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Get Ready for the Blues Meet the true organizers

By Staff | Jun 2, 2010

HUGHESVILLE – A love of blues and a love for each other brought this Wolf Township couple together. Since meeting for the first time in the early 80’s, Charles Lockard and Bonnie Tallman have known each other for three decades, but over the past 21 years, have continued to work together to organize the annual Billtown Blues Festival. Part of the original six and the only two left, the couple now work with a dedicated committee of ten, plus the use of advanced technology to organize a yearly favorite for many local and far-wide appreciative music fans.

“I must give credit to the other four,” said Tallman. Besides Tallman and Lockard, Fred Daniele, the late Penny Austin, Chris Bastress and Doug McMinn each contributed fifty dollars to start the first Billtown Blues Festival at a convenient location owned by Paul Glunk known as Canfield Lane along the Susquehanna River. In June of 1990, Queen Bee was the first live performer along with local band Blue Willy and the Billtown Jukes.

“We wanted to celebrate the blues and not just have a picnic,” said Tallman. “It is something more than just entertainment. We wanted to honor and recognize the blues for what it is.” These six initial members shared that vision to make the first festival an enjoyable experience by many locals in the surrounding communities.

Soon word began to spread and they outgrew the original site and moved the festival to the Hughesville Fairgrounds in 1995. “We did move the date from the third Sunday in June to the second Sunday so not to conflict with Father’s Day,” said Lockard who knew the administrators of the Fairgrounds. They embraced the idea. “We now have unlimited parking and a stage with restrooms, showers, and dressing rooms for the artists,” Tallman added.

For eleven years in a row, it rained just a little and a performer’s act was shortened just once by only twenty minutes according to the couple. “It was Smokin Joe Kubek from Texas and he begged to come back to do another performance,” they said. “We saw a tornado go over in 1996. It blew the roof off the Angus Inn.”

Most natives would know Charles Lockard as an insurance agent, but many also know him as ‘Good Time Charlie’ as he hosts a weekly radio show at 88.9 FM in Selinsgrove. “And yes, we can get it here,” he said. Every Sunday from 12 to 2 for the past 15 years, Lockard has had his own radio show. He tapes his own CD’s from material sent to him by record companies of music they want played.

“As a kid, I used to dream of being a radio disc jockey,” he said. The son of late Betty (Wolverton) Lockard and C. Roland Lockard, in 1989 Charlie started out on Saturday nights broadcasting the blues at Lycoming College and Susquehanna University, and still does a morning show on Sundays with Backyard Broadcasting’s WZXR 99.3 FM. “I had to spend my time selling advertising to sponsor the show,” said Tallman who came from a lucrative career in the medical field. “Back then, it was Kool 95 and Eagle 108. It was a hard sell at first because it was such a small market.”

Soon the couple began producing live entertainment and formed BC Productions to run and operate the Billtown Blues Festival. The company became incorporated in the mid ’90’s producing a steady line of live entertainment.

Tallman started the artist management company in order to manage the careers of national touring and recording artists. Shortly afterwards, the couple started a record label ‘Emit Doog Music Company’ mainly for artists and shows that Tallman managed. “We would record them, promote them and distribute them,” she said. “I started all of this because the artists needed to put out records, and in the blues industry, it is hard to get a record deal plus give them performance opportunities.”

Some of the artists they represented were Greg Piccolo, Ann Rabson, and Sapphire. BC Productions, Inc. is still in operation today. Coordinating with a booking agency from February 09 to November 09, the company took the Sapphire Tour on a national level handling all bookings and interviews. The Uppity Blues Women, another artist managed by Tallman, will be retiring the end of November and the company is in the process of doing some wrap-up work for the group.

Tallman stated she is tethered to her Blackberry as she is dividing her time taking care of an aging father in Tioga County and organizing the Blues Festival scheduled for Sunday, June 13 with gates opening up at noon.

Throughout the year the couple keep track of a “wish list” of a variety of particular songs and recordings that they think are terrific. They work with a team to coordinate reliability, racial diversity, and a variety of styles within the blues genre.

“It gets kind of tricky to put together 7 acts in one afternoon and really create a diverse program to enjoy,” explained Tallman.

Since that first concert in 1990, the Billtown Blues has not only grown into an annual festival, but has also incorporated the Billtown Blues Association that started out with ten members in 1992. Now the organization is up to 300 members, prints a quarterly newsletter, has an established website (www.billtownblues.org) and a board of directors. The local association is also affiliated with the National Blues Association in Memphis.

Again, this year’s festival has an incredible line-up of musicians starting with local band, “Miz Ida & The All-Nightas” announced Tallman and Lockard. “It takes several years from the time someone wants to play until they can actually come here and perform,” they said.

Charlie is always the emcee. “I really enjoy seeing the people in front having such a good time.” Many come from out of state. “We have 21 states and 42 counties from Pennsylvania. It has become a yearly reunion to meet friends and family.” Groups meet every year to enjoy each other and the blues music.

Although they have been together for nearly 25 years, the couple finally decided to get married in February of 2007. “It was the music that brought us together,” said Tallman happily. “We celebrated at an EG Kight concert in Northumberland at the Unitarian Church after planning for a week,” she stated.

“We expect to organize the Billtown Blues Festival for many years to come because we have such a devoted audience and a group of core members that really believe in celebrating and honoring the blues as a valued American Art form,” said the couple as they exchanged fond glances for the future. “We are passionate about this music.” For he has the knowledge and she makes things happen.