Rebooting may be best for blues festival

Jun. 13, 2013 @ 06:49 PM

“You gotta pay your dues if you want to sing the blues…..”

So sang George Harrison of The Beatles.

Well, the Bull Durham Blues Festival surely has been paying its dues these past few years.

Staff turnover, weather, and migration from venue to venue have cost the signature Durham festival some traction in recent years.  Last year, its attendance was down over the year before.

Now, it’s taking this year off, mostly, to regroup and find its bearings going forward.

It sounds like a wise decision.

In 2007, the festival celebrated its 20th anniversary and was in the Durham Athletic Park, its historic home. That was its recent high-water mark.

In 2008, the festival moved to the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, because the DAP was under renovation.  In 2009, the festival returned to the DAP, but there were worries over whether the procedures to help protect the renovated and restored field would be sufficient – or too expensive.

The next year, it was in the Durham Performing Arts Center, a wonderful venue for many performances but, many fans worried, perhaps not for a blues festival which had a long tradition of casual, toe-tapping outdoor performances.

In 2011, beset with financial worries and behind on organizational work, the festival was nearly cancelled. A scaled-back version was held, with no admission, at Durham Central Park.

Last year, it bounced back to the DAP, but rain on the second night cut into attendance.

The festival may stage a smaller version this year, but the full-fledged festival is on hold while the St. Joseph’s Historic Foundation Hayti Heritage Center, which stages it, and others explore what the future holds. Talks are underway about possible venues and partners.

In a press release announcing this year’s hiatus, Hayti Heritage said it would “take this year to reorganize and rebuild the popular event.”

It’s natural to worry when such a move happens if it’s a bit like signs that sometimes appear on restaurants saying “closed for renovations” – only to have the place never reopen.

But we’re confident the community support for the blues festival is deeply ingrained, and we hope its organizers will indeed find a way to come back better than ever.