This past weekend's third edition of the Bradenton Blue Festival proved the enduring value of the city's cultural place-making strategy toward improving the economy by attracting more and more people to the Friendly City. With more than 3,200 music aficionados descending on downtown's Riverpark jewel, the festival set a record of "resounding success" that surpassed previous attendance marks.
But that's not the most noteworthy figure. By far the most of those blues fans, some 87 percent of the Floridians who came to this little city that could arrived from outside Manatee County, even Alaska and another 29 states.
Count Canadian, British and German citizens among Saturday's daylong concert-goers, too. Those visitors helped fill downtown hotels and restaurants and increased business elsewhere, too.
Those numbers come from Realize Bradenton, the city-founded nonprofit born out of a resident visioning process that involved some 1,500 people interested in forging the ground work for positive economic development via culture. The organization works in ways unknown to most here, a behind-the-scenes yet potent part of our arts scene.
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Realize Bradenton birthed this blues festival three years ago on the hope that this could be one of many linchpins to achieving its goal of showing this city as a great place to live, work and play. Well, one little blues festival accomplished that.
Along with the international and national interest, Realize Bradenton discovered that festival attendees hailed from 225 different ZIP codes just from within Florida.
But the reach of the Bradenton Blues Festival extended beyond physical attendance. Thanks to live streaming, the festival witnessed more than 3,000 website views from all 50 states and 37 countries. Japan, Finland, Thailand. China, Italy, Belize. Truly a global appeal.
The city's premier promotional organization also raised the bar this year -- so to speak -- with craft beer specifically designed for the event by one of the city's first brewers,
Drawin Brewing Co. And with seven Manatee County restaurants dishing out choice servings for the first time, the food court put on a fresh face, too.
This event, though, is bigger than one day. Realize Bradenton embraces youth with a Blues in Schools program that this year engaged some 300 music students at Manatee High School and advances education with five programs at our branch libraries in partnership with the Suncoast Blues Society. A free community Friday night concert drew about 1,500 people.
How big a deal is this one festival? Big.
This is the only event that Realize Bradenton charges an entry fee. The other 75 or so events are fee. Free. The money from one single event makes all the others possible, says Johnette Isham, the executive director of Realize Bradenton.
Who could not applaud that?
Thanks belong to the dozens of "forward-thinking community leaders, organizations and businesses" that have been essential to the Bradenton Blues Festival growing quickly "into one of our region's top-flight cultural events," Isham states. "It truly takes a community to create this festival."
None too surprising, even competing with hundreds of blues festivals across the world, Bradenton's version placed among the top five in the website contest on blues411.com. That speaks to the high quality of the musicians that appear here. And the venue. Tough to beat a riverfront location like we sport.
Cheers to Realize Bradenton for living up to its community-building mandate.