Rockin’ the blues away

For two decades, every Fourth of July, downtown Marietta has been rocked by the annual Red, White and Blues Fest. And that musical tradition continued Friday as several hundred fans brought lawn chairs and spent an evening with some great blues bands.

“I love blues music, and for not much money this is a real giveaway,” said Teresa Beveridge of Marietta.

Her friend, Teresa Coleman from Vienna, W.Va., said the Noah Witherspoon Band, one of Friday night’s performers, is among her favorites.

Mike VanDyke, also from Vienna, agreed.

“Blues is my favorite style of music-blues and bluegrass, I guess,” he said. “And they always have great performers at this event. We should be in for a great night.”

John Gifford with the Blues, Jazz and Folk Music Society of the Mid-Ohio Valley, was helping set up the stage for Friday’s festival.

“We help get the blues bands for Marietta Main Street as we have a pretty good database of great bands to choose from,” he said. “Noah Witherspoon from Kentucky came in second during our annual blues competition earlier this year, so we booked him back in February. And the Patrick Swaney Band is from the Nashville area. This is the third time he’s played here. And all of these bands love Marietta.”

Gifford noted that Witherspoon would also be doing a tribute to the late Cobbler John Bolen, a founder of the Blues, Jazz and Folk Music Society, who died early this year.

Angela Perley and the Howlin’ Moons from Columbus kicked off the evening’s entertainment.

“We’ve played Marietta before, at the Marietta Brewing Company and the Adelphia Music Hall,” Perley said. “But this is our first outdoors venue, and the weather is perfect.”

She said the band started in 2010 and includes lead guitarist Chris Connor, bassist Bill Zehnal, and Jeff Martin on drums. Perley plays guitar and is lead vocalist.

“I also play the musical saw,” Perley said, pointing to a small case on stage with a covered saw blade resting against it.

The band recorded its first full-length album in December and the project has done quite well overseas.

“It’s number six on the Euro-American charts,” Perley said. “But we’re still pretty much a grassroots band here. We play a mixture of rock n’ roll, country and blues, so I guess we’re kind of the wild card band tonight.”

Also performing Friday was Burning Dawn of Marietta, a group that’s billed as a “fire performance troupe” using fire in dances and artistic presentations, backed by neo-tribal drumming.

Jean G. Farmer, executive director of Marietta Main Street, said the annual Red, White and Blues Fest is a major fundraiser for the organization.

“Every year the funds raised go toward the beautification and revitalization of downtown Marietta,” she said. “It was started 20 years ago by the Friends of Front Street group that is now part of Marietta Main Street.”

Karen Briley chairs the Red, White and Blues Fest committee.

“The proceeds from this will go into beautification projects like the hanging flower baskets, the flags and the holiday decorations Main Street Marietta provides for the downtown area,” she said. “The first fest was held in the parking lot of what is now the Riverside 181 (at the intersection of Butler and Post streets).”

Briley said after the city decided to run the Front Street electrical utility lines underground, decorative street lights were erected with special posts on which baskets of flowers could be hung.

“But we had to have a way to pay for the flowers for someone to water and keep them maintained,” she said.

The Red, White and Blues Fest turned out to be the answer for that financial need.

“It’s one of our core fundraisers, and it’s a bargain at $10 for an entire night of blues music and entertainment,” Briley said.