ECHUCA’S Winter Blues Festival is gearing up for its biggest event yet as it celebrates 20 years this year.
More than 20,000 people are expected to flock to the four-day festival on July 25-28, which will see 60 blues and roots performers from around south-east Australia playing across 25 stages all around Echuca.
Festival organiser Peter Williams said the festival was one of the two biggest events on the Echuca-Moama calendar.
‘‘In 1999 the original group that came up with the idea of a little Sunday afternoon blues music festival could not have imagined that it would develop into what it is today,’’ he said.
‘‘The last weekend in July in 1998 was one of the quietest weekends for business in town each year and accommodation houses thought 20 per cent occupancy on Saturday night was pretty good.
‘‘Now they get three and four days of full house signs.’’
Mr Williams said the original model was ‘‘shared risk shared benefit’’.
‘‘Participating venues took the risk paying for the artists playing in their venues and obviously hoped that it would be a good benefit to them as well,’’ he said.
‘‘This model has proved to be a winner as it makes the Winter Blues Festival the event that returns the greatest benefit back into the community.
‘‘The free festival makes it extremely rare and ensures people of all ages and incomes can attend. It also builds the atmosphere of being out on the street strolling from venue to venue amongst a very happy crowd of patrons.
‘‘Of course being free means that we do not attract the big international acts, but you do get to see many of the best Australian blues musicians in one easy to get around location, and you also get to see many of the new and upcoming acts.’’
The festival is run by a committee of volunteers, so it is a genuine Echuca-Moama community run event.
A range of other activities are also run before and through the festival.
They include the guitar painting competition — attracting more than 100 entries — the Winter Blues Songwriters Studio involving about 40 local musicians aged between 15 and 25, and an intensive two-day workshop with leading blues musicians and a performance on the Monday night.
There is also a kids fun space on the Saturday and Sunday in Hopwood Gardens, while that night sees the wrap party.
The annual fundraiser is the only paid event and it will be held at Radcliffes with a variety of the artists from the four days performing and jamming together.