Blues lifts up Walkersville weekend

Thursday, July 27, 2006

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Bill Ryan⁄The Gazette
Bo Weevil of Frederick sings at the Frederick Blues Festival Saturday.

Blues found a home in Walkersville last weekend as the Frederick Blues Festival rolled into town.

‘‘It’s the first time it’s been outside the City of Frederick,” said Steve Norris, incoming president of the Frederick Blues Society and event organizer.

The reason for the move?

‘‘Well, they wouldn’t let us serve beer,” Norris said of Frederick city.

The Frederick Blues Society has been around for six years, Norris said. He and a friend from college, Sander Zaben, started the organization after Jerry Garcia died.

‘‘I had a cyber friend in Chicago, and she was kind of influential in my life, and she said she liked the blues,” he said. ‘‘...I didn’t have much musical direction [after the death of Garcia]. Later, Sander and I started the Frederick Blues Society.”

Norris had visited the Baltimore Blues Festival, and thought that he could do something similar in Frederick.

‘‘One of the things that’s really great about this, is it’s really approachable,” he said. ‘‘Musicians can walk among their fans and not feel threatened.”

Among local bands and bands from the Washington area to play on Saturday at the Walkersville Fire Company grounds were national acts, such as G.E. Smith from New York and Sue Folley from Canada.

‘‘It’s just musicians jamming with other musicians,” Norris said. ‘‘We make it a point to support the local [blues] scene. We try to get local bands to get on stage with [the nationally renowned musicians.] One of our goals is to uplift local bands.”

Local acts that performed on Saturday included Deanna Bogart, Greenhouse Gas Station, Hard Swimming Fish, and Frederick Blues Review.

Zaben said he met Norris while at the University of Maryland, College Park. Since they started with the festival 10 years ago, it has gone from a one-day event to an all-weekend affair. Zaben is the outgoing president of the Frederick Blues Society, which started four years later, he said. The idea behind starting the society was ‘‘to do big events quarterly,” he said.

‘‘We do Blues in Schools,” Zaben said. ‘‘We have a band come in to expose the next generation to the blues. We’ve done all the high schools and most of the middle schools [in the county].”

In addition, the Frederick Blues Society sponsors bands that go to an international competition in Memphis, and sent 10 representatives from the Frederick area.

‘‘There are open mikes that we help support,” he said. ‘‘There’s a pretty substantial blues community in Frederick. There’s a lot of good local bands, a lot of bars that let them play.”

‘‘It’s amazing that we’ve been doing this for 10 years,” he continued. That says something about the continuity of it. Other stuff comes and goes,” but the blues sticks around.

Three-time Grammy winner Dilbert McClinton performed at the festival’s kickoff at the Weinberg Center in Frederick on Friday.

‘‘To get national acts to come play Frederick is a nice little benefit for Frederick itself,” said local musician Dianna Bogart.

Canadian blues star Sue Foley, dressed in leopard pants and wielding a pink guitar, said it was her first time at the Frederick Blues Festival.

‘‘I think it’s a beautiful night and a great show,” she said on Saturday. ‘‘There’s great music here. I might buy a hat, and you can quote me on that.”

Blues legend G.E. Smith said he had played the festival a few years back when it was in Frederick city. This was his first time in Walkersville.

‘‘I was in Cleveland on Friday, Columbus on Thursday, Chicago on Wednesday, and beyond that, I don’t remember,” he said. ‘‘I’d be happy to come back. These are real nice people here.”