Now in its sixth year, Rice said the festival has been growing steadily. Its budget is now more than $100,000, he said, and as many as 30,000 people attended the annual Armed Services Day weekend event. He said events that size have an obvious and meaningful economic impact
"We had 17 hours of national and international acts, a free event," Rice said. "If the city can't support us, then we'll go where they will."
Rice said the blues society doesn't really want to keep the event as free. He pointed out that in its first three years (at Coonskin Park, South Charleston's Oakes Field and Appalachian Power Park respectively), the festival was a ticketed event.
But after the festival moved to Haddad Riverfront Park in 2011, the city told the blues society it couldn't charge admission, because Betty Schoenbaum said she'd only fund the construction of the stage there if all events held on it were free to the public.
Rice said he's known Schoenbaum for years. He called her in Florida and asked him about it. He said Schoenbaum told him, "I don't care what you do with the stage."
Blackstone said "I guess you can blame me for the fest being free and open to the public. It's impractical to hold an event at Schoenbaum Stage and try to charge admission. I think they tried that during one of the Regattas. It doesn't work.
"So the city of Charleston became an official sponsor; we provided our costs, and it was free to everyone."
Blackstone went on to say that the policy concerning the banner at the stage was about respect for the contribution of Betty Schoenbaum.
"No banners are permitted to cover up the Schoenbaum name on the stage," he said. "We're talking about a family that has contributed nearly a half million dollars to make that the premier venue in the city, so no banners are allowed to cover that name up.
"I'm sorry he disagrees with that."
Rice said he'd prefer not to take the festival out of Charleston, but at the moment, the only way it seemed possible to him to stay would be if the University of Charleston stepped in.
"That would be something leadership from the Charlie West Blues Fest would have to bring to leadership over here, but I don't know," UC spokesman Scott Castleman said Thursday.
Blackstone said he was sorry to see the blues fest go.
"Well, it was a nice event while it was on the Schoenbaum Stage these last two years. Before that, it wandered around three different venues in the valley. I'm sorry he found our support unacceptable."
Reach Bill Lynch at ly...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.