With names like Los Lonely Boys and Tab Benoit the 19th annual Pittsburgh Blues Festival is bound to be good, but the true measurement of the event's success is what it does for the community. The three-day music festival serves as the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank’s largest fundraiser of the year.
“My mantra is no child hungry,” said festival chairman Ron Esser. “One in seven children in this area goes to bed hungry every night; we can’t have that.”
If all goes as planned, the proceeds from this year’s festival will bring the total raised since its inception to $2 million. On top of that, uncounted tons of nonperishable goods have been dropped off at the event over the years.
The festival begins 4 p.m. Friday at Hartwood Acers with what Esser calls Free Friday.
“Which means you get in for free with a bag of nonperishable groceries," he said. "There is no parking fee; you basically get in free."
Tickets for Saturday and Sunday cost $25 in advance and $30 at the door. All proceeds go to the food bank. A full run-down of the acts can be found at the festival’s website.
Esser expects to see 10,000 blues fans pass through the gates this year, and he hopes to collect 30,000 pounds of food. Last year’s haul was 16,000 pounds, but Esser said attendance was hampered by bad weather.
Many of the performers volunteer their time and much of the labor is also donated. Esser said there is a lot of support in general for the food bank and a lot of blues lovers in the region.
“A lot of that is because of the history of the Crawford Grill, the Decade, that actually introduced generations of people to great blues music, great rock and roll, and great jazz,” Esser said.
The festival allows coolers to be brought into the event, but they must not contain any outside alcohol, and to get it into the venue you need to pay a $10 fee.
Esser said he hopes people who are just starting to discover the blues should take advantage of the Free Friday. He said everyone can enjoy the setting.
“Hartwood Acers is a nice roomy place, you can throw a Frisbee, you can run around, you can take a walk in the woods … it really lends itself to the festival atmosphere,” Esser said.