20th Evergreen Festival Hits a Rocky Mountain High Note

The 20th Evergreen Jazz Festival, held July 28-30 in Evergreen, Colorado, continued the event’s reputation for presenting big talent in intimate venues with a scenic mountain setting.

The weekend was highlighted by special guest James Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band, directed by Jon-Erik Kellso. The band appeared in the very first Evergreen festival and in several more over the years, but this was their first time back together since their founder/leader lost his battle with cancer in 2019. The original plan was for clarinet great Kim Cusack to direct, but as most know, he passed away in early June. The band decided they still wanted to perform, in part to honor the memory of Jim and Kim as well as longtime drummer Wayne Jones.

Hot Jazz Jubile

And perform they did! With Evan Arntzen taking over clarinet and Jeremy Kahn on piano, they delivered six sets of great Dapogny arrangements, reaching an energetic peak Sunday afternoon on the Elks Lodge patio. Trombonist Chris Smith took a few minutes to talk about the months he put in organizing all the old charts and what it meant to the band to be together again. There was hardly a dry eye to be found.Evergreen Jazz Festival

Making their Evergreen debut was Capt. John Royen’s New Orleans Rhythm. Royen had appeared in earlier Evergreen festivals, but this was the first for this group with Royen on piano, Clint Baker, clarinet, Josh Gouzy, bass, and Hal Smith, drums. (The Capt. title reflects his other passion, conducting swamp tours outside New Orleans.)

Also appearing for the first time was Espresso! from Boulder, Colorado. Their unique combination of gypsy jazz and swing had dancers on the floor and toes tapping every set.


Returning favorites also had audiences cheering. The Carl Sonny Leyland Trio, After Midnight, HollandCoots Jazz Quintet, Poudre River Irregulars, Dalton Ridenhour Trio, and Queen City Jazz Band with Wende Harston all demonstrated that their popularity is well-earned.

Other memorable moments included dueling pianos featuring Carl Sonny Leyland, Dalton Ridenhour, and John Royen, the historic sound of Something Doin’ Big Little Ragtime Band, and the Sunday gospel service led by QCJB and Wende Harston.

To learn more about the festival, go to EvergreenJazz.org.

Jim Reiners has been involved with the Evergreen Jazz Festival since its founding in 2001.

Or look at our Subscription Options.