Barbara Strauss sits at the 12th Street Café, in Bradenton, where everyone knows her by name, and runs her fingers over the giant Sarasota Blues Festival poster in her hands, her eyes darting over every band logo since the festival’s inception in 1990. It’s an interesting thing, she thinks, to look at your life on a single piece of paper. And, in just three days, she will be preparing to add another round of talented musicians to that growing list when she takes a field of grass on a lot at Ed Smith Stadium and builds the infrastructure of a music city for 10,000 people. On the eve of the festival’s 20th anniversary, the producer of the Sarasota Blues Festival shares some of her most memorable moments.
Bedazzling isn’t so bad
“Solomon Burke was called the king of rock and soul. He wanted to sit on a throne — that’s part of his show — for Blues Fest. He did an interview prior to the festival and told the writer he was worried about coming here and not getting the right kind of throne. I went into ‘Barbara mode,’ which is overachieving-gotta-build-the-best-throne-possible mode.
“I decided to build the throne myself. A.) I’m not a builder and B.) I’m not Susie homemaker. I don’t sew, knit or bedazzle. But I got obsessed with the throne. I painted it metallic gold, got cushions and red velvet. I wanted it to look like the king’s throne. I wanted it to have jewels, so I got different colored pieces of glass: white, red, blue and green. He absolutely loved it.
“In addition to the throne, he weighed 400 pounds, and about 30 minutes before the show, he told me he wanted the forklift to get him up on stage. It’s usually something I would plan way in advance. I called a guy on-site and said, ‘Crank up the forklift.’ He drove through 10,000 people, put Solomon up on the forklift, he rose and that was how the show began.”
“My third year, I got Buddy Guy’s hospitality rider, and it says in big, black print, ‘Bottle of XO Black Courvoisier. NO EXCEPTIONS.’ So I go to the store the day before to get his booze. It was $100, and I burst into tears, because he wouldn’t go on if he didn’t have the booze, and I didn’t have the money to buy it. It was $20,000 to get him, and I thought when we opened the gate I’d start collecting money for tickets. Every hour, I’d ask how much we made from beer and the gate. If you don’t give them money before their act, they don’t go on. That’s where I was financially.
“Buddy Guy came back in 2007, and I went and got his rider, and there it was, one bottle of XO Black Courvoisier. When I went to pay for it, it was $140, and I laughed my butt off. When I look back, it’s funny, but back then, it was a total terror.”
Pray for Good Weather
“I’ve had a Pray For Good Weather Committee for 18 years. Pete Norden, of Clear Channel, thinks he’s the president of this committee. Floyd Miles lives on the East Coast and taught Gregg Allman how to sing, and he thinks he’s the president. Pete Snyder, who used to be the deputy city manager here, well, he thinks he’s the president. I have churches, I have rabbis, I have priests, parishioners and I have friends — everybody’s job is to pray for good weather, and they’ve always all come through.
“I e-mailed Bob Harrigan the other night and said, ‘Bob, how’s the weather going to look? No matter what, tell me it’s good.’ He calls and leaves me a message and says, ‘Thumbs up, looking good.’ I wrote Pete Norden and said, ‘Pete, have you got your end covered?’ He writes back, ‘One-hundred percent pure Florida sunshine.’”
“For so many years, I’ve said I don’t want to do this — it’s too much work and too much stress for one person. And something always happens. Somebody in the media says, ‘You can’t let this go.’ A musician in town says, ‘Barbara, the first time I went to Blues Fest, it inspired me.’ Then, this last year especially, there were a couple of stories that really blew my mind.
“Just the other day, a couple at Whole Foods says, ‘Excuse me, are you Barbara Strauss? We come every year. We met 12 years ago at the Blues Fest.’ The other day, a guy says to me, ‘My child was born the same day as your Blues Fest in 2005. Do you want to know how I remember? Delbert McClinton is my favorite band in the world. My wife was pregnant, and I went to Blues Fest. She calls and says, “Honey, I’m in labor.” I said, “Well honey, can you wait until after Delbert’s finished to have the baby?’” That guy was freaking serious.”
IF YOU GO
The 20th annual Sarasota Blues Fest
Where: Ed Smith Stadium north lot at 12th Street and Stringfield Avenue
When: Gates open at 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 6
Tickets: $22 advance; $27 at the gate (kids free with adult)
Information: Call 954-4101, Ext. 5454 or visit www.sarasotabluesfest.com
Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue
The Tommy Castro Band
Moreland and Arbuckle
Contact Loren Mayo at [email protected].