Music fans from throughout the area came to Reeves Park on Saturday, Sept. 6, for Phoenixville's fifth annual Blues Festival. Despite scattered showers throughout the day, more than 5,000 people enjoyed the all-day jam featuring dozens of musicians.
Armed with chairs, picnic blankets and umbrellas, blues music loyalists hunkered down and reveled in the rain to their favorite tunes. As the sky cleared later in the afternoon, the fun continued with more music and celebration.
Attendees also enjoyed perusing a multitude of artists and craftsmen selling their wares in tents set up all over the park, as well as many different food vendors. In addition, there was also a raffle with donated items, such as an acoustic guitar with music lessons and a wheelbarrow filled with garden supplies.
'We were a little concerned about the forecast, but amazingly we stayed on schedule all day,' said Jim DiGuiseppe, Blues Fest organizer. 'The skies parted for most of the evening and after about 4:30 the show went on perfectly.
'The crowd response was overwhelmingly favorable. Our talent this year was amazing,' he added. 'We have a great franchise going now and even a bad forecast will not hold back the crowds because they know they will see a well-run and quality festival, all for free.'
This year marked the five year anniversary of the festival, and many previous Blues Fest acts were brought back as a 'Best Of' theme for the show. Local musicians, as well as regional and national groups, provided a cross section of blues music within the genre for the crowd to enjoy. An a capella group from Phoenixville High School called Vocal Fusion also performed, singing the National Anthem, and was a hit with the audience.
'While we have had great renditions of the National Anthem throughout the years, this year may have been the best. They did an amazing job and even performed their own unique version of Hoochie Coochie Man that brought the house down,' DiGuiseppe commented. 'Our young group called The Blues Kings performed for the fourth time. Some of their members have benefited from the charity we support called Give the Gift of Music. We have literally seen them grow up musically to a point where they may be headlining our show in the future; they have really gotten good.'
Shane Speal, who traveled from York to perform with his group, known as the Snake Oil Band, also sold merchandise at the festival, including his unique handmade cigar box guitars. His second year at the festival, Speal said he enjoys what Blues Fest offers the community.
'It's a blast here. We had a blast last year. When else do you see a blues festival that's free for the community?' Speal said. 'Other blues festivals are a private event and you need a ticket to get in. Here, the whole community comes out and you're exposing this music to people who may not be into it in the first place. I think it should be a model for every other community.'
Speal initially began making his cigar box guitars over 20 years ago, in search of the quintessential early blues sound. He noted that cigar box guitars were made beginning in the mid-1800s through the Depression era, and were mostly forgotten when he first began making them himself.
'I kept going backwards in time. I kept asking, 'Well who came before the old delta blues guys?'' he explained. 'I found these people who were so poor that they couldn't afford a guitar from the Sears catalog. They would have to put a stick through a box with a couple pieces of mailing wire, and that was their guitar.
'That's what I was looking for: something so gritty and so deep that it was coming together from garbage. I went nuts over it, built my own and started pushing it on the internet. Now it's a worldwide phenomenon,' remarked Speals.
Another Blues Fest favorite, artist Dane Tilghman, was on hand selling his colorful artwork. Many of his works feature long-gone blues musicians, as well as other music icons. Hailing from Exton, Tilghman has been coming to Blues Fest since the beginning five years ago, and said his favorite thing about the fest is the people.
'It's always a good vibe at the Blues Festival. That's what I do all summer long, is blues festivals. This is like the finishing touch for the summer,' said Tilghman.
'It's culture. We as human beings need to keep expanding our horizons and education in terms of particular music and whatnot,' he elaborated. 'The more arts and music that come to Phoenixville, the better. Phoenixville is a happening place, and I wish there were a couple other places locally that were happening as much as Phoenixville.'
Tilghman has been an artist for 30 years and finds much of his inspiration from history as well as his customers themselves.
'I work from old black and white photography. I started going to blues festivals 15 years ago,' he said. 'I get inspired by the people who know these musicians, when they ask do you have such and such? So I go out and paint them. I am a firm believer in giving people what they want. I meet a lot of new folks and I see a lot of old friends here. It's always a good time,' he said.
Many nonprofit organizations had informational tents set up at the festival as well to promote their services, including PACS, the SPCA, Paint the Town Pink and UniteForHer. Proceeds raised from Blues Fest go back into the community by supporting these Phoenixville area groups, among others.
DiGuiseppe noted that he will be stepping down as festival organizaer after five successful years. Anyone who would like to be involved in planning next year's Blues Fest can visit firstname.lastname@example.org.