The bay, the bands and the blues

The Baltimore Sun

Don Hooker created his version of the perfect blues concert.

It lasted two days.

He put the stage on a beach. He orchestrated a lineup with a wide variety of music -- some of it nontraditional blues. Aretha Franklin, "The Queen of Soul," and blues legend Buddy Guy were the headliners. Other acts included Three Dog Night, Shemekia Copeland, the Otis Taylor Band and Cash McCall.

And when the Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival ended yesterday, the proceeds from ticket sales go to three local charities.

"It's my way of giving back, without just writing a check at the end of the year," says Hooker, a retired computer company executive who founded the blues festival in 1998 and organizes it each year with his daughter, Sarah Petska. "Every year, I put together my dream concert."

The eclectic mix won approval from Bob Seringer, president of the Baltimore Blues Society.

With a well-known star like Franklin, Seringer was hoping that people who might not otherwise attend a blues festival would be exposed to blues musicians.

"People who don't think they know anything about the blues really do," said Seringer. "It's part of most Americans' musical background."

Held at Sandy Point State Park, this year's festival drew a crowd of more than 10,000, by Hooker's estimation, even with temperatures in the 90s.

The heat didn't matter to Susan Davis, a 61-year-old clinical social worker from Annapolis.

"I come to this every year -- in the rain, in the sun," said Davis, sitting in a beach chair under an umbrella. "I love it. The blues is in my blood."

For her, one of the highlights was Art Allison. "He's like the Pied Piper of the blues," she said.

Performers, too, seemed to enjoy the festival. Rod Gross, the drummer for Shemekia Copeland, joined the audience after opening the show yesterday. "I've traveled all over the world," said Gross, who grew up in Greenbelt. "Because of the location on the water, this is probably one of the nicest festivals. It's beautiful. The crowd is great. There's nothing like this."

The music event used to be held in the spring, but rain often drenched the concerts. When it was held in May, it coincided with Preakness. Hooker thought the August weekend was free of conflicts. Then the Virgin Festival announced the dates of its Baltimore show, Hooker said.

Hooker responded with a slogan, printed on T-shirts of festival volunteers: "Hooker Festival: No Virgins Here."

Since its founding, the event has raised more than $700,000 for charity, Hooker said.

This year, the festival benefited Special Olympics of Maryland, Johns Hopkins Cleft & Craniofacial Center, and We Care and Friends, an Annapolis-based nonprofit organization that serves the homeless.

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