Return of the Monterey International Blues Festival

by Don Priest

Monterey Fairgrounds 5/13/17 – Like a rising Phoenix, The Blues is back in Monterey! And the hole in the soul of this coastal community has been healed with the resurrection of the festival that had meant so much, to so many, for so long. Newly christened as “The Monterey International Blues Festival” in hopes of involving blues talents and food ideas from around the world, this latest reincarnation of the show hopes to rekindle the passion enjoyed by its predecessor.

“We’re starting small and working our way back,” is how board member Lee Durley describes the effort to replace the festival that for 27 years was one of the premier events on the summer music scene. In it’s prime, the Monterey Blues Festival ran for 3 days with the Monterey Fairgrounds awash in a sea of fans soaking up the music, the crafts, the beer, and arguably the best food of any festival.  Then in 2012, economic factors brought the show to a sudden close.

According to Durley, the community was devastated by the loss but seemed powerless to do anything about it, until now. “Several folks have talked about and even tried to restart a blues festival, but our team leader, Amy Treadwell, had the idea (to revive it) and invited the four of us to help plan it.

Treadwell, a long-time mover and shaker in the Monterey music community brought in Durley, a musician and board member of the former festival; Steve Vagnini, co-founder of the Monterey County Chapter of Guitars Not Guns and promoter of numerous benefit concerts and festivals; Ken Lopez, Chair of the Music Industry Department at the University of Southern California and renown recording engineer; and John D. Laughton, a lawyer and current chair of The Salvation Army-Monterey Peninsula Corps Advisory Board.  Together they developed the idea of making the festival a fundraising event for the Salvation Army and Guitars Not Guns, “because people and sponsors tend to support good causes more readily,” says Durley. Then labored for months to put all the pieces in place.

Adhering to the concept of keeping it small, this first attempt at the redo was confined to a half day show on The Garden Stage at the fairgrounds – as opposed to the 3-day, multiple stage events of the past.  The lineup included an assortment of superb local talent; nationally known guitarist Mighty Mike Schermer; and blues harmonica heavyweight, Charlie Musselwhite.  Together they provided 6 hours of top-flight music that had folks dancing in the aisles – or wherever they could.

Did it work? “This is magical,” beamed vocalist Ms. Taylor P Collins. “What a welcome back audience!”  Having performed at the festival multiple times over the years, Collins expressed the feelings shared by so many blues fans that day. “We all had anxiety when it left. There are so many memories attached to this place. But it’s back now and I know it’s going to get bigger and better.”

Durley was beaming at the end of the day. “The 1st festival was a phenomenal success,” he said. “We had already broken even with pre-sold tickets and the attendance was more than anticipated. The response and comments from the attendees were consistently positive and thankful.”

Will they be back? “We got your message loud and clear,” says Durley. “You want the blues back in Monterey and we intend to comply. We will begin planning for next year almost immediately.” – Long Live The Blues!!!

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