Annual music event draws hundreds

Hundreds of people traveled to Elkins to enjoy music, food, culture and fun at the fifth annual Riverside Blues Fest this weekend.

The festival kicked off with a concert by the Dennis McClung Band at the Railyard Restaurant from 7-9 p.m. on Friday. On Saturday, the festivities continued with a dedication to Richard Smith, a long-time musician and supporter of the festival.

Smith’s daughter, Shirley Smith-Montgomery, spoke to the crowd regarding Smith’s contributions and thanked all of the festival organizers for their continuing support.

“It feels good to see such an outpouring of love and honor for my family,” Smith-Montgomery said. “Thanks to Dad I have been lucky enough to be around music all of my life. Dad dedicated his life to spreading joy and love. We joked that he never met a stranger. The festival is run by a great organization and it’s an honor to see someone else who knows how great he was.”

Smith-Montgomery introduced the musical guests after performing “Summertime,” a song from the musical “Porgy and Bess,” in her father’s honor.

Other musical acts included The Richard Smith Tribute Band, including many local musicians all paying homage to Smith’s legacy, Diamond Jim Green, Moondog Medicine, Miss Freddye and Her Band, The Shaun Booker Band, Kelly Bell Band, Mojo Theory, and the Dennis McClung Band.

Vendors were selling food including hotdogs, batter-fried fish and grilled chicken, raffles with selected items from each of the various artisan booths, face-painting for children and much more.

Saturday concluded with a live jam session at the Jabberwock in Elkins.

The weekend ended with the Riverside Blues Babies performance and gospel sing at the Elkins Depot.

Some of the vendors on Saturday included Jack Rice and Donna Price from the West Virginia Blues Society, a statewide non-profit devoted to helping keep blues music alive in the Mountain State by supporting local musicians and promoting Appalachian Blues history since 2007.

“West Virginia has a great history in this culture and we are devoted to keeping it around,” Rice said about the organization, which partners with other charities like Wounded Warriors.

Dane Tilghman, a visual artist who captures the likeness of popular figures in blues, rock n’ roll and Americana, said the festival was a great way for the blues culture to stay alive in the area.

Other vendors included the Kirkwood Winery, out of Summersville, and Spirit Wing Dance Ensemble, which makes handmade crafts and t-shirts and teaches holistic skills such as farming and foraging to help promote natural self-preservation.

The festival is not just about music, though that may be the most popular attraction. The Riverside School Association is utilizing all of its efforts to not only preserve the Riverside School building, but also African-American culture, history and traditions in the area.

“The community and the efforts of local businesses to come together is one of the true highlights of the festival,” said Katie Dubkowski, a representative of the Friends of Blackwater.

Ray Ratliff, a musical instrument artisan, brought some of his homemade diddley-bows, which are stringed instruments that resemble guitars made from blocks of wood, cigar boxes and tin candy boxes. Ratliff said that he loves events like the Riverside Fest.

“I live for this stuff,” he said. “I go to as many of these things as I can every year. Our greatest resource is diversity.”

“The festival has been a huge success,” said Linda Sabbatino, director, coordinator and organizer of the event. “We had a high attendance early and it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop anytime soon.”

Sponsors for the festival include the City of Elkins, the Randolph County Commission, Super 8, which provided rooms for musicians, the state of West Virginia, Wal-Mart, Save-a-Lot, Shop ‘n Save, KFC, Domino’s Pizza, Bob Evans, Subway and Richard Holland, Stroemanns Bread, Long John Silvers and Mary’s Green House.

For more information on the Riverside Blues Fest, go to

Contact Chad Clem by e-mail at