The smell of funnel cakes, kettle corn and beer. The soulful wail of guitars. The itch to move that starts in the knees and moves to the hips before taking hold of the whole body.
In Hagerstown, this could only mean one thing — Western Maryland Blues Fest was in full swing.
The four-day music festival hosted by the City of Hagerstown drew thousands of blues fans from around the country Saturday during its paid-admission-only Downtown House Party, which ran from noon to 9:30 p.m. in the city's Central Lot.
The event continues today with a free-admission Family Blues Picnic at City Park.
Saturday afternoon, under a sky that fluctuated between sunny and drizzly, blues fans described the event as a pre-summer ritual that no weather could dampen.
"I think it's excellent," said James Payne, 51, of Gaithersburg, Md., who was attending Blues Fest for his third year. "They need more of this. It's good, family, wholesome — sort of — music."
Theresa Boynton, 51, of Dundalk, Md., said she was attending Blues Fest for the first time this year after having been introduced to the blues scene by longtime Blues Fest fan Tom Malanowski.
"I love the crowd," Boynton said. "Everybody is, like, so friendly and the music ... it's like, where the heck has this been?"
Many fans said they were particularly looking forward to seeing Hamilton Loomis, an emerging young blues artist who wowed the crowds with a Friday-night set at last year's Blues Fest and agreed to return this year for a prime Saturday-night spot.
"He stole the show on Friday night last year," said Diane Grigsby, 51, of Gaithersburg. "I'm hoping he stepped up his act."
Karen Giffin, the city's director of community affairs and a Blues Fest Executive Committee member, said she also had talked to many people who came especially to see Saturday night closers Davy Knowles and Back Door Slam.
Giffin said she had talked to attendees from as far away as Florida and California.
Blues Fest is in its 16th year and is supported in part by the Maryland State Arts Council and the Washington County Arts Council.
If you go
What: Western Maryland Blues Fest Family Blues Picnic
When: Today, noon to 5 p.m.
Where: City Park, Hagerstown