MANATEE -- In a spirit of "the Blues Festival must go on," Bradenton's rich-voiced Gospel singer Shantel Norman delighted about a half dozen of her fans by singing Sunday outside of Soma Creek Side restaurant.
The popular eatery at 1401 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton, was supposed to host a Gospel Blues Brunch for about 100 guests to wrap up the three-day 2015 Bradenton Blues Festival, but it could not open Sunday because of a family emergency, according to a note on the door and a Facebook post.
Shantel performed the reggae number, "Three Little Birds," by Bob Marley with backup provided her Bradenton fans Steve Foster, Linda Domenico, Laura Domenico, Tony Domenico and Shantel's husband, Damie Caines.
The artist also sang "We Are Family," by Sister Sledge in the Soma parking garage with fans Sue Kelly, Linda Agosto and Rhonda Candell. She also sang "Amazing Grace" for some people in a car in the parking garage.
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"Shantel is who we came for," said Linda Domenico. "I skipped church today because I was going to be blessed by her wonderful singing."
Kelly, Agosto and Candell swayed like a Motown girl group on, "We Are Family." For their one-time singing experience, the four women named themselves, "Coffee and Cream with a lot of Sugar."
"It was unforgettable," said "Sugar" member Candell, who always dreamed of performing on stage with fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell.
Shantel performs in two bands, Jah Movement Reggae Band and Truality Band. Her drummer, Darrell Johnson, also took part in the fun.
Shantel stayed for about a half hour then invited her fans to her usual Sunday morning gig at the Blue Rooster Cafe in Sarasota.
"You all can follow me down to Sarasota," she said with a grin.
For patrons who pre-paid, Soma Creek Side noted on its website that it would refund customer credit cards.
Blues fan: Bradenton rules
Stephen Luiken, 52, rates the Bradenton Blues Festival as the best festival of its kind in the nation.
Luiken's assessment came after this weekend's music event which drew 3,000. His opinion carries some weight. He is, by his own estimate, one of the nation's most active blues festival hobbyists.
The Pittsburgh resident said on Sunday that he spends $60,000 annually on his hobby.
"It became a passion for me after I saw B.B. King in concert in Chicago in 1970," said Luiken, a family man who is in "fluid power sales," selling cylinders and valves for Huston Industrial Sales.
Luiken, who spent the weekend staying at the Marriott Courtyard Bradenton on the Riverwalk, attends between 20 and 30 blues festivals annually. He says there are 1,000 festivals in the United States. He has been to more than 200 festivals, not all different, however.
Bradenton is No. 1 because of the area's natural beauty, the attention to detail organizers give it and a certain atmosphere, Luiken said.
"I like the old town feel," Luiken said. "It's very clean and feels very safe. I like the amenities. I like that there are all types of food and drink close by. I like that they do a booklet with pictures of all the performers. I like that I can see the top-notch talent I expect to see when I go to a festival."
"We really work our butts off so it is really good to hear something like this," said Johnette Isham, executive director of Realize Bradenton, which puts on the event.
Luiken's pronouncement also validates the No. 1 ranking recently conferred upon the local festival by the music website Blues411, Isham said.
Luiken said it's hard to pick a favorite from this past weekend's blues lineup, but Janiva Magness would be in the running.
"Janiva, oh man, she has a good soul," Luiken said. "I've seen her 100 times."
Realize Bradenton recruits 65 sponsors and 125 volunteers to put on the festival.
The festival is scheduled for Dec. 2, 3 and 4, 2016, and Isham said some new features are in the works.
"We need to put together a package for out-of-area blues lovers both from the United States and Europe so they can come for four or five days," Isham said. "We want the package to have a beach connection with Anna Maria Island."
The only negatives Isham heard this year from festival goers were about the lack of downtown hotel rooms and some problems regarding the electrical supply,
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@Richard Dymond.