bound for the shore; but by saxophones and sultry vocals - guitars and good vibrations.
Since its initial conceptualization in 1995 and its debut in 1996, the event has become widely considered one of the finest of its kind throughout the Mid-Atlantic, having immediately secured its status as a premiere happening within city walls. Here, recreation-seekers annually anticipate those days when town streets are transformed, if briefly, into an exclusive nightclub.
This year, those days will once again entice music-lovers from throughout Washington County and abroad when The Western Maryland Blues Fest returns for its Ninth Annual summer serenade, Friday, June 4 through Sunday, June 6.
“We kick off on Friday,” says Karen Giffin, Public Information Manager for the City of Hagerstown, who notes that the opening evening’s “Lotta Blues Show” will be launched on the perfect note courtesy of three different bands, including native musicians, The Rhythm Kings. Held in the Central Parking Lot adjacent to North Potomac Street, the Kings, along with guitarist Tom Principato, and D.C.’s Mary Ann Redmond Band, the Blues Fest will officially ignite Friday night at 4 p.m.
New this year, the Central Lot will serve as the fest’s primary staging area, a change of scenery from previous years’ HQ at Town Square. In addition to providing the Saturday Street Fest with boosted acreage and square footage for its traditional two-stage setup, the locale will allow for easier assembly and breakdown, while not obstructing nearby traffic and commerce. For nearly eight hours, eight blues artists and bands, both regional and national - many festival first timers - will come together, creating a magnanimous sound machine providing continuous musical thrills throughout the day. The fun begins with Montgomery County, Maryland’s Westcott Brothers Band and Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s Miss T and the Mosquitoes, before turning the microphones over to fellow entertainers such as GRAMMY Nominated Jay McChann, Gospel Blues Great Sam McClain and featured closer, The Robben Ford Band. Saturday’s activities start with the sunshine at 11:30 a.m., and end shortly before its setting at 7:30 p.m.
Sticking with Sunday’s time-honored culmination to this landmark occurrence, a Family Blues Picnic will be held on June 6 at the City Park Bandshell. As a thank you to the community, which has supported and strengthened the Blues Fest over the last decade, Sunday afternoon’s picnic and performances will be free of charge to the public. Here, prewar and ragtime rhapsodies will be played out by The Blue Rhythm Boys of the metro area, while blues legend Ernie Hawkins of Pittsburgh, the harmonica harmony of the Wallace Coleman Band, and choice others prepare to send the Fest off in true blue style.
Giffin notes that returning this year will be a Citi Bank sponsored Children’s Area, Kids Jam Too, both Saturday and Sunday, complete with fun and games designed specifically with mini-musicians in mind. In addition to tunes - from kid favorites like Slim Harrison and the Sunnyland Band - and extraordinary magic tricks from Dean Burkett, mobile television studio, the C-SPAN Bus, will visit the Fest, bringing imagination and information (history, current events, government, etc.) along for the ride.
The Western Maryland Blues Fest is a huge event, but one, Giffin notes, that would not be made possible without a huge support system. Already, $77,000 has been raised as a result of a dedicated fund-raising committee and a myriad of generous corporate sponsors (for a complete list, see www.blues-fest.org). Additionally, she explains, over 100 volunteers will offer their invaluable time and service over the weekend to make certain that this Blues Fest, like all that came before it, is the best ever.
What more can be said?
“People love the Blues Fest.”
Admission to the Western Maryland Blues Fest is as follows: Friday, June 4: $10; Saturday, June 5, $20; Sunday, June 6, FREE.
Parking is available at deck on North Potomac Street in Hagerstown.
For tickets and information, call 301-791-3246 or visit www.blues-fest.org.