In late June, my husband, Jeff, and I attended the 28th America’s Classic Jazz Festival in Lacey, Washington. We went there as part of our big road trip to Montana. This is the second time we have been to this festival; the last time was in 2016.
Lacey was on hiatus last year after the University where the festival is held rented their venue to another organization on the festival weekend. But that got straightened out and this year it was back as strong as ever. Charlotte Dickison, who is 94 years old this year, has been involved in it for 28 years and has been running it for 25. This was her last year as Festival Director. She is handing the reins over to Karla West, who has graciously agreed to take on the task. Karla hails from Kalispell, Montana, and used to run a festival there. We met her on both of the jazz jam cruises we have been on.
The festival venue sports four locations. One is a large gymnasium which also houses the bar, the food venues, and the festival vendors. Our friend Maurice, from Glass Slipper, was there, he is looking forward to attending Jubilee again this fall. This room boasts two large dance floors that were well used. This hall can probably seat at least a lot of people, including the permanent bleachers in the back of it.
There is a conference room in the same building as the gymnasium. The third room is in the Student Union, which is very intimate. Lastly, is an outdoor tent. Although this tent is solidly constructed and appears very large, it looks like only about 100 chairs were set in it. It is shut down for the later evening sets. It is a very pleasant place to go in the middle of the day, nicely located with good views of the campus all the way around.
Lacey also sells RV spaces in their extensive parking lot. You can bring your rig and camp there for $25 per night. They even provide electrical and water hook-ups for those that reserve them in advance and only charge an extra $5.00 for this service. This is really great for those that are camping because you can stay on-site all weekend. There are several restaurants within walking distance if you don’t want to eat the festival food. The downside of this is that they require additional volunteers to manage this service, which is not straightforward and often requires good negotiating skills. But all of the volunteers were very patient and attentive to our needs and deserve an extra thank you for their help.
“America’s Classic Jazz Festival” does focus on classic traditional jazz and includes bands most commonly associated with that genre, including Grand Dominion, Evergreen Jazz Band, Wolverine Jazz Band, the Black Swan Jazz Band, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs, the Cakewalkin’ Jass Band, CanUS, Jeff Barnhart and Charlotte’s Boys, and, in their final performances, Uptown Lowdown. These final sets were put together to honor Bert Barr, and the festival was dedicated to him.
One band that I had never seen before that really impressed me was the Queen City Jazz Band from Denver, Colorado. This band has been performing together for 60 years. They had a singer, Wende Harston, who was dynamite. We watched more of their sets than any other.
Some non-traditional bands were featured as well, including perennial favorite Tom Rigney and Flambeau.
Ivory and Gold also graced the stage for several sets, including a gospel set with Jim Fryer and Jeff Barnhart’s sister, Jennifer, who had joined them in Lacey for a family event. Jennifer and Jeff and Anne sang together during this set and it was really a joy to hear. All four of these performers knew each other very well as was evident throughout the performance. You felt like you had wandered into the family living room and were treated to an intimate jam session. That was my favorite set.
There were also a few early ’20s bands, playing authentic scores from the ’20s. The first was the Graystone Monarchs under the direction of Josh Duffee. I think this band does not perform together very often, that the sheet music is handed out a week in advance and many of the players are sight reading. I know that Jeff Barnhart received his music the day before he played it and it was challenging. You would never know it listening to the music, however. It was performed flawlessly.
The second early ’20s band was the Fat Babies from Chicago. They also play ’20s and ’30s music from original scores and it was a real treat to watch them perform. They play together regularly.
My other favorite set was Jeff Barnhart’s Fats Waller tribute, where he talked extensively about the life and times of Fats Waller. I was particularly interested in his dissertation on rent parties. Fats was frequently requested to play at these parties, where the dwelling owner charged a small fee to attend. This money defrayed the expenses of the party and also the next month’s rent! I am so intrigued by this that I have decided that we will have a “rent party” during our festival and put any donations towards our BSR scholarship fund.
The best thing about the Lacey Festival is the “After Party” thrown at Tugboat Annies at the Budd Inlet in Olympia. A big room in the restaurant is reserved for this party and everyone is seated German style. Food and drinks are served throughout the evening while two sets are played by festival bands. The first set was a reprise of Charlotte’s Boys, overseen by Jeff Barnhart. This is another band that does not perform together often, but puts on a great show, with lots of laughs in between the songs. This was followed by a very energetic set of Grand Dominion. By this time, everyone was really warmed up, and there was dancing in the aisles and small spaces between the tables, culminating in a grand napkin parasol parade around the establishment, where almost as many people were in the aisles as stayed seated.
This was truly a great ending to a great event and I know that Charlotte can feel deservedly proud of the fine work that she has done over the years to make this what it is. But I also know that Karla will do a fine job and that we can look forward to many more excellent festivals at Lacey.