Bradenton Blues Festival mixes sellout crowd with a sense of community
As the blues boomed throughout the Bradenton Riverwalk on Saturday, it can be easy to assume the annual concert, now in its seventh year, is all about music.
But organizers of the Bradenton Blues Festival say it’s so much more. The event sells out to a crowd of more than 3,000 folks every year thanks to a mix of new and upcoming blues artists, but the real draw is the overwhelming sense of community.
“When you bring people together like this, this is how you build community,” said Susie Bowie, executive director of Manatee Community Foundation, who volunteered at the event. “When you look at the state of our country right now, having this festival is a perfect way to connect with a middle ground.”
Of course, the musical talent also played a huge role in drawing a sellout crowd for the seventh year in a row, said Art Tipaldi, editor-in-chief of Blues Music Magazine.
“This festival ranks at an A-plus. It just hits so many bullet points,” Tipaldi said. “You’ve got tremendous artists all performing in one day and a free night for the community.”
This year’s lineup featured Chris Cain, Kelley Hunt, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, the Welch-Ledbetter Connection and more. According to Johnette Isham, executive director of Realize Bradenton, the festival drew in visitors from 10 countries, 35 states and more than 200 different Florida zip codes.
Ellenton resident Rodney Andrews has attended the Bradenton Blues Festival six times. He quit bothering to check the lineup before buying his ticket, “because it’s always top-notch.”
“I’d say this one is right up there with the best.
You can’t beat the weather, it’s well-run and it’s efficient,” Andrews said. “Even at the free concert last night, the artists are
‘‘ WHEN YOU LOOK AT THE STATE OF OUR COUNTRY RIGHT NOW, HAVING THIS FESTIVAL IS A PERFECT WAY TO CONNECT WITH A MIDDLE GROUND.
Susie Bowie, executive director of Manatee Community Foundation
always on time and right on the money.”
There’s no doubt that the quality of music is what keeps Andrews coming back, but he said the crowd is also a big part of it, noting that there’s a relaxing energy at the Riverwalk when the blues fest is in town.
“They make it worth coming back,” he said. “There’s no other festival that I’ve been to five times in a row.”
Kathy Baker made the drive from Winter Haven to attend the festival this year. She said the commitment to true blues music is what keeps drawing her in.
“The music they bring is some of the best,” Baker said. “They keep it strictly blues and not southern rock.”
Bradenton residents Rozanna Fisher and Rhonda Anderson frequently attend the festival, as well. Anderson said the atmosphere has remained friendly and welcoming over the years.
“A lot of these festivals start really good but then they fall off,” Anderson said. “At the Bradenton Blues Festival they have discipline, and that’s a good thing to have.”
That discipline helps them connect with new friends every year, according to Fisher.
“The sun and the music and the atmosphere is just awesome,” Fisher said. “We meet fun people here because everyone comes to have fun.”
Tipaldi explained that he often has to answer the question of how he can stand to listen to what many believe is a genre dedicated to sadness.
“What we’re hearing right now is healing music that people come out for,” Tipaldi said. “They say it’s sad music, but look around. These people are happy and dancing and having a great time.”
Christone “Kingfish” Ingram performs at the Bradenton Blues Festival. The 19-year-old artist from Mississippi was a hit with Saturday’s sellout crowd at the Bradenton Riverwalk.
The Bradenton Blues Festival drew a sellout crowd for the seventh straight year, organizers say. The event is held annually at the Bradenton Riverwalk in front of a crowd of about 3,000 people.