There will be a lot of world-class performers playing and singing the blues at Gloucester’s Stage Fort Park Saturday, but there shouldn’t be a single sad face in the place.
The occasion will be the first Gloucester Blues Festival, featuring the likes of Shemekia Copeland, Gloucester’s own Henri Smith, who moved to Cape Ann from his native New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina; and Eddie Shaw & The Wolfgang, which served as original backup band for the late, legendary Howlin’ Wolf. The event is being coordinated and promoted by Paul Benjamin, a past president of the Memphis-based Blues Foundation, and by former Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce chief Bob Hastings. And it should indeed deliver another day and early evening (it runs from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.) of top-flight entertainment to the city and Cape Ann.
But the festival should also deliver much more than a one-day show. A festival such as this — especially if it succeeds, and Hastings and Benjamin can expand it to a two-day festival sometime down the road —represents a classic example us a city building upon its cultural economy. And it can indeed help deliver new tourism dollars for the city, especially for downtown businesses that can use another boost after this year’s loss of both the Gloucester Triathlon, which occupied this Sunday on the calendar the last three years, and the two-year-old RunGloucester race, which had been run later in August.
Indeed, to their credit, Benjamin and Hastings have coordinated the schedule so that the festival’s early-evening closing time will allow festivalgoers to also take in additional blues acts in local clubs as well, with Lattitude 43’s Minglewood Tavern and the Dog Bar among those hosting “Blues Fest after parties.”
The Gloucester Blues Festival is the new kid on the block of the city’s and Cape Ann’s cultural scene, but should be a welcome addition indeed. Let’s hope it draws the support that its promoters and performers deserve.