Sarasota Blues Festival canceled

New blues festival set to take its place

mclear@bradenton.comMay 8, 2013 

SARASOTA -- The Sarasota Blues Festival has been canceled, at least for this year, and maybe for good.

A new festival, organized by some of the people who ran last year's Sarasota Blues Festival, is set to take its place.

Earlier this week, all information and festival photos on sarasotabluesfest.com were replaced with a single message: "Thank you for your inquiries and support regarding the festival. With great consideration we have decided to take the year off. That means unfortunate

ly there will not be a Bluesfest in Sarasota in 2013. We appreciate your continued interest and look forward to 2014!"

A St. Petersburg-based production company called Turnstile announced Tuesday afternoon it would christen a Florida Blue Blues & Music Festival Oct. 26, right around the same time the Sarasota Blues Festival would have gone on, at the Sarasota Fairgrounds, exactly where the Sarasota Blues Festival played.

Ed Morrell of Turnstile used to head the entertainment division of ExtremeTix, which ran the Sarasota Blues Festival the past two years.

"When we heard they weren't going forward with it, we didn't want the tradition of a blues festival in Sarasota to die," Morrell said.

Calls to ExtremeTix, which produces events ranging from Renaissance fairs to air shows, were not immediately returned.

Morrell said he didn't know whether ExtremeTix planned to bring the Sarasota Blues Festival back next year, as the message on the festival website implies, but he said the Florida Blue Blues & Music Festival would "absolutely" be an annual event.

If the Sarasota festival returns, he said: "I guess we'll be competing."

Morell managed last year's Sarasota Blues Festival and then left to form Turnstile with another ExtremeTix employee. He said he planned to announce the new festival later this week but was caught off-guard by ExtremeTix' cancellation of the Sarasota Blues Festival, so he rushed to announce the new event.

He declined to name acts that might appear at the first Florida Blue Blues Festival until later this month.

It will be the second new blues festival to come to the area in a span of 10 months.

Last December, the first Bradenton Blues Festival was more successful than anyone had predicted. Organizers said they expect this year's second annual Bradenton Blues Festival, with Shemekia Copeland headlining, to sell out.

Johnette Isham, executive director of Realize Bradenton, the organization behind the Bradenton Blues Festival, said blues festivals in the area, including Tampa and St. Petersburg, don't compete. She said they promote each other and cultivate a stronger music scene to the benefits of all.

"Blues fans, like jazz fans, will travel to hear good music," Isham said.

The Sarasota Blues Festival started 22 years ago. It was originally organized by the Sarasota Blues Society, but Barbara Strauss took it over after two years and developed it into a nationally recognized festival featuring major artists such as Gregg Allman, Delbert McClinton and Buddy Guy.

Strauss said she was "burned out" and was going to close the festival after its 20th anniversary in 2010 when ExtremeTix offered to buy it from her. She helped ExtremeTix run the festival in 2011 but was not involved in 2012.

Still she considers the festival her "baby," and was taken aback by the cancellation.

"There's a missing piece that we don't know about," she said. "I did it for 18 years and then they paid me what I consider a great deal of money for it, and they do it for one year and cancel it. It doesn't make sense."

Marty Clear ,Entertainment reporter can be reached at mclear@bradenton.com.

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