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Singing the blues popular along river

Blues music always has had a special tie to the Mississippi River, and the Quad-Cities is no exception. One of the finest blues festivals in the country is held every year right here on the banks of the mighty Mississip.

The Mississippi Valley Blues Festival will celebrate its 14th birthday in July. In 1996 the festival returned to Davenport's LeClaire Park after a two-year stint on Moline's Ben Butterworth Parkway.

Flooding forced the 1993 Blues Fest from LeClaire Park to the Davenport Airport. What was to be a one-year absence turned into three years when financial problems forced the event across the river to Moline for the next two years.

The three-day event, sponsored by the Mississippi Valley Blues Society, is the nation's only major blues-music event totally produced by an all-volunteer organization.

The fest has grown by leaps and bounds since its birth in 1984. More than 100 acts asked to perform at the fest this year, festival officials said, and the event is able to consistently pull in the cream of the crop from the blues world. Both national and local artists perform for crowds that usually run 30,000 to 40,000 strong for the three days.

Dispatch/Argus File Photo

Blues man Eddie King performs at the 1997 Mississippi Valley Blues Festival

The fest is more than just a concert; it also educates people in this indiginous American musical form. Through workshops and lectures, many of the artists share their musical and life experiences.

As much as 60 percent of the Blues Fest audience is tourists, according to a market survey at last summer's festival.

The Blues Festival generates as many visitors and draws as much money into the Quad-Cities' economy as almost any other annual event, the late Bruce Riley McDaniel, president and Chief executive officer of the Quad-Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau, said earlier this year.

A combination of musical variety, quality performances and Quad-Cities hospitality keeps fans coming back year after year, festival organizer Karen McFarland said while putting together the 1997 fest.

``A lot of people go on a circuit of blues festivals every year, and this is the one they never miss,'' she said. ``We've really made a name for ourselves.''

-- By Sean Leary (January 22, 1998)

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