By Anastazja Kolodziej
Saturday night, Ritchie Coliseum was lit up blue.
A large crowd filled the inside of the building. Toddlers ran around from vendor to vendor, knocking into their parents and their parents’ friends. College students sat at tables, snacking on pretzels and popcorn. 70-year-olds swayed on the dance floor. Onstage at the front of the room, which was decorated red, white and blue for Veterans’ Day, a singer belted out soulful hits and original songs.
This was the 11th College Park Free Blues Festival.
The festival, an annual feature in the city, is organized by the College Park Recreation Board with support from the D.C. Blues Society, the city of College Park and the University of Maryland.
“It’s a huge community because there’s blues fans, there’s the neighborhood, and so it’s really a blend,” Jazs Web, one of the organizers of the festival, said. “And that’s what really makes it so cool because you get the connection. All ages – you got the little kids, you got babies, and people that are here that are like 82 or 90. Definitely 82.”
Web, a member of both the recreation board and the D.C. Blues Society, has helped organize the festival since it began 11 years ago.
“I also live in Hollywood and I went to the University of Maryland, so I was sort of like, we need to have a great festival right here in our area,” she said. “I’m all-supportive of it, and that’s why I’m so involved in it.”
Many of the vendors and acts are also local, and so is most of the audience. Adele Ellis and Bob Schanbel, two of the liveliest dancers on the floor, are College Park residents. Ellis even helped to organize the festival in past years as a member of the recreation board.
The neighborhood helps to advertise the event, they said.
“I drive up and down Route 1 and there’s usually a sign there for the Blues Fest,” Schanbel said.
“And we put it out on neighborhood listservs and there’s a big banner. Local people all put it on our individual ones – Old Town has a listserv, Calvert Hills has a listserv. I call my friends and say, ‘get your butt down here!’” Ellis said, laughing.
Ellis and Schanbel have been friends for over 30 years. They attend the festival together every year, both for the community and for the music.
“Yeah, you have to love the blues. I have a lot of friends who would rather go to the Clarice and hear chamber music. I would rather come here,” Ellis said.
As the next song started to play, Ellis and Schnabel drifted back onto the dance floor, dancing first together, then with two college students. The sound of the electric guitar flooded the Coliseum.
The night’s performers were the winners of the D.C. Blues Society’s annual Battle of the Bands. The winners also travel to Memphis in January to compete in the International Blues Challenge. Carly Harvey, one of this year’s acts, won the D.C. Battle two years ago and competed in Memphis as a duo, where she did not advance to further rounds.
“It was a great networking opportunity for what it was, and we were happy to be there. But I’m hoping this year we kick butt,” Harvey said.
Harvey said that the audience’s liveliness at the festival helps feed her own energy.
“I love any event that the D.C. Blues Society puts on because the audience is there to hear to music, and they love it, and they love blues, and you just feel a real appreciation,” Harvey said. “Some other venues you play, you don’t get that appreciation, so this is very special to me.”
Harvey started singing the blues in college after her friend heard her perform a Bonnie Raitt song and suggested she try the style. Harvey was not impressed with the idea until her friend gave her a Susan Tedeschi “Live from Austin, TX” album.
“It sat on my desk for two days and I didn’t listen to it. Then I got intrigued and I watched it every day for about three months,” Harvey said. “It was a soulful, heartfelt form of blues that was a little bit evolved but still authentic to blues and I appreciated that. She’s kind of my blues muse.”
To Harvey, the blues are more than just music.
“It’s my heart and it’s how I express everything I’m feeling, whether I’m feeling sexy, if I’m feeling heartbroken, it’s all there.”
Featured Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Anastasia Kolodziej/Bloc Reporter.
Anastazja Kolodziej is a sophomore journalism and classics major and can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.