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Singin' da Blues

August 19, 2011 - Phyllis Sigal
It could've been a whole lot worse, but it couldn't have been any better.

Heritage Music BluesFest 2011 is already in the books.

Over. Done. Our house is empty. The Heritage Port is quiet. A couple thousand people who joined us this year are back to points east, west, north and south, and to their real lives.

It's an amazing weekend for us, the BluesCore — our family and friends who are entrenched in this annual weekend — some friends from before BluesFest and other friends simply because of it.

Every year we bond a little bit more. Every year, more people come into the fold.

This year, there was even more bonding. And lots of folding. All because of one blip on the weekend's radar.  

Things were going smoothly. Friday was great: few ticket issues, the main tent was set up and equipped early, the t-shirts had arrived Thursday, Friday's weather was perfect, the crowds were great.


I reminded myself several times how lucky we were that was all going so well; throughout the weekend I knocked on wood so many times my knuckles were raw.

Saturday's forecast was iffy — a 50 percent chance of storms. We had a light sprinkling Saturday morning, which was barely noticeable. Sunday's forecast looked a little worse — 70 percent chance. Well, we'll wait and see.

Around 7 p.m. I mentioned to my son-in-law how everything was going really, really well. (Knock on wood, again.)

When the evening ended, we all headed to River City for the AfterJam to relax a bit after the two 16-hour days we had all had.

It started to rain.

My husband Bruce, producer of the event, was happy. Let it rain, he said, and get it out of its system, making way for a dry day on Sunday.

But the rain came harder, and fierce winds followed. Lightening flashed in the 2 a.m. sky.

My phone showed a missed call at 1:49 a.m. from Tobi, one of the vendors at the site.


I called her back, and she said she just talked to Bruce, and she'll see me down there.

And then, the BluesCore sprang into action. As Bruce said, "Now!" ... we all followed, high-tailing it down to the Heritage Port — not quite sure what we were running to find.

Leland, Sean, Chris, Robert, Theresa, Kathy, Meg, Leah, Livia, Amanda, Me.

What greeted us was a flattened main tent, and tables and boxes full of drenched t-shirts and soggy posters. Several of the other vendors' tents were topsy-turvey.

Thankfully I've never experienced a flood or a tornado or a hurricane, but I thought that this is what people must feel in the pit of the stomachs when they see the destruction — albeit, mine was much less of a personal loss.

What also greeted us were vendors Ed Clopein and Tobi Tyberg, as well as Robert Ogden.

I yelled for garbage bags. We all started putting the shirts in bags, and into Tobi and Ed's van. Robert helped the guys straighten out the tent. We called the McLure to see if we could use their dryers.

We set to work. The McLure staff even gave us quarters to pump into the two dryers. It was slow going; it seemed to take forever to dry those shirts. But we dried, and folded, and washed those that fared worse than others. And folded some more.

The laundry room party got bigger. Word spread that we had a bit of a catastrophe on our hands. And more hands came to help.

By 4:30 a.m., some friends pushed my daughter and me out of the laundry room, and on to bed. We reluctantly obliged.

A handful stayed, finishing up the job until around 7:30 a.m. — just a couple of hours before we would start day three of BluesFest 2011.

The day started with a sound-check for festival closer Buddy Guy.

"When the rains come/ And the winds blow/ Let your light shine/ Wherever you go."

Who picked THAT Keb Mo song for sound-check? Just hearing music come from the riverfront park was enough to make a sleep-deprived, emotional person cry — but those words? Buckets.

And when I heard the news reports that 60-mph winds caused a stage to collapse at the Indiana State Fair, killing five and injuring dozens more, it certainly put my night into perspective. And seeing the video of the collapse — well, at least our catastrophe happened when few people were in harm's way, and when the stage wasn't standing tall, in the way of the wind.

We only lost a few hours of sleep and some t-shirts.

Sunday came with a few clouds, some breezes; a possible storm? Thankfully, we dodged another bullet as the day wore on. Clouds parted and moved on, taking their raindrops nearby but just missing the festival. (Apparently, this happened just as Damon Fowler was playing. The same thing happened last year as he played, when the clouds kept on truckin'. “Moses” — that's what my son Leland said we should start calling him.)

The helping hands all night long just reinforced the feeling of love we feel every single year of the festival. The blues lovers who return year after year, the vendors, the volunteers, the friends, the family, the artists.

"It's like swimming in love," my brother Ron put it so succinctly.

That it is. That it is.

Keb Mo sings another good one, a perfect wrap-up ...

"Storm is over, the sun is bright/ There's a rainbow in my life./ Clouds are gone, the sky is clear/ And since we've been together/ There's been a change in the weather ..."


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Damon Fowler chasing the clouds away with his blues ...