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Sarasota Blues Fest replaced by Florida Blue Blues and Music Festival

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Ana Popovic performing at the 2012 Sarasota Blues and Music Festival. HERALD-TRIBUNE ARCHIVES.

In the span of 24 hours, the Sarasota Blues Fest went Tuesday from dead, buried and eulogized to reincarnated with a new name, venue and leader.

The festival, a popular annual attraction for more than two decades, is being renamed the Florida Blue Blues and Music Festival; it will take place Oct. 26 at the Sarasota Fairgrounds.

That announcement marked quite a day of speculation about the festival, which over time has become of one of the area’s top music events. It has attracted such legends as Solomon Burke, Gregg Allman and Buddy Guy, along with young stars such as Trombone Shorty.

First came the news on the website of Houston-based promoter ExtremeTix that it was ending the festival, at least for this year.

Sarasota Blues Fest_Gregg Allman

Gregg Allman performing at the Sarasota Blues Fest in 1998. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and former Sarasota resident also played the Fest in 1994, 2000 and 2006. COURTESY PHOTO

Among those singing the actual blues was Sarasota-based concert producer Barbara Strauss, who took over the festival in 1993 and ran it through 2011, when she sold her stake to ExtremeTix.

“Disappointed does not begin to express how I feel, not only for me, but for the 100 people who worked the festival and all the national and local musicians who played,” she said.

“It’s very sad. When I turned it over to ExtremeTix it was like my baby that I had raised for 18 years and sending it off to college. It was time to pass it on to someone I thought could nurture it and help it grow. But that is not what happened.”

Then came Tuesday afternoon, when a former employee for ExtremeTix stepped forward to declare that show would go on, albeit at the Sarasota Fairgrounds, not Ed Smith Stadium, its home since 2005.

“It’s our intention to continue the tradition of blues and music in Sarasota,” said Ed Morrell, of Turnstile Entertainment.
“We didn’t want to see the long-standing tradition go away. We want to continue to nurture and build it into something bigger and better, as it was before but do it in a little different direction.”

Morrell served as managing director of Three Zebra Entertainment, the division of ExtremeTix that produced last year’s Sarasota Blues and Music Festival, as well as the 2011 festival, which was produced in conjunction with Strauss.

Sarasota_Blues_fest_2000

Hundreds of Blues lovers turned out early for the 10th Annual Sarasota Blues Fest in 2000 at the Sarasota Fairgrounds, the site where the new Florida Blue Blues and Music Festival is scheduled to take place Oct. 26. HERALD-TRIBUNE ARCHIVES/2000

Morrell said ExtremeTix’s decision to drop the festival had less to do with the popularity of the event than with a change in the company’s priorities.

“ExtremeTix decided to stick with their primary business, which is ticketing, and get out of the event business, so myself and another former ExtremTix employee formed Turnstile Entertainment," Morrell said.

Morrell said he expects to announce the lineup for the inaugural Florida Blue Blues and Music Festival later this month.
A representative from ExtremeTix declined comment when reached by phone Tuesday.

Strauss said she is hopeful that the blues festival has more good years ahead, but she also knows nothing is assured, especially with so much competition. One such competitor, the Bradenton Blues Festival, is growing in popularity.

“I wish all concert promoters the best,” she said. “Only time will tell.”

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Last modified: May 8, 2013
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