May 25--City supporters were singing the blues over the move of the Bluesweek Festival from downtown to the far west suburbs, but those who attended Saturday gave the new digs a thumbs up.
"It was kind controversial that the blues were moving to Chesterfield. People were not thinking it was the right move," said Jerry Kovac, 59, of Crestwood, after listening to the Brothers, a tribute band to the Allman Brothers. "But it turns out, it was the right move."
Kovac pointed to the steady crowd of people who were already enjoying the food vendors and music as the two-day festival kicked off with the first act at noon. The festival is open from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Sunday.
The festival, in its fifth year, had been at Soldiers Memorial downtown over Memorial Day weekend. But earlier this year, organizer Mike Kociela announced he was moving the event -- along with the Taste of St. Louis, which takes place in late September -- to Chesterfield. Kociela's company, Entertainment St. Louis, runs both festivals.
Kociela said he made the move because of the city of St. Louis' recent decision to use Los Angeles-based talent agency ICM Partners and its company Summer Rocks LLC to produce "high-quality" music festivals over Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends. The city will give the company exclusive access to the Gateway Mall in return for at least $50,000 and up to $400,000 per festival, plus a percentage of ticket fees depending on the number sold.
His festivals, Kociela said, would have had to compete against ICM's deep pockets and connections for sponsor dollars and media attention.
In a press release last week, he said, "Bluesweek had to find a new home, and I can't think of a more beautiful space than Chesterfield Amphitheater at Chesterfield Village. We can't wait to show it off to the fans!"
Many in attendance said they liked the spacious feel, clean surroundings and ease of parking for the suburb's Central Park, which contains the amphitheater.
Mark and Denise Buerck, ages 45 and 48, of Fenton, describe themselves as big blues fans. They enjoyed the venue better than downtown, they said. The bands sounded better in the amphitheater, and the couple enjoyed its seats and tiered lawns. "We ride our motorcycles, and it's really hard to bring a lawn chair," Denise Buerck said.
They also felt safer, she said. "We are South Side born and raised, but the crime in the city is getting frightening."
Food and beer vendors, along with smaller music acts, set up in the park outside the amphitheater. To see bigger-name bands, inside the amphitheater, festivalgoers had to purchase a ticket for $10, which is also a change this year.
While the crowd was steady during the day, the lines were short and tables were easy to find.
Michelle Moore, 41, of Chesterfield, said she expected bigger crowds. But since she was with her toddler, and her friend had an infant, they were thankful for the comfortable atmosphere.
"We wouldn't have gone downtown," Moore said. "I love downtown, don't get me wrong ... but it's just more convenient to come down here."
Michele Munz is a health reporter at the Post-Dispatch. Follow the health news on twitter at #STLhealth
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