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Then and Now: Evolution of the Western Maryland Blues Fest

Soulful sounds have come to Hagerstown every year since 1996 thanks to the Western Maryland Blues Fest.

HAGERSTOWN, Md. - Soulful sounds have come to Hagerstown every year since 1996 thanks to the Western Maryland Blues Fest. It is an idea born from the mind of Hagerstown resident Carl Disque.

Disque ran for public office in 1993. He lost the race but found other ways to serve the community, helping to transform downtown Hagerstown through music.

"I said, well what about a music festival?" said Disque. "Hagerstown is the perfect town to have a blues fest. Any American town is because it's American music and it's in our DNA."

Since then, the festival has been embraced by the surrounding community.

"It seems like just everybody who's anybody shows up here,” said Blues Fest fan Thurman Beavers.

Hagerstown resident Keith Dagliano was at the first Blues Fest in Hagerstown and has not missed a year since.

"I love being right smack in the middle of it,” said Dagliano. “I get to meet some of my heroes. I try to be the first one here, and I’m definitely the last one to leave."

It is not just the fans who have stayed loyal, though. Those on the volunteer planning committee say they have become a family throughout the years.

"Many [on the committee]…have stayed with us for all 19 years,” said Disque. “It's actually 20 years ago that we met."

Many musicians also say the atmosphere keeps them coming back for more.

"This isn't the first time we've been to the Blues Fest so I’m seeing a lot of familiar faces out here,” said Kelly Bell of the Kelly Bell Blues Band, which has played at the Blues Fest for three years.

The festival's success is not just measured by public support, however. The committee had a $25,000 budget in the first year, but today their budget is a quarter of a million dollars.

"We really as a community have built Blues Fest into this wonderful thing that a lot of people think that's really one of the best things that's happened in Hagerstown and that's really gratifying,” said Disque.

But despite the festival's rising popularity, event goers say one thing has stayed the same: their love for the blues.

"Blues is like an onion,” said Disque. “Once you peel it, there's so much there to really appreciate and enjoy."

"The blues helped me when I was an adolescent, and reminded me that no one is alone in their walk through this world,” said Bell.

The Blues Fest continues into Sunday.

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