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CPBJ Extra Blog

Memphis for the weekend: Lancaster Roots and Blues transforms cityReporter Lenay Ruhl shares some observations after volunteering at last weekend's event

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David Bromberg closed out the Roots and Blues festival Sunday night on the Main Stage.
David Bromberg closed out the Roots and Blues festival Sunday night on the Main Stage. - (Photo / )

The one weekend that Lancaster City turns into Memphis – the weekend of the Lancaster Roots and Blues Festival.

Guitar riffs and bellowing blues performances echoed throughout the city, with 10 venues hosting live music and street performers busking for the passing crowd Friday through Sunday night.

Everyone I talked to had just discovered the “best show” at the festival – did you catch Clarence Spady at The Ware Center? What about Tommy Emmanuel at the Main Stage? The Hackensaw Boys killed it at Tellus360.

On Saturday, it was hot, humid, and the streets were swamped with puddles after a mid-afternoon thunderstorm struck the region. (rare weather for late February in the midstate) Combine that with music playing and barbeque from West Lampeter Township-based Hess Barbecue Catering cooking, and Queen Street felt like Beale Street.

New for the festival this year, the main stage was located on Queen Street instead of its usual spot within the Lancaster Convention Center.

The stage was set up inside of a huge tent, which was put together by several midstate companies.

Carlisle-based High Peak Tent Rentals provided the tents.

There was a tent for the main stage, a catering tent and a bar tent, according to Todd Weyant, who owns High Peak.

Walter Wogan Washington performed at the Chameleon Club Sunday evening.
Walter Wogan Washington performed at the Chameleon Club Sunday evening. - ()

The main tent had a dance floor and it was heated. It took High Peak about 2.5 days to set it up, and an employee remained on site all weekend in case of a problem, Weyant said.

Manheim-based Clair Brothers was in charge of sound, and Warwick Township-based Stray Lighting and Production Services did the lighting and provided the stage. Stray Lighting had about eight people involved in the project, according to owner Chris Strayer.

The white tent, cemented to the ground in the middle of downtown, had different lighting for each act, with moving colors and patterns.

There were video screens to accommodate people watching in the back, and Lancaster Brewing Company sold beer.

The tent was temporarily closed on Saturday due to the weather, but other than that the experiment was a success.

As a third-year volunteer for the festival, which is in its fourth year, I sold tickets and fielded questions on Sunday – where’s a good place to eat? What about vegetarian food options? Where is Tellus360?

Sunset in Lancaster City after the storm cleared on Saturday.
Sunset in Lancaster City after the storm cleared on Saturday. - ()

Tellus360, a bar and restaurant on King Street, was one of the 10 venues to host the festival. Others included the Chameleon Club, Demuth Museum, Excelsior, The Elks Lodge, The Federal Taphouse, The Sugartank, Village Nightclub and The Ware Center.

After about six hours of volunteering, I was rewarded with a free pass to any of the shows.

Sunday evening I found myself inside the tent at the main stage, waiting for David Bromberg to perform. Bromberg is a singer-songwriter musician who’s been playing a cross between blues and folk music since the 1970s.

Rich Ruoff, the festival's founder, came out to announce the headlining act.

Ruoff introduced Lancaster to touring acts when he opened the city’s staple music venue, the Chameleon Club, in 1985.

Since then, he continues to influence the city’s music scene with events like the festival.

This year’s festival attracted about 9,000 people to Lancaster City, which is a slight increase from last year's attendance of about 8,300, Ruoff said.

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