After seven years with luck and sunny weather on the day of the Simply Texas Blues Festival came weather members of the Blues Society had dreaded. When it first started raining Saturday, Blues Society sponsorship committee chairman Marty Behrens admitted he was a little worried about how it would affect the festival.
“Considering it started out with steady rain the crowd ended up being awesome,” Behrens said.
Although attendance was not as high as in 2015, the festival still had a very large crowd.
“When it starts to rain most people change their plans for the day, but we still experienced a flow of people coming in. It was a great time and probably one of the most fun concerts we have ever had as far as the headliners are concerned.”
The headliner this year was Mr. Sipp, the Mississippi Blues Child, who won the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in 2015.
“We try to have the winner of the IBC in Memphis be our headliner each year. Their music is such high quality, and they are not as difficult to get in contact with or book as other big artists. However, we are hoping that we one year will be able to have a big blues star perform at our festival, if the number of crowds and sponsorship continues to grow,” he said.
It all started because of Rod Bridgman’s dream of having a “street blues festival” eight years ago. Bridgman is the previous owner of Sealy Flats. According to Behrens, approximately 75 people attended the very first event. Now, eight years later, the festival is a spectacle of sight and sound with a huge stage that normally costs approximately $15,000 to rent.
“We don’t pay that much because the owner of the stage is one of our sponsors, but it shows how much the festival has grown,” Behrens said.
“It’s impossible to say an exact number of how many people visited the festival Saturday,” he said, “but each year its speculated to be around 7,000 to 10,000 people all together throughout the day. Because the event is open from 10 a.m. until 11 p.m., people come and go as they please and it is hard to get an exact head count.”
Behrens did however estimate that there are somewhere between 2,000 to 4,000 people watching when the headliner starts to play.
“The Blues Festival has become a part of our culture now. The city loves it, families love it and if it had not been for the weather yesterday it probably would have been more people here this year than last year. There was a cool wind Saturday night and we had many people leaving because it got too cold for them.”
What many people do not realize is that the event helps raise money for scholarships and that it really is a competition and not just a concert.
“Last year, we raised $10,000 in scholarships from T-shirt sales, membership sales, other merchandise and from our many sponsors,” Behrens said.
“The recipients do not need to have a music major, they just need to be interested in music or be involved. It could be a young man or woman who plays in a band locally who does not study music at Angelo State University, but primarily it is students from ASU or Howard College who receives the scholarships,” he said.
Some of the scholarships the Blues Society offers are the Jeff Strayhan Memorial Scholarship and an honorary scholarship for Rod and Denise Bridgman. The participants in the rib cook-off also give half of their entry fees directly to the scholarship fund.
Besides helping local music enthusiasts financially, the festival is also a competition that eventually helps bands reach their dream of becoming famous musicians.
According to Behrens, many of the artists come from out of town, so it is a serious competition to them. If they win at the San Angelo Blues Festival, the Blues Society will pay part of their expenses to the Memphis competition and “if they win there they have pretty much written their ticket as a musician” he said.
Although many artists come in from out of town to play, the Blues Society’s mission is to promote more blues in San Angelo.
“We had more local bands this year then we have ever had before, which we are very excited about,” Behrens said.
Behrens hopes that San Angelo will continue to show appreciation and love for blues and the festival will continue to grow. This is the only year it has rained on the event in eight years and the crowd still did not disappoint. Now he hopes their luck will return next year, to when the showers and thunderstorms only arrived the day before or the day after the concert, but never during.