The fifth annual Riverside Blues Fest is set to make sweet music this weekend, and the staff and organizers are preparing for the festival's biggest turnout yet.
This year's festivities are dedicated to long-time musician and Riverside School devotee Richard Smith, and between 850 to 1,500 people are expected to attend.
The crowds will be able to honor Smith while they enjoy the music and support the Riverside School Association. Smith, who also taught at the Augusta Festival for many years, passed away recently, and this year's Blues Fest is dedicated to his hard work and passion.
"Richard was such a strong presence and creative force behind the festival for years, it was only appropriate to honor him this year," said Alice Sabatino, director, coordinator and organizer for the Riverside Blues Fest.
The Riverside School was the only African-American high school in Randolph County and has a rich history in the community. The festival is an opportunity to highlight the school's culture and achievements.
The festival opens with a concert by the Dennis McClung Band at the Railyard Restaurant from 7-9 p.m. tonight. The ticket price is $18.
The festival continues at 11 a.m. Saturday with the opening ceremonies and a dedication to Smith. The festival's sponsors include the Randolph County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the City of Elkins, the Randolph County Commission, Super 8 for providing rooms for musicians, the state of West Virginia, Wal-Mart and many others.
An all-day ticket to the event costs $10.
After the opening ceremonies, performances are scheduled at the Riverside School Saturday by Diamond Jim Green, Moondog Medicine, Miss Freddye and her Band, the Shaun Booker Band, Kelly Bell Band, Mojo Theory, Dennis McClung Blues Band and the Richard Smith Tribute Band.
Other events include a bouncy castle and free face-painting for children, a fish fry, street vendors and raffles.
The festival closes on Sunday with the Riverside Blues Train, which departs from the Elkins Depot at 11 a.m. for the High Falls of Cheat, featuring live performances by Phil Wiggins and Eleanor Ellis.
The train will return in time for the Riverside Blues Babies and Gospel Sing, led by Shaun Booker and Miss Freddye.
Along with the music, the event is also a way to reconnect, celebrate and preserve the history, culture and tradition of the Riverside School, Sabatino said.
"While we want everyone to come out and enjoy themselves, one of the main purposes of the Riverside School Association is to generate money for the association, increase community involvement and preserve the history of the Riverside School and its alumni," Sabatino said.
Melvin Marks, the president of the Riverside School Association, and an alumnus of the Class of 1951, explained the importance of the festival for building bridges not only to the families of the other alumni (as there are only around 30 alumni left), but also connections to the Elkins community.
"This is a place of beautiful memories and a glorious past," Marks said of the Riverside School. "It's important to celebrate Riverside and bring together the entire town. Riverside was a valuable organism that contributed to the entire town in its prime. It created not only excellent students who were taught the value of learning and hard work, but also produced good, strong educated citizens.
"No one who left Riverside was 'just a student.' And despite segregation, we were taught not to be ashamed of our status in the community. This is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements and success of the institution."
For more information about the Riverside Blues Fest, go to riversidebluesfest.com.
Contact Chad Clem by e-mail at cclem@theintermountain.