Bradenton’s got the blues: Inaugural blues festival set for October 2012

wtatangelo@bradenton.comSeptember 8, 2011 

BRADENTON -- The tentatively titled Bradenton Blues Festival is set for October 2012 to coincide with the grand opening of the city’s $6.2 million Riverwalk.

It will take place on a stage built specifically for the event near the water, northeast of the under-construction Manatee Performing Arts Center.

The Saturday music celebration will end by about 8 p.m. with post-festival events planned for across downtown, as well as local acts performing in the same spots along Old Main Street and the Riverwalk on Friday. A gospel brunch in Bradenton is being considered for Sunday.

The Bradenton Blues Festival grounds could hold up to 5,000 people. Ticket prices have yet to be determined.

“We’re leaning toward naming it the Bradenton Blues Festival or Bradenton Blues Fest with a sponsor’s name saying ‘presented by’ attached to it,” said Johnette Isham, executive director of Realize Bradenton. “We’re already being approached by sponsors, but the key is ‘Bradenton’ has to be in the name.”

The festival started taking shape after a meeting last month between Isham and Jack Sullivan, operations officer of the globally circulated Blues Revue magazine that recently moved its headquarters from California to the Village of the Arts. Blues Revue sponsors numerous festivals nationwide, including the annual Tampa Bay Blues Festival in April at the Vinoy Waterfront Park in St. Petersburg.

Sullivan has brought in Paul Benjamin, who has coordinated the North Atlantic Blues Festival in Rockland, Maine, for the past two decades to be a consultant for the Bradenton event. Multiple Grammy Award-winning blues great Robert Cray headlined this year’s North Atlantic festival in July.

Isham, Benjamin, Sullivan and other community leaders met Wednesday to discuss the Bradenton Blues Festival at a conference room on Old Main Street. Next, they took a stroll along Riverwalk to determine the festival’s physical requirements and design. The day concluded with a 7 p.m. meeting catered by Jose’s Real Cuban Food at the fourth floor Westminster Dining Room overlooking downtown Bradenton. Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Dave Gustafson and Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Public Relations and Social Media Manager Tara Donovan were also in attendance.

“As far as music acts, the festival will feature a mix of local flavor and national acts to bring tourists from around the world,” Benjamin said.

Another major component to the festival will be food. Isham wants six to 10 vendors. More importantly, she insists on spotlighting the city’s finest.

“This is not going to be a hot dog event,” she said. “We want to showcase the great culinary talent we have here.”

Same goes for the 15 arts and crafts booths.

“They are going to be high quality and selected by a jury to get in,” Isham said.

Funding will come from vendors and everything from posters to T-shirt sales.

“But five incredible community sponsors is what we’re looking for,” Isham said.

The pre- and post-festival shows Friday and Saturday could prove as potent as the main event.

“The national acts will definitely be jamming with the local ones,” Benjamin said. “It will happen.”

Bradenton Blues Festival organizers plan to have a full announcement, including a couple of the music acts, ticket prices, sale date, official logo and Facebook page ready in six to eight weeks.

“The blues community is a close-knit family and now Bradenton is part of that family,” Benjamin said.

In June, top ticketing, marketing and talent booking company ExtremeTix, and its entertainment division, Three Zebras, both based in Houston, purchased the Sarasota Blues Fest for an undisclosed sum.

Barbara Strauss, a Riverview High graduate, has run the event since 1993. She will continue as executive producer of the 21st annual Sarasota Blues Fest, Nov. 5 at Ed Smith Stadium, and act as a consultant in the future.

Multiple Grammy Award-winning Tex-Mex/roots rock act Los Lobos headlines this year’s Sarasota Blues Fest, which typically takes place in late October or early November.

“We would love to find a way to partner with the Sarasota Blues Fest,” Sullivan said. “We’re looking for a win-win situation.”

ExtremeTix President Charles Garrett responded to the statement when reached on his cell phone late Wednesday.

“We’re open to those conversations,” he said. “But our main goal is the preservation of the Sarasota Blues Fest and continuing to serve the community and charities that have been benefactors of the festival for so long.”

Multiple Bradenton Blues Festival meetings, including one with Mayor Wayne Poston, continue today from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at (941) 745-7057. Visit his blog at

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