Sweet sound of the Blues

TIME FOR THE BLUES — The Maine Blues Festival coordinator Jill Steinman hams it up with co-founders Kevin Kimball and Michael Bray. The trio is standing next to the festival sign located near the Casco-Naples line on Route 302. The Blues Festival is this weekend at multiple venues in Naples. (De Busk Photo)

By Dawn De Busk
Staff Writer

NAPLES – Maine-based blues musicians will drive miles, bring their voice boxes, lug their equipment, and walk their toetapping feet into Naples this week.

When those musicians start to play or gather for free-style jams, it draws quite an audience.

[stextbox id="info" float="true" width="200"]What: The Maine Blues Festival
Where: Multiple venues in Naples, with shuttle buses offered
When: Friday night, all day Saturday and Sunday
Cost: $15 for bracelet on Saturday [/stextbox]

The Maine Blues Festival — which is estimated to attract about 4,000 participants — begins Friday night, peaks with activities on Saturday, and winds down on Sunday, according to Festival Coordinator Jill Steinman.

Folks will be hearing the blues and local entrepreneurs will be seeing the green, during this music festival, which has become a favorite for many Mainers in a quick six years.

(Read how the town expanded parking spaces in time for the Blues Festival here)

Thousands of people will decend upon the Causeway at various times to select “blues venues” to listen to music and enjoy the views of water and mountains. Establishments that offer blues bands fare really well, getting a steady stream of business that is like an economic energy drink right before the full-tilt tourist season.

“It’s our busiest day of the year, and it’s a big boost to my business,” said Michael Bray, who owns Bray’s Brewpub & Eatery. He is also involved in coordinating the blues festival, which falls on Fathers’ Day weekend.

“The blues festival stretches out the summer season for businesses,” he said.

“I’ve heard the same from other establishments,” Bray said, adding Tony’s Foodland sees a jump in sales, too.

Naples resident Elaine Merced said she’s been engrossed in the blues festival every year since it began.

“It’s great. I go around with my friends to all the places where the blues are playing all day long. Then, we end up here,” she said, pointing at the docks outside the window of her new restaurant, which until May was known as The Tiki Bar & Grill.

“This is the best spot. I know a lot of boaters, and we hang out and listen to the music,” Merced said.

This year, as the co-owner of Merced’s on Brandy Pond, she will hear blues artists perform on the stage outside the restaurant she runs with her husband. She will greet and cater to friends and first-timers — who will be the ones hanging out at the blues festival and spending their money in Naples this weekend.

According to Steinman, the three-day festival anchors people in Naples, and the local economy reels in a financial boost.

Once participants arrive they can choose from several options of blues artists playing at the same time. Entertainment will be provided at 13 different spots so blues fans can pick a favorite, and business owners have an equal opportunity in increase foot traffic.

“We are trying to expand the hole festival so people come and stay for a while: Do some shopping, do some boating, do some fishing, do some hiking, and enjoy the blues. What’s better than that?” Steinman said.

“We are very adamant about keeping the community on our forefront,” she said.

“We reinvest into the town by donating money to the (Lake Region) High School music department, providing a musical scholarship fund,” she said. “We are all about re-creating interest in the younger generation for the love of the blues.”

At the heart of this festival is the love of blues — for both the listener and the performer.

The musical gathering was the brainchild of Kevin Kimball.

“Kevin was the one who said, ‘There is so much talent out there. Let’s start a blues festival,’ ” Steinman said.

“These people play all over the place throughout the year. This is great time for them to all get together, stay up until 2 a.m., jamming with friends,” she said.

“Also, it’s a good time for club owners to listen to different groups to see if there is a new group they’d like to book into their clubs. So, it’s a great showcase,” Steinman said.

Word of the festival’s popularity has spread. Every year she gets inquiries from blues musicians around New England. But if they aren’t from Maine, they don’t get an invitation to perform.

“There are so many blues bands in the state of Maine. These are all Maine-based musicians. That’s the key to this festival,” she said.

This year, the blues bands’ members will be wearing IDs so they are easily recognizable, Steinman said, adding, “Don’t be shy about thanking them for the music they play.”

“I don’t want to leave out the volunteers. It takes about 80 volunteers to do this. We get the same faces and some new ones each year,” she said. “We give them tickets, the T-shirt and blues bucks. We just can’t thank these people enough. We are able to hold the cost of these tickets down because of volunteers and what they give us,” Steinman said.

Because the blues jams at Bray’s have been so popular, there will be a second jam session at the Galley. Sandy’s Flight Deck and Sydney’s are two places that would feature more intimate settings, with only one or two musicians playing, she said.

“If you want to dance and have a lot of people, Rick’s Café, Merced’s, Freedom Café, Bray’s and Tale of the Lake are the places to go to dance,” Steinman said. Also, the American Legion Post No. 155 will be open to non-members, and will provide a dance floor for feet that can’t stay still when the blues are playing.

The Village Green is set up with a family-friendly atmosphere, and an expanded children’s area features face-painting and crafts. On-site food vendors offer easy eating. Other vendors sell local crafts, including jewelry and novelties that appeal to teenagers and children.

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