Though Blues Fest has come to an end, its pre-party plays on
For many years, the Washington County Historical Society celebrated a pre-party for the Western Maryland Blues Fest in downtown Hagerstown. The group invited its members as well as the community to join in a garden party with a blues act and food in the garden of the historical Miller House.
But after a 23-year run, the Western Maryland Blues Fest struggled to stay financially afloat. In 2018, its length was shortened from four days to two, it went from multiple stages to one, and it featured fewer musical acts. Last October, Hagerstown city officials announced that the Western Maryland Blues Fest was “dead.”
Though the main event is now defunct, the president of Washington County Historical Society board of directors Carol Miller-Schultz said the pre-party will go on.
“They decided to stop doing Blues Fest, but we decided that our garden party was such a popular event with sell-out crowds that we would continue with it,” she said. “People who typically come are delighted that we are still having it.”
On Thursday, May 30, from 5 to 8 p.m., the historical society will host its Blues Fest Garden Party Fundraiser. The party will feature the music of Pete Lancaster and Stack O’ Blues and catering by Lt. Col Big Jims Tennessee BBQ.
The party will serve as a fundraiser for the Miller House, the 1825 federal period style house that was donated to the society during the 1960s, Miller-Schultz said. The house is the home of the historical society and of a genealogy center and museum.
“The house critically needs to be re-wired,” she said. Proceeds will go toward that project, which she estimated would cost roughly $100,000. No date has been set for the work because funds have not yet been procured. Miller-Schultz said she believes the house was electrified in 1910 with “old knob and tube wiring.”
The format of the Blues Fest Garden Party Fundraiser will remain the same as it’s been in the past, with a cash bar and an expanded menu. Around 125 people typically attend.
“We have the Blues Fest party in our garden. It’s a beautiful area for an event,” Miller-Schultz said. “The food is always good and the music is great. The band is elevated and they play up on the porch of the Miller House.”
Lancaster has played with artists including Robert Lockwood Jr., Byther Smith, Eddie Shaw, Cash McCall, Red Holloway and David Bennett Cohen. A biography at stackoblues.com says he performed a number of years at the Western Maryland Blues Festival and his musical influences include John Hammond Jr., Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter and Pinetop Perkins.
Miller-Schultz said garden party music strikes her as “a little bit of blues, a little bit of everything.”
“I remember them playing Jim Croce, Elton John, that kind of thing,” she said.
In the event of rain, the historical society sets up tents, so the party goes on rain or shine.
“It did rain last year, but it was fine. It was wonderful,” she said.
Though the run of the Western Maryland Blues Festival has come to an end, the festival has become part of the county’s heritage.
“Blues Fest has been a tradition here. We wanted to continue to celebrate with the rest of downtown by doing our own small Blues Fest here,” Miller-Schultz said. “We want people to come to the Miller House and learn about our museum and what we do here. We want to get them involved and engaged in our activities. Having these kinds of activities open it up to people who may have never visited before.”
Top photo: Pete Lancaster and Stack O’ Blues will provide entertainment at the Blues Fest Garden Party Fundraiser at Washington County Historical Society’s Miller House. (Submitted photo)