Backstage at the Bradenton Blues Festival

crowd.jpgIt was a beautiful day on December 7th, 2013 at the Bradenton Riverwalk Pavilion for the Bradenton Blues Festival. It was hours away from kicking off when I was introduced to my team. We were given the task of assisting the festival producer, Paul Benjamin. I learned Paul loves two things; blues music festivals and making sure they run on schedule. It was the job of four amateur production assistants to make sure Paul was not disappointed.

We quickly split into two groups. Ben Bakker and I were assigned to be “runners” for the musicians and their “gear.” Dev Walker and Aaron Tobin were given the job of stagehand. While Ben and I were zooming back and forth on our golf carts to hunt and gather the many musicians from their temporary residence at the Marriott Courtyard hotel, Dev and Aaron were tasked with making sure everything was in order on and off the stage for the musicians.

eddie.jpgOur job was made much easier by the upgrade in stage equipment that Realize Bradenton and Mojoe Productions brought this year. According to Paul Benjamin, the backline of speakers, amplifiers and all other audio equipment was repeatedly noted by all those involved as “high-quality.” What that meant for me and my team was that we had to shuffle and set up a lot less equipment the day of the event. When you are looking at a 14-hour workday, any respite from heavy lifting is seen as a positive.

The doors to the festival opened at 10 am, and that is when the adventures truly began. We waited in the lobby of the hotel for our first act, Albert Castiglia, to finish his continental breakfast. His set time began at 11 am, and it was our job to make sure Albert had enough time to set up and get ready to open the show. He was impressed by our professionalism and hospitality. We were yet another set of ambassadors in Bradenton’s continued effort to be known as one of the “friendliest” cities in the country. We approached every interaction with that in mind. Albert made it easy, as he was ready and willing to make the 2nd Annual Bradenton Blues Festival better than the last!

Throughout the day, Ben and I could be seen going full speed in our golf carts (albeit full speed was about 15 mph). Each trip brought a new set of events. Johnny Rawls and his group were cool, calm and quiet professionals. Most of the conversation with them was about the wonderful weather, and nice it was for a December day.

During one trip we blew a tire while on our way in the six-seat Club Car to pick up John Nemeth and his merry band of bluesmen. Not only were they courteous and patient, they were some of the most down-to-earth people I ever met. I was able to hear a couple of their songs while waiting backstage, and their amazing talent definitely matched their great attitudes.

doug.jpgDuring another one of our cart malfunctions we were greeted with a little banter from Anthony Gomes and his team of colorful musicians. They were by far one of the most animated groups we met that day. Anthony describes his collection of instruments and other equipment as that of a “gear hoarder.” Ben and I made a couple of trips back and forth to get him, his fellow bandmates and all their gear from the hotel to the stage. It was worth it once we got to see them perform the National Anthem on stage.

Jesse and Doug D and Harp manWe were treated with stories of road wisdom from Eddie Shaw and The Wolfgang. Eddie has been playing professionally since 1957, so it is safe to say that he has plenty of stories to tell. However, getting to hear them in person was quite a treat. Another treat was getting to hear them bring their Chicago style blues to an excited Bradenton crowd. They even played a song with special guest Jesse Yawn on vocals. Jesse is a native Floridian, who fully represented what December 7, 2013, was all about because he is a veteran of blues music festivals and a veteran of the US Army.

When we picked up Trampled Under Foot’s Danielle and Kris Schnebelen, we were delighted to see that they had very little to cart over besides themselves. Even less because the third member of their family band, Nick Schnebelen, was at home taking care of his newborn baby. Albert Castiglia graciously agreed to play in his place, and he did a great job filling in on short notice. Once they took the stage, the crowd was served some Kansas City blues and an epic drum solo to finish off the set.

Our final few trips were to pick up Shemekia Copeland and her bandmates. They were an amiable bunch; both before and after their set. On the way to the stage from the hotel, they were talkative from the start. They asked questions about the area’s attractions and nightlife, and showed genuine appreciation for our efforts. After a great display of impressive vocal and musical talent, to close out the show, they still had plenty of energy to expend. That included Shemekia serenading all those in and around the cart on our way back to the hotel with her golden voice. I could not think of a better way to end my night.

It was a great experience for me, and one I would not trade for anything. It was a long day of hard work, yet it seemed to go by in a flash. It was a pleasure to team up with Ben Bakker, Aaron Tobin and Dev Walker. It was a joy to be part of Realize Bradenton’s team of volunteers and staff members. But most of all it was an honor to be an ambassador for Bradenton, the friendly city that keeps getting better with every event we put together.