Blues Festival to regroup

Smaller event to be announced this year
Jun. 12, 2013 @ 05:59 PM

The Bull Durham Blues Festival, which saw decreased attendance last year, will put on a smaller festival this year to allow organizers to regroup for what they hope will be a bigger 2014 festival.

The board of directors of St. Joseph’s Historic Foundation Hayti Heritage Center, which puts on the annual festival, has decided “to take this year to reorganize and rebuild the popular event,” a press release from the nonprofit organization stated.

Hayti Heritage is exploring opportunities with American Tobacco Campus “and others” to find a new outdoor venue for the 2014 festival, stated Angela Lee, executive director of Hayti Heritage Center.

Lee said the organization will soon make an announcement about this year’s festival. Negotiations are being finalized, but Hayti seeks a headliner and several local musicians, Lee said. This year’s festival will take place in an indoor venue, possibly the Hayti Heritage Center itself, she said.

Last year, the festival was held at Durham Athletic Park, its historic home. Hayti is not seeking to move the festival elsewhere, Lee said.

“We like the Durham Athletic Park, so we’d like to return to that,” she said.
Lee, who has been director since January, said taking a year to rebuild would help Hayti “to have everything that we need from every standpoint to make it bigger and better.”

Last year, rain and lightning delayed the start of the second night of the festival.

“When you have any kind of a disappointment … you have to come back bigger and better,” Lee said.

A spokesperson for Capitol Broadcasting, which owns American Tobacco and the Durham Bulls, said the company is interested in talking to Hayti about the future of the festival.

"The Bull Durham Blues Festival is a significant community event and we welcome the opportunity to discuss the possibilities with the St. Joseph's Historic Foundation," said George Habel, vice president of the Durham Bulls, in an email.

Tess Mangum Ocaña, events coordinator for Downtown Durham Inc., said the festival had not contacted her, but added, “I wish they would. I’d love to get my hands on that festival,” either with Downtown Durham or with her production company, Sonic Pie Productions.

Cicely Mitchell, president of The Art of Cool Project, which puts on monthly concerts, said she had had no contact with the Blues Festival. Art of Cool has been raising funds for a possible new jazz festival in downtown Durham.

“We haven’t had any discussions with Hayti about future involvement,” said Bob Nocek, president and CEO of the Carolina Theatre, in an email. The theater did meet with the festival board a few years ago and offered to help with booking, Nocek said.

Hayti officials stressed that the new Heritage Music Series that was launched this year will continue to feature blues along with other forms of music.

Since the 20th anniversary festival was held in 2007, the festival has faced venue changes and economic challenges. In 2008, the festival moved from Durham Athletic Park to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park to make way for renovations at the historic DAP. In 2009, the festival returned to the DAP. In 2010, the festival was held at the Durham Performing Arts Center, in part out of concerns for the expenses related to wear and tear on the DAP field.

The 2011 festival almost did not happen. In a break with tradition, the festival that year was held in Durham Central Park with free admission. In 2012, the festival returned to the DAP, its traditional home, but attendance was down, in part because of rain the second night.

National and regional artists who have performed at the festival include Buddy Guy, Clarence Carter, Marcia Ball, Shemekia Copeland, Bobby “Blue” Bland and others.