BRADENTON -- Melodies filled the air to the delight of those in lawn chairs and on blankets scattered through the event zone of the Riverwalk on Friday night during the "Blues Appetizer Concert."
The free event drew a crowd of all ages as it launched the inaugural Bradenton Blues Festival.
Couples danced in front of the stage, as listeners throughout the crowd swayed to the
music of the Tampa-based Selwyn Birchwood Band and Sarasota-based Kettle of Fish.
Many sat on benches and the pavilion steps skirting the grassy area topped with a stage equipped with lights and a fog machine. The playground was full of children where passersby stopped for a quick listen. Others snaked through tents where vendors sold carnival food, adult beverages, jewelry and other items.
"To kick it off this well, you can't go wrong with that," said Tonya Kida, assistant events coordinator with Realize Bradenton, as she sold tickets for Saturday's showcase. "There a lot of people out here and even more in the vendors' section. This is nice for people who can't make it to the Blues Festival."
The event generated on-site discount ticket sales adding to the more than 1,000 pre-ordered tickets purchased online. Adult tickets will be $30 at the gate. Proceeds will benefit art and music programs at local schools.
"We've sold more tickets than I anticipated," Kida said. "This will set the tone for future events. We can see the capacity of a large event and work out the kinks to make it bigger and better next year."
Ron Deglopper and his wife, Ann, of Bradenton, enjoyed the music from a table among food booths.
"It's just something free to do tonight," said Ron Deglopper, who picked up an event flier at City Hall.
"It's outside and the weather is nice," Ann Deglopper added. "If they continue doing stuff like this, it will be nice."
Shelly Brown and friend Linda Brown had not planned on spending their Friday night listening to music.
"We were taking a walk along the Riverwalk because it's such a nice night and we wanted to be outside," said Shelly Brown, perched against the rail along Manatee River. "We didn't know this was going on, but I wanted to go to the Blues Festival and couldn't afford it, so this is nice that we can come and enjoy it without spending money."
Linda Brown said events like the music festival should happen every weekend at the newly completed Riverwalk.
"They don't have much for people in Bradenton to do," Linda Brown said. "Something like this is nice when it feels so good outside for people to enjoy."
Kida said the Riverwalk is the perfect venue for events like the Blues Festival.
"It's amazing. I can't say how proud I am," Kida said. "I've lived in Bradenton 17 years and before this you had to go to Sarasota or St. Pete. Now you can stay. It brings revenues for local businesses. And it brings everyone in the community together."
Johnette Isham, executive director of Realize Bradenton, thanked sponsors of Friday's free show and invited everyone to return for bands playing from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. today.
"Support live music. Support the Riverwalk," Isham said.
"And let's realize Bradenton and the amazing assets we have in the Manatee River and Riverwalk."
Elizabeth Johnson, reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. Follow her on Twitter @EJohnsonBHcrime.