NORWICH – Record numbers came out to attend the 23rd Annual Chenango Blues Festival held Friday and Saturday, Aug. 21-22.
“We look forward to this weekend all year,” said Sarah Woods of The Blarney Stone Pub in downtown Norwich. “The Chenango Blues Association has done such an incredible job that the festival is known nationwide. People came from as far as Atlanta to see the show.”
Festival Organizer Eric Larsen said, “It's always very gratifying to hear the kind comments we get from attendees at the festival. It's especially great that many of our fans travel long distances, attend many festivals, and tell us this is their favorite.”
Larsen added that there were more campers at the festival than ever before, setting another record. He said the camping feature helps to boost the attendance.
“A little more than 5,000 people came through the gates over the weekend,” Larsen said.
With regard to the music, Blues Festival Committee Member Lindsey Miles said she had a blast.
“I didn’t listen to a second of mediocre music,” said Miles. “It was all stellar.”
Woods said, “The caliber of music is just outstanding.”
“I have always loved the atmosphere at the fest, it feels like a giant barbecue with all of my friends and family,” said Miles. “I got to catch up with people I don’t normally see, and take photos of the artists, which makes it one of the best days of the year for me.”
“It's funny, I was there at the very first blues fest 23 years ago, a fifteen year old kid with dreams of someday performing that stage. I have so many great memories: finding Kenny Neal's broken E string (I still have it somewhere), loaning my Twin Reverb to harmonica legend Sam Myers, good times with friends and my folks over the course of two-plus decades, performing the main stage with the Badweather Blues Band,” said Blues Fest performer Brian Golden. “This year was even more special, however, as it marked a high point for the Golden Novak Band; the culmination of two years of hard work put in by Jess (Novak) and myself. There's something special about performing for people that truly love this music and their enthusiasm is contagious.”
Eileen Andrews, Board Member, Treasurer, and Vendor Coordinator of the festival said, “It was an excellent year for the Blues Fest. Friday night is like homecoming for many.”
Andrews added that vendors for the festival make their way from as far away as California.
“The blues tend to have a vendor following,” said Andrews. “Now that we are so well established as one of the best festivals in the northeast, we are getting vendors from all over the country.”
According to Andrews, the food vendors were mostly local central NY vendors.
“The campers were lined up early Friday morning and went down and around on Midland Drive,” said Andrews. “We are just part of their summer festivals.”
Andrews said that the biggest complaint was that there were not enough hotel rooms, and many of the vendors stayed in Binghamton. “We’re already working on this problem for next year’s festival,” she said.
Even off the festival grounds (Chenango County Fairgrounds), it was said the city was abuzz with music.
“Downtown was hopping this weekend as blues fans checked out the shops and restaurants,” said Woods.
Festival-goers tend to make their way downtown after the festival itself comes to a close.
“We're huge live music supporters, and are psyched that the pub has kind of become known as the ‘post-festival spot,’” said Woods. “Friday night we had national recording artist Michael Hill backed by our good friends from Binghamton, who were later joined on stage by musicians coming straight from the fairgrounds for an impromptu jam session.”
The Ghost Town Blues Band took the Blarney Stone stage Saturday night.
“They were definitely a crowd favorite,” said Woods. “Absolutely blew the roof off and had the dance floor packed until the final guitar string was strummed.”
“Our philosophy in booking is to present as diverse a lineup as possible,” added Larsen with regard to how the artists are selected. “Up-and-coming acts to established artists. We try to have something for everybody.”
Larsen additionally extended his appreciation to the see-up crew, as he said they did a fabulous job getting the grounds prepped for the festival.
“As always, the sound technicians and volunteers were friendly and professional, and while that doesn't surprise me, it must be an amazing feeling for the many talented artists that have performed the fest over the years,” said Golden. “Eric (Larsen) and the rest of the blues committee know how to make you feel comfortable and it's a testament to their dedication and hard work when you see those thousands of people having the time of their lives supporting some of the best musicians on the planet. Our show on Friday was without a doubt one of my favorite performances ever, it's hard to put into words.”
“In my opinion, Norwich is a wonderful place to live because of community events like this one, that really add to the arts and culture of the area,” said Miles.
Said Golden, “On Saturday, Jess and I had a chance to take a day off and be fans for once; that's always a great feeling. I thought Ronnie Earl was fantastic, as were all of the other acts. His stuck out, though, as he embodies everything I aspire to be as a blues guitarist. The guys in the Ghost Town Blues Band were kind enough to invite Jess and I to the Blarney Stone stage post Blues Fest, another high point in what we both considered a perfect day: perfect weather, a great crowd and - most importantly - great tunes. I know I'm biased but I've said it many times: this is the best fest there is.”
“We can't say thank you enough to the organizers and volunteers who work so hard putting this event together,” said Woods. “We're already counting down the days until next year.”
Andrews said that next year’s event will be held the weekend after the Chenango County Fair.
“Mr. Larsen doesn’t ask for any rewards,” said attendee and area musician Robert Tousignant. “But he should at some point get the keys to the City of Norwich for his tireless work for 23 years to bring this community the best blues music and musicians to our community. Everyone prospers on this weekend.”
“It was an honor to be a small part of it and if you see Eric or another member of the committee (or a volunteer for that matter), take a moment to say thank you,” said Golden. “What we do as musicians is simple fun, sharing our talents with an appreciative audience. They do all the real work, and if you've ever been to the Chenango Blues Fest, you've seen how that pays off. Truly an honor.”