Related: The former Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society Foundation has a new name., Sacramento Jazz Society Reboots, Festival Scene in Flux, “A Crisis of the Old Order”, What Is to Be Done?, Sacramento Jazz Education Foundation Launches Instrument Match Program,
Mere days after the announcement of the permanent cancellation of America’s Classic Jazz Festival in Lacey, Washington, the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society has announced it is scrapping the venerable Sacramento Music Festival after 44 years. This announcement, which comes to us hours before we go to press, was made on December 18 in a post on Facebook.
The Sacramento Music Festival had been an advertiser with The Syncopated Times during its two years of publication.
The Sacramento fest, known until 2011 as the Old Sacramento Dixieland Jazz Jubilee, had been held in Old Sacramento each Memorial Day Weekend since 1974. According to a report in the Sacramento Bee, during mid-1980s, the festival drew more than 85,000 attendees and hosted venues throughout the city. Attendance began to fall off beginning in 2002, and the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society scrambled to make the festival more appealing to a wider audience.
The event was rebranded in 2011 as the Sacramento Music Festival to acknowledge other musical genres already hosted by the festival, including rock, country, blues, among other styles. The festival was still losing attendance and money, and in 2014 the Society solicited emergency donations, stating it was $80,000 short of cash in meeting its budget. They were able to raise $60,000 through community fundraising but were still forced to lay off personnel.
Because traditional jazz stalwarts and other attendees were dissatisfied with the non-jazz acts, in 2017 the Society ditched its mainstream music approach and reverted to its jazz roots. This year’s fest featured a stellar jazz lineup including headliners Banu Gibson with the Clint Baker All-Stars, drummer Danny Coots, clarinetist Bob Draga, and piano prodigy Jason Wanner. Other performers included Cornet Chop Suey, The Zydeco Flames, Crescent Katz, High Street JB, the Pub Crawlers, Sister Swing, Avalon Swing. Igor & Gaylan, Gator Nation, Bill Eddie & Shelley, Black Tuesday JB, Midnight Rose JB, Mumbo Gumbo, Fulton Street JB, stride pianists Stephanie Trick & Paolo Alderighi, The Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, Cell Block 7, Tom Rigney & Flambeau, Beth Duncan, and the STJS All-Star Band. Nonetheless, 1,450 fewer people came out this year than in 2016 when attendance was down to 22,000.
Long-time Society board member Lyle Van Horn told the Sacramento Bee, “Really, this last festival, we were hoping for a better turnout,” said Van Horn. “With everything that was going on, and the competition during Memorial Day weekend, we decided we couldn’t sustain the festival at the level of what we had, and what people had grown accustomed to.”
“Even though the demographic was dying out, still the identity is still what carried it forward,” musician and Sacramento State jazz professor Mike McMullen told KCRA-TV. “I wouldn’t say it’s entirely a surprise, but it’s always a shock.”
McMullen has been performing for more than 40 years, and started playing at the Old Sacramento Dixieland Jazz Jubilee since the 1990s.
“When I was touring on the jazz circuit, everybody—everywhere in the country—everyone, knew Sacramento,” McMullen said. “But it became instead of the Jazz Festival a music festival, and I think when you get lumped in with a much larger category it’s a lot harder.”
In a statement quoted by the Sacramento CBS-TV affiliate, Dennis Speciale, president of the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society said, “While the music festival was a beloved event in Sacramento, the rising costs of performer fees, the diminishing audiences who want to hear traditional jazz, and the competing mainstream for-profit music festivals around the country were the major factors that led us to our decision to end the music festival.”
The event raised money for the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society, which would then go to help support jazz camps and other educational programs. The Society thanked its supporters for their time and donations, adding that because of their generosity, the society has been able to put on a youth jazz camp every August for more than 20 years.
The Sacramento Music Festival had been selling advance tickets for its 2018 event. Van Horn said that those who have purchased tickets may get a refund, but that could depend on the Society’s debts and other major financial obligations.
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