No more Bluesmore at Brucemore

Linn County Blues Society determined to carry 20-year tradition

By Diana Nollen, The Gazette
Published: July 2 2014 | 12:01 am in Community, events, Life, Life & Accent, News,

Bluesmore is no more, but the Linn County Blues Society is determined to carry on the 20-year tradition of staging a major blues blowout in the Corridor.

Next year, hopefully. Just not this year.

The all-volunteer organization needs time to secure paid and in-kind sponsorships to cover costs for showcasing two national acts, a local act and the Back Porch educational stage that have become hallmarks of the event that has lured thousands of music fans to the front lawn of Brucemore mansion.

Lucky Peterson headlined last year’s anniversary event. Past performers have included such heavy-hitters as Joe Bonamassa, Janiva Magness, Guitar Shorty, The Kinsey Report, Kenny Neal and Lonnie Brooks, all the way back to Jimmy Thackery in 1994.

But each fall, Brucemore officials evaluate all the events at the historic estate in southeast Cedar Rapids, weighing the merits of each, impact on the property, growth of the audiences, crossover for other Brucemore programming and the partnerships, themselves.

After the most recent assessment, Brucemore decided the time had come to end its presenting duties for Bluesmore, which included securing sponsorships and arranging all the physical site operations.

“We’ve been doing cultural events and cultural programs for over 30 years, and they have their own life spans,” said David Janssen, Brucemore’s executive director.

“I was part of the staff that started Bluesmore in 1994, so I have a personal affection for it,” he said. “It’s actually one of my favorite programs.”

But in the scope of all the other programming, Brucemore had to factor in staff commitments for Bluesmore and the fact that its audience numbers weren’t growing. And even though the event was never rained out, Janssen said one-day events with national acts can’t be rescheduled, so the concert also was financially risky by nature.

“Based on all the factors and all the criteria, it just was the time to turn to do different things,” Janssen said.

“For those people who have been paying attention to Brucemore over three decades, individual programs come and go. We had Celebration of the Arts, Dixieland Jazz (and) Art on the Fence. They wax and wane. Our interest and our responsibility is to the sustainability of the organization as a whole, and we have to make very difficult decisions about what’s offered.”

Blues Society board members were shocked and saddened when they received word of the decision in October, entertainment chairman Greg West of Mount Vernon said. After a couple of meetings, they decided they just didn’t have the time and personnel to secure enough money to start booking talent in the winter.

“We didn’t want to put on something haphazard,” West said. “We decided to try to secure some sponsorships and try to do it the right way next year. We’ll find a location, and let’s take a year hiatus and do it the right way next year.”

Brucemore had been spending between $25,000 and $30,000 to stage the event, and the Blues Society budgeted just under $9,000 for the musicians. Any profits were split between the two, netting $2,000 to $5,000 for each group, Janssen said.

The Blues Society is hoping to keep the concert on its traditional date of the first Saturday in August, and schedule a couple of fundraising concerts this winter, West said.

Another goal is to grow the group’s membership, up from the 100 or so people currently on the roster. Meetings begin at 6:30 p.m. the first Monday of the month at the Longbranch, 90 Twixt Town Rd. NE, Cedar Rapids. The next meeting is Monday. All are welcome, from any county and any city.

Annual events continuing as planned include the Blues ’n’ Buffett Chili Challenge in February and the Blues in the Schools program headed by John Heim.

For more information on the Linn County Blues Society, go to Lcbs.org.


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