Bradenton Blues Festival Plays To Your Heartstrings

Although Sarasota Artist Mary GrandPré closed the chapter on Hogwarts illustrations with the resolution of the Harry Potter series in 2007, she continues to create artwork that spreads a tangible form of magic in and around her hometown.

For the second consecutive year, GrandPré lends her artistic talents to Realize Bradenton, the nonprofit organization behind the Bradenton Blues Festival, with a donation of original artwork, in her bright and whimsical signature style, for a commemorative festival poster. Two-hundred limited-edition posters were printed and signed by GrandPré, and her original artwork is up for auction.

Proceeds from the auction and collectible poster sales help to fund Realize Bradenton's youth music programs, including Blues in Schools, a program that delivers its own magic to Manatee County public school students -- in the form of blues music -- by connecting the festival's nationally acclaimed performers with high school music students.

"I think the festival is great because it brings musical awareness to the community, particularly by bringing music into the schools and connecting the students with the musicians. There's been such a cut in the arts in schools in recent years that whenever we get a chance to support the arts through an organization like Realize Bradenton, especially with programs like Blues in Schools, I think it's important to grab it,'' GrandPré says.

On Dec. 6, Bradenton Blues Festival Headliner Albert Castiglia, a rising star on the national blues scene,  will visit 300 students enrolled in music programs at Bradenton's Manatee High School, where he will perform his Delta Blues-inspired rock, discuss his experiences and provide professional insights to aspiring musicians.

"I believe that learning how to be a creative thinker is a huge element in a child's education and personal development. Art enriches their lives, I think, just as much as the academic subjects they learn in school,'' says GrandPré, who studied art and illustration at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

"If the schools can bring art in, it can really help kids appreciate what's out there, both musically and artistically. I think that's very important for kids; for everyone, for that matter,'' she adds.

It Takes A Team

GrandPré first collaborated with friend, Paula Murray, Realize Bradenton's graphic designer, to create artwork for last year's inaugural Bradenton Blues Festival, after being approached with the idea by their mutual friend, Realize Bradenton's Executive Director Johnette Isham.

"We wanted to work together as a team, a trio of girlfriends, to do something that would bring the the Blues Fest to the next level. Little did I know, at the time, that Mary likes to listen to the blues when she creates. It just turns out, too, that our graphic designer, Paula, is a blues drummer. It seemed like a very natural collaboration,'' Isham says.

Murray's graphic design company, Artefact Design, which has offices in Florida and California, primarily works with nonprofit organizations such as Realize Bradenton, the Sarasota Museum of Art and Stanford University, to develop high-quality, nationally recognized branding campaigns.

"I knew that when we conceived of the Bradenton Blues Festival, we wanted it to be a truly incredible music event, not just in terms of quality of music, but also food, sponsorship and the experience -- including the quality of the visual graphics. As far as the blues festivals I know go, I don't know of any other that has a limited edition, signed poster that was created by a pair of internationally known artists,'' Isham says.

GrandPré says that she and Murray worked together to develop the striking image of a silhouetted, blues guitarist, mid-explosive guitar riff, that became an instant classic on last year's poster.

"When Johnette first approached me, just the imagery itself seemed like it would be something fun to work on. I think the image we created gives a real identity to the festival,'' GrandPré says of the blues guitarist character, who reprises his iconic role on the 2013 Bradenton Blues Festival poster.

GrandPré says that her husband, Tom Casmer, a professor of illustration and fine arts at Ringling College of Art + Design in Sarasota, is a also guitar player who frequently fills their home with music that inspires her art. When her husband isn't providing a live soundtrack, GrandPré says she enjoys listening to albums by blues icons such as J.J. Cale, B.B. King,  Keb' Mo', Bonnie Raitt and Etta James while she creates her artwork.

Place Your Bids

For this year's Bradenton Blues Festival on the Bradenton Riverwalk on Saturday, Dec. 7, GrandPré created Blues 2, a 30'' x 30'' acrylic and collage mixed-medium piece. Two-hundred limited-edition poster prints are on sale at Keeton's Office and Art Supply in Bradenton, as well as online, for $50 apiece.

Isham says that the final live auction will take place Saturday night at the Festival at approximately 6 p.m., before acclaimed Blues Vocalist Shemekia Copeland takes the stage. In addition to GrandPré's artwork, the auction features a pair of 14-karat white gold and diamond "Blue Note'' earrings, valued at $3,500, designed for the festival by jeweler, Tom Seguin, of Suncoast Gems. Bids for both items started at $1,500 in October, with bid increments at $100.

Festival music headliners include Copeland, Eddie Shaw & The Wolfgang, Trampled Underfoot, Anthony Gomes, John Nemeth, Johnny Rawls, Doug Deming and the Jewel Tones with Dennis Gruenling, and Castiglia.

Tickets for the Festival are available in advance online for $35. Any remaining tickets will be on sale for $40 at the festival gate. As of mid-November, Isham says, ticket sales were 45 percent above last year, and the festival is expected to sell out.

She adds that of the more than 70 family-friendly public events Realize Bradenton stages yearly, the Bradenton Blues Festival is the only event that charges admission.

"To experience these nationally and internationally known artists at the Bradenton Blues Festival is a bargain, and we do it as a way to help fund all those other free events and youth outreach programs that are all about bringing people together around art, culture, history and sports,'' Isham says.?

Although GrandPré no longer spends her days immersed in the bewitching world of Harry Potter and his fictional wizarding pals, she recognizes the manner in which music and art can light a spark of magic in a real-world community.

"The Blues Festival was such a success last year in that it brought a lot of awareness to people who weren't aware of what Bradenton has to offer. The beautiful Riverwalk where the festival takes place brings families to the area, and celebrates its geography and history. I've seen small businesses get strengthened by the increased support it has brought from the community, and I think it has really helped to shape the city's identity,'' she says.

In the past, GrandPré has contributed to organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and the Center for Building Hope (formerly the Wellness Community of Southwest Florida). Most recently, she’s turned her attention to giving Bradenton teenagers the blues -- the musical kind, that is.

"That's why I do the posters. I believe in helping to bring art and music into the community whenever I can.''

Jessi Smith, a native Floridian, is a freelance writer who lives and works in downtown Sarasota. When she isn't writing about local arts and culture, she can generally be found practicing yoga or drinking craft beers and talking about her magnificent cat. Jessi received her bachelor's degree in art history from Florida International University and, predictably, perpetually smells of patchouli. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Jessi Smith.

 Jessi Smith is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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