Big debt takes the blues away

Annual fest canceled due to lack of funds

August 16, 2005|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

Singing the blues costs money.

"Yes it does," says Baltimore Blues Festival organizer Craig Curley. "And putting on a blues festival causes the blues."

There will be no 11th annual Baltimore Blues Festival at Patterson Park next month, Curley announced yesterday. Event planners had raised a mere $125 to cover the $40,000 cost of this year's festival, which was scheduled for Sept. 9-11. Although disappointed, Curley said he had no choice but to cancel the event.

Over the years, the Baltimore Blues Festival has been held at the Baltimore Yacht Basin, Patterson Park and the Maryland State Fairgrounds. The festival has attracted such musicians as Levon Helm, Canned Heat, The Iguanas, Texas Johnny Brown, the Kelly Bell Band, Big Jesse Yawn and Catfish Hodge. But lack of corporate sponsorship and bad weather had sunk the festival into $80,000 debt, Curley said.

This wasn't the year to be spending more money.

"We're just reorganizing," Curley said.

Event planners are going to use the year to raise money, recruit corporate sponsors and select a weekend that won't conflict with other Baltimore music festivals.

"This is not the end," Curley said.

During its 10-year run, nothing seemingly came easy for the Baltimore Blues Festival. Location, money and the weather were always issues. In 2002 and 2003, torrential rains slammed festivalgoers at the free event at Patterson Park. Still, more than 4,000 people attended those festivals.

But last year's festival, at the state fairgrounds, was unsuccessful, Curley said. Again, the festival had no corporate sponsors, and with a $15 admission fee, attendance dropped to about 1,000 people, a fourth of the festival's usual crowd.

This year, the festival was to return to Patterson Park again as a free event. Blues and American roots musicians The Lee Boys, Jeff Sarli and Janine Wilson were booked but withdrew when the event was canceled. In a vote of confidence, the musicians did not withdraw their deposits from the festival, Curley said.

"Everyone said they would play next year and not to worry about it," he said. "We'll be back at Patterson Park."

Rain or shine, if nothing else.

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