Blues on the Chippewa event funds scholarships, benefits community
The Blues on the Chippewa music festival brings bands and music lovers to the Pepin County seat of Durand for the first weekend of August, but because of the annual event, music continues to flow through the community year-round, according to Faith Ulwelling, BOTC event coordinator.
The festival started in 2008 after the sudden death of Durand native and passionate music lover Brent “Paco” Titus.
“He passed away of an undiagnosed heart condition at 30. He was a musician and was great with kids,” Ulwelling said. “He had tons and tons and tons of friends, so we thought we wanted to do something in his memory.”
The event’s first years were directed toward helping the Pepin County Food Pantry, and guests were asked to donate canned goods. That tradition has continued, but the fundraiser has expanded to support the Brent Titus Music for Children Program which provides scholarships for students pursuing degrees in music and the arts.
“We do the scholarships, but we also take in instruments that people donate to us, and we rehab them as they need to be rehabbed, and we redistribute them to children who can’t afford to purchase an instrument for them to play in the band at school,” Ulwelling said.
BOTC is a nonprofit agency that also funds field trips for the Durand High School band program and is developing an after-school area in an abandoned building downtown.
“Our goal is to have a studio in there, an after-school space where we can provide (music) lessons for children at cost for people that can afford them, but we can provide students that can’t afford it with free lessons,” Ulwelling said.
Friday through Sunday will be the eighth year of the BOTC music festival.
“(The food pantry) was the impetus for the festival, and also just to bring back music and utilize the band shelter that had been sitting kind of empty and falling apart for years,” Ulwelling said. “Durand used to be a fairly hoppin’ music town, but it had died down.”
At one time, the community hosted its own version of Woodstock and brought well-known high-level acts to the downtown theater. There was a lot of music going on, Ulwelling said, including students at the local high school, which still spawns musical talent. Ulwelling fronts two bands, and her brother’s class of about 60 graduates generated five or six bands.
“They’re still playing all over,” she said. “There’s just a wealth of musicians in the area, and I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s the hills that brings them. It’s a beautiful place to be.”
The first BOTC event attracted about 400 spectators and solicited funding from local businesses.
“When we started, it was just a one-day event, and it was mostly local bands playing for next to nothing just to get it started and have fun,” Ulwelling said.
A generous gift from a sand mining company allowed organizers to bring in bigger-name bands, which in turn grew the event to three days and about 5,000 visitors converging on a community with a population just a hair under 2,000.
“Over the past three years the town has really gotten behind us,” Ulwelling said. “A lot of people come and sit and relax and go home. Of course a lot of businesses enjoy it, because you’re having outside money coming into town instead of circulating the same local dollars.”
Guests bring their own lawn chairs and can bring beverages and food, although food vendors are on the grounds as part of the fundraiser.
Saturday’s Cruisin’ the Blues in My Running Shoes 5K run/walk and 10K run were added four years ago and support the food pantry, the Pepin County Humane Society and Durand High School cross-country program.
Ulwelling said not everyone in town is a blues fan, or least they don’t think they are until they listen to the bands. Some locals leave for the weekend and rent out their houses, while others stick around and make room on their lawns for tents. There is also free camping at the local golf course.
“I think people in the town embrace it and have fun with it,” she said.
Blues fans have embraced BOTC too.
“People just come back, and they love it. If they have a choice of what festival they’re going to cross off for the summer and what one they’re going to keep, they always keep Blues on the Chippewa,” she said. “It’s a huge, happy family once they get there.”
If Brent Titus were still around, he’d have a grin from ear to ear and would perform, Ulwelling said.
As it is, she said, “I think he’s smiling.”
WRITTEN by SARA BREDESEN for leadertelegram.com