BRADENTON -- Kathy Callaghan Morgan sat at a table Thursday evening in Ace's Live with her girls.
She wore a white cap with the word "BRIDE" bedazzled in pink, with a small veil attached. Her smile was radiant.
The kickoff party for the Bradenton Blues Festival hadn't begun yet, but Callaghan Morgan and her circle of women were already celebrating. She's getting married this weekend, and it's all thanks to meeting her future husband, Tom Gainer, at this very festival in 2013.
"He came up to me, we met and then I immediately brought him back to my fam
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ily. I was with probably 10 or 15 of my family members," she said. "If he could handle that, we knew... we knew it was going to work."
Callaghan Morgan joined an estimated 250 people at the kickoff party for the Bradenton Blues Festival, an event produced by the nonprofit Realize Bradenton. The festival this year takes place from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Dec. 3 at the Riverwalk Pavilion in Bradenton.
"This is the first time we have done a kickoff party for the Bradenton Blues Festival," said Realize Bradenton Executive Director Johnette Isham. "It's our fifth annual December 3rd. Let's give it up!"
Loud cheers echoed through the lounge.
Aside from giving out prizes and thanking sponsors, Isham announced the lineup of festival, which includes Slam Allen, Victor Wainwright and the Wildroots, and Ronnie Baker Brooks, son of blues singer and guitarist Lonnie Brooks.
Drawing on suspense, Isham told the crowd she had a big secret and waited for everyone to quiet down.
"The amazing Blues Foundation is having their board meeting in Bradenton next November," she said, fueling an eruption of cheers.
In an email earlier this week to a Herald reporter, Isham described this as "an endorsement of the significant importance of the Bradenton area as a hub for blues musicians, blues venues, and the impact of the Bradenton Blues Festival."
Mark Thompson, recently elected president of the Suncoast Blues Society, attended the kickoff party. The 63-year-old blues lover used to live in Gulfport but now resides in Bradenton. "Over the years, I found myself coming down here to Bradenton and Sarasota on a regular basis, so we finally decided to sell the condo and buy a house in Bradenton so I could be closer to the music," he said with a smile.
Because of the Bradenton Blues Festival, Thompson said, there's been a renewed interest in blues music.
"Somebody once said the blues is the facts of life. You have people playing the music and expressing, oftentimes, their deepest emotions whether it's about love, grief, hardship," he said. "With all the technology we have, all the advantages we have in life, we still deal with a lot of the same issues, the same feelings and emotions so blues is a timeless music."
Tickets for the fifth annual Bradenton Blues Festival go on sale Friday. For more information and to buy tickets online, go to BradentonBluesFestival.org.
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.