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Big plans are afoot to bring the blues to Lakewood Ranch

The thrill is far from gone for a few music lovers determined to bring a rocking blues festival to Lakewood Ranch by the end of 2024.

Morgan Bettes Angell co-founded Independent Jones, while Antonio Hernandez is the chief events officer.
Morgan Bettes Angell co-founded Independent Jones, while Antonio Hernandez is the chief events officer.
Photo by Lori Sax
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Growing up, Bradenton’s Morgan Bettes Angell’s only connection to music was playing classical piano and being a big fan of music.

Her father listened to old American folk. Her mom was a Janis Joplin fan. Bettes Angell’s tastes, meanwhile, span a variety of genres, with some of her favorites being My Chemical Romance, Blink 182 and the band Jack’s Mannequin. 

Now music is more than something she jams to. It’s also part of her livelihood as she and her company, Independent Jones, are responsible for booking bands at community events like Ranch Nite Wednesdays and the Farmers’ Market at Lakewood Ranch. The company, founded in 2015 and focused on showcasing live music and celebrating local artists, has booked over 500 gigs and produced some 300 events, according to its website. 

Bettes Angell admires the talent of all the musicians with whom she interacts. 

“The artists and how they can hear things, play things, jam together, that’s nothing I could ever do,” Bettes Angell said. “I can read music. I did play classical piano. I understand tones, pitches and sounds, things like that, but I don’t at all consider myself a musician.”

Even so, Bettes Angell is about to get even deeper into music: Independent Jones is bringing the former Bradenton Blues Festival to Waterside Park in Lakewood Ranch in December. The Bradenton Blues Festival previously ran for 12 years on the Riverwalk downtown.

The Bradenton Blues Festival is also how Bettes Angell met Paul Benjamin, who has become well-known in the world of blues as the producer of the North Atlantic Blues Festival. He has decades of experience managing and producing blues musicians and bands. Benjamin now works in concert with Bettes Angell and Independent Jones. 

It was at the Bradenton Blues Festival, too, where Bettes Angell had her first taste of what it takes to host a festival for thousands of people. That was when she was working for Realize Bradenton, a nonprofit downtown advocacy group that put on the blues festival. 

“I loved how big and grand the festival was, and I love all the moving pieces and components,” Bettes Angell said. “I have a mind for logistics, and it just seemed like a perfect fit to blend music with events.”

Bettes Angell and Wade Hamilton, whom she worked with at Realize Bradenton, began to see the need for more live music in the area in lockstep with the area’s population surge. Some people, they reasoned, had grown tired of the bar scene and hearing a musician in the corner. 

Hamilton and Bettes Angell decided to come together to launch Independent Jones. 

Since then, Bettes Angell has sought to start a festival, whether it was an Oktoberfest, a Friendly City Music Fest or something else. 

She loves the music, of course. But more so, event days are like her Christmas, with chaos being her comfort food. The constant behind-the-scenes commotion to ensure an event goes off without a hitch? The high energy of the musicians and the audience? That’s fuel to Bettes Angell. 

And after fine tuning and perfecting small, local events such as Ranch Nite Wednesdays, hosting a festival was the next logical step.  

Not that Independent Jones hasn’t run into any challenges. For example, Bettes Angell said because Independent Jones focuses on regional talent and doesn’t focus on any specific genre, it’s been difficult to build relationships with booking and management agencies. 

“When I go out to make introductions for agencies, it’s basically cold calling,” she said. “I have no record behind me. I don’t have a festival behind me. I was originally doing this in Bradenton, which is not on the map of any kind for national artists. … There are a lot of nuances and difficulties breaking into that.”

That’s where Benjamin comes in. 

Benjamin and Bettes Angell said their history working together has created the perfect partnership to bring the blues festival to Lakewood Ranch. 

Bettes Angell has the local knowledge with vendors and connections in Lakewood Ranch and regionally. Benjamin has the musical connections to bring some of the best blues artists worldwide to the festival. 

Benjamin said he’s built relationships with bands and musicians not only professionally, but personally as he’s invited many of them to his house in Maine. He has 15 to 20 guitars and a saxophone, among other instruments, in his music room given to him by various artists. 

His connections have already proven fruitful as he’s lined up artists including Dylan Triplett, Kat Riggins and Mitch Woods and His Rocket 88s. 

“Lakewood Ranch is in for a big party,” Benjamin said. 

Before the Bradenton Blues Festival, Bettes Angell said she had never experienced blues music, but the festival converted her into a fan of the genre. She hopes the Lakewood Ranch Blues Festival will do the same for anyone who attends that wasn’t previously a fan of blues. 

“You just hear it and you feel it and it is just something that ignites in you that speaks to the music,” she said. “It’s not what you are anticipating it to be when you hear blues.”

Both Benjamin and Bettes Angell said variety is key to a successful festival. The fans are at the forefront of their thought process. Who do they want to see? What do they want to hear? What vendors do they want? What will the fans say and think walking away from the event?

There needs to be something for everybody. 

“You lose sight of that, you’ve lost what you’re doing it for, which is the people,” Bettes Angell said. “There’s where I will go back to, I am first and foremost a fan of musicians, and I’m a fan of music. I’ll never lose sight of that being on the production side.” 



Liz Ramos

Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.

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