Blues at the Crossroads has played its finale, organizer says

Oct. 27—The Blues at the Crossroads Festival in downtown Terre Haute undoubtedly proved its future durability in its debut.

It launched four days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, providing the community some music and an opportunity to donate to the American Red Cross amid a national crisis.

Twenty years later, Indiana's second-longest-running blues festival bounced back after a year off because of the pandemic.

Blues at the Crossroads appears to have played its final encore, though.

The 2022 festival, which unfolded on Sept. 9 and 10 once again at the original Crossroads of America at Seventh Street and Wabash Avenue, will be the last, organizer Connie Wrin said in a prepared statement on Wednesday.

In it, Wrin thanked sponsors, volunteers and fans, noting that their support helped the Blues at the Crossroads' nonprofit Music Is Key program provide $6,000 to the Vigo County School Corp. this year to purchase of musical instruments for kids in the school programs.

Wrin also said in the note to the public, "Unfortunately, I am writing to inform you that the Blues at the Crossroads festival has come to an end.

"The rising costs in putting on this festival has made it difficult to keep ticket prices affordable to most families. This has become apparent in the poor attendance over the last two years," she added.

"My vision when starting the Blues Fest was to bring our community together through music and to give back to the Wabash Valley," Wrin continued. "Children across Vigo County have benefited from donations we made to Terre Haute Boys and Girls Club, YWCA, ISU music department and the Vigo County School Corporation. and for this I hope the Blues at the Crossroads will be remembered as a success!"

The festival weathered the tragedy of 9/11, the Great Recession and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a stir earlier this year over an initial redesign of the Blues at the Crossroads logo. Through it all, thousands turned out for music, food and drinks without serious incident.

Among Hoosier blues festivals, only the Bean Blossom Blues Festival in Nashville, Indiana, which began in 1999, is believed to have run longer than Blues at the Crossroads. Bean Blossom organizer Grant Stuart, a Terre Haute native, praised Blues at the Crossroads' atmosphere in a 2019 interview.

"What you have on Wabash Avenue is a festival park, not a listening room, and that's what it's meant to be," Stuart said then. "It's an expression of joy."

Typical scenery at the Terre Haute Blues Fest, as it's often called, include a sea of fans in lawn chairs filling Wabash Avenue, watching and tapping their feet as performers jam and sing on the stage at the Seventh Street crossing.

Dancers groove as the sun sets, and listeners wander through food and drink tents, and downtown eateries.

In its best years, Blues at the Crossroads has drawn up to 10,000 people through the two-day event. The festival expanded in 2007 from a single-day event to two days and nights of music, after a crowd of 6,000-plus turned out for the one-day 2006 Blues at the Crossroads.

Wrin, a 54-year-old mother of five, grandmother and former ER nurse, also operates The Verve nightclub on Wabash Avenue, the base of operations for the festival. She and Tim Popoff organized the first Blues at the Crossroads in 2001, enlisting a lineup of acts for the inaugural event that included Jimmy Burns, Tad Robinson, Cook N' Blues, Six Seventy-Five, Backfish & Dillon, No Regrets, Boone Dunbar and Friends, and the Clayton Miller Blues Band.

Kokomo guitarist Mike Milligan's band, Mike Milligan and the Steam Shovel, played Blues at the Crossroads nearly 10 times. On Wednesday afternoon, Milligan praised Wrin and her team for their work through the festival's long run.

"It was a top-notch festival that people from everywhere looked forward to performing," Milligan said via email. "Connie took care of every detail. Backstage accommodations with lots of food and drinks for all of the musicians and workers. Fantastic hotel rooms. Amazing sound and light production. All of the laminated backstage pass lanyards that everyone got made everyone feel so important and like such celebrities. We will miss this festival!"

Terre Haute native and keyboardist Will Foraker performed with the Leonard Washingtons band at the festival in 2012, 2013 and 2014. That opportunity, he said Wednesday night, was "really a benchmark gig for local bands. Definitely going to miss it and all the business it brought to town."

Indianapolis singer Jennie Devoe and her band drew fans from around the state to her performances at Blues at the Crossroads, which she called "one of my favorites for a lot of reasons." On Wednesday afternoon, Devoe also hoped Wrin brings the festival back someday.

"We were lucky enough to be able to play the festival and work with Connie three times with zero complaints," Devoe said. "I hope she decides to bring it back actually. She's good at it and she's a pro. I don't think it was ever a failure, which is huge. Let's hope it's just in need of a rest and pray she decides to bring it back again. We loved playing to the Terre Haute fans and working with Connie and her crew. It was always fun and top notch."

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.