Bradenton woman helps blues festival land headliner

February 23, 2014 

When you're enjoying Marcia Ball's headlining performance at the 2014 Bradenton Blues festival, you can thank Patty Virgilio.

Virgilio is a Bradenton resident and a devoted Marcia Ball fan. Soon after she attended her first Bradenton Blues festival last year, Virgilio sent an email to Johnette Isham suggesting that Ball would be a great addition to the festival and asking if she could be added to the 2014 lineup.

Within a few weeks, she got the news that Ball would be headlining.

Isham is the executive director of Realize Bradenton, the organization that puts on the festival, but she doesn't have anything to do with picking the musicians. She leaves that to Paul Benjamin, the nationally known blues festival producer who has the knowledge and the expertise to attract the best musicians in the genre.

She gets dozens of emails every year with requests and suggestions about who should perform at the festival. Most of the time she doesn't bother to forward them to Benjamin, because he's the one who knows who's available and who would make a good fit with the other acts in the lineup. But she paid attention to Virgilio's suggestion.

Virgilio is a longtime blues fan. But she had to miss the inaugural Bradenton Blues Festival, in 2012, because she was fighting against breast cancer.

"I was going through chemo at the time," she said. "But I could hear Ruthie Foster from my back yard. She was the headliner that year."

By the time the second annual Bradenton Blues Festival came around, she was feeling up to attending. She had a great time listening Shemekia Copeland, Doug Deming and the Jewel Tones, Trampled Underfoot and the rest of the 2013 lineup.

Virgilio's breast cancer was in remission, but she had a new fight: she had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

It was right after that festival, in December, Virgilio sent that email

to Isham. She was hoping that her favorite musician, Marcia Ball, could be in the 2104 lineup. (The festival's set for Dec. 6 on Bradenton's Riverwalk.)

"I've been following Marcia Ball since 1989," Virgilio said. "We email each other and guess you could say we're friends."

Ball performs at Skipper's Smokehouse in Tampa almost every year, and Virgilio met her there after one of her shows. Ball recognized her the next year, and a friendship started to develop.

In 2012, when Virgilio was too ill to go to the show at Skipper's, Ball drove down to Bradenton to visit her.

"That's just the way she is," Virgilio said. "She's a fan of her fans."

But it's Ball's music that makes Virgilio want to see her at the festival.

"Her talent is huge," she said. "Her songs are about her experiences. A lot of them are upbeat, and I think everyone can relate to some of her songs."

Isham sent Virgilio's email to Benjamin. Benjamin knew Ball. Ball was eager to come to Bradenton, partly because the festival has great reputation the national blues community and partly because it would give her a chance to visit her friend, Patty Virgilio.

Pancreatic cancer is serious and its course can be unpredictable. Virgilio's making regular treks to Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa for treatments. But she's feeling pretty good right now. She's upbeat and she has definite plans for Dec. 6.

"As long as I have something to look forward to, I'm good to go," Virgilio said. "And I'm looking forward to the blues festival."

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