The Return of the Festivals

Here’s the post-Valentine’s Day wish of every jazz musician:

Roses are Red,
Violets are blue—
We just want some gigs
(And a festival or two).

It has seemed like an eternity for both musicians and fans, and while we are not yet out of the woods in gaining control of the COVID-19 pandemic, there now are encouraging signs emerging that there is a brightening light at the end of the preverbal tunnel regarding the resumption of festivals and jazz parties.

A mid-March survey of festivals elicited mixed responses, ranging from “The good news is that we are ‘All Ahead Full’ in planning our 2021 Festival” to “Everyone is still holding their breath and hoping for the best.”

After all that has transpired in the past year, the fact that 26 festivals and jazz parties are planning/hopeful to hold their event in the coming 12 months is a promising sign that better days are ahead for musicians, venues and fans. The dates listed in the accompanying “Schedule of Festivals – 2021-2022” (below) are not set in concrete, but we have hope.

The Arizona Classic Jazz Society was one of the few able to hold a festival in 2020. ACJS president Helen Daley gives as status report: “Except for a two-month break due to COVID-19 in March and April, the Arizona Classic Jazz Society has been able to hold all their scheduled events. Attendance has been down, but seems to be picking up now that people are feeling more comfortable about appearing in public after receiving their vaccines. Our 2021 Festival will take place November 4-7 in Chandler. An anonymous gift of $5,000 over and above annual Festival support provided the impetus to start a matching campaign to help cover last year’s deficit. Other generous donors are helping the Society reach its goal.”


Among the positive responses, Jean Feist, Colorado Springs Jazz Party executive director, even included a Chamber of Commerce tourism plug for her picturesque area. “WOW! Are we ever ready to see and listen to LIVE JAZZ! We are assembling an outstanding lineup of musicians for our 2021 Jazz Party on October 2-3 and are thrilled to have Adrian Cunningham continue as our Music Director.

“This year we are moving to a new venue, The Gold Room, which has become Colorado Springs’ premier event venue downtown. This historic, art deco building has been renovated as a state-of-the-art entertainment venue, re-creating Colorado Springs’ own Cotton Club from the 50s and 60s that attracted all the famous jazz musicians.

“Colorado Springs is becoming ‘Jazz City’ evidenced by more schools incorporating jazz in the students’ music curriculum. It’s also the perfect place for a vacation with such spectacular sites as Pike’s Peak, Garden of the Gods, the US Olympic Training Center, and the Air Force Academy.”

President Michael Campbell of the Pentastic Jazz Society across the border in Canada joined the chorus, stating, “Our good news is that we are ‘All Ahead Full’ for our 23rd Annual Jazz Festival starting September 10, 2021, with a full lineup of All-Star bands. This will be a great opportunity for both our fans and bands to celebrate the end of the pandemic and get back to enjoying life and jazz. We have much to enjoy in beautiful Penticton, BC with over 170 wineries within a 20-minute drive as well as great golf courses to enjoy before, during and after our three-day Festival. Come early and stay late because it’s a party!”

The public is ready to get back to live music! Even at smaller events than this one in Dresden Germany that brings out tens of thousands every year.

Sounding a more cautious note, Carol and Jeff Loehr, co-directors of the Sun Valley Jazz & Music Festival, offered the following thoughts. “Everyone is still holding their breath and hoping for the best. We know this year has been the finale for many live music events. It remains to be seen how many can survive if they are taken out by government mandates for a second time. You lose a lot of synergy and momentum even after one year off, let alone two. There is also the question of the volunteer base which ages along with everyone else. Will they still be there? What can be done?


The virtual format has been about the only answer which could come out of all this. Virtual is not the same for the audience or artists, because the people around you are part of the experience. It is not JUST the music.

“As for the Sun Valley Jazz & Music Festival, we are moving forward with some caution. We are limiting sales to 1,500 five-day passes. Like the rest of the world, we sit here with our fingers crossed, hoping this will end soon. Tickets will go on sale December 10th with the Christmas special price for a five-day general admission passes. All music venues will be in the Sun Valley Village. RV parking will remain at River Run Lodge.”

Mark Jansen of the Redwood Coast Music Festival in Eureka, California, assessed the current situation, writing, “Good news is welcome indeed. It’s been such a crushing year for everyone connected with live music, musicians, sound techs, etc. We decided to move our festival from our usual May dates to Sept 30 – Oct 3 with the hope that we could bring live music back to the Redwood Coast in 2021 rather than having to wait another full year.


“It’s been very difficult to plan, but we’ve been pushing forward with fingers crossed. We wanted to support the musicians that were scheduled here for 2020, so we worked to reconfirm as much of our 2020 lineup as possible. With so many festivals, jazz parties, and cruises moving into that same Fall space, there have been a few instances where there were schedule conflicts, but we had success with the majority of our lineup who have been supportive in resolving any conflict issues. This is a time for all of us to pull together for the good of live music performance.

“While it’s been difficult to plan, if the State of California clears us to proceed, we are READY TO ROLL with our lineup, venues and hotels all in place. Obviously, we are all nervously and cautiously optimistic, but we’re also very encouraged both by the pace of vaccinations and the diminishing case counts.”

Rhonda Cardinal, director of the Jazz Jubilee by the Sea in Pismo Beach, CA also stressed the need to be flexible in planning for the immediate future, saying, “We threw a semi-virtual festival in 2020 that was highly successful. Our 2021 band contracts have a COVID clause. If we get shut out again, we will revert to the 2020 model or a modified version of 2019. We might have to get more venues if we can’t operate at full capacity. We are also going to Livestream from one of our venues for paying customers. We will charge $30 for access. In short, we will be flexible. Plan for the best, but be prepared to change our plans as needed.”


The status of the Evergreen (Colorado) Jazz Festival is unsettled at the moment, according to Jim Reiners. “The Evergreen Jazz Festival board of directors intends to make a decision in April regarding whether there will be a 2021 Festival, tentatively scheduled for July 23-25. There are two key factors affecting that decision:

– State and county restrictions and guidelines currently prohibit public gatherings anywhere near the size of festival audiences. While the numbers are gradually being relaxed as conditions improve, this is still a major unknown.

– Evergreen Elks Lodge, the Festival headquarters venue, has set a policy of limiting events to 50 attendees until at least September. Unless that changes or a waiver can be obtained by April, it appears unlikely the Festival will take place this year.

“Meanwhile, the Festival has fielded a brief survey to past patrons to identify attitudes and feelings about attending in 2021. Not surprisingly, all 11 bands in the lineup have agreed to stand by until a final decision can be made.”

Finally, the Hot Jazz Jubilee in Sacramento is in need of a festival director and has decided to defer their Festival until 2022 when they “will bring back the bands that were booked to play the Festival in 2020 and 2021, plus a few extra musical surprises,” according to Patti Jones, interim Board chair.

“New to the 2022 festival will be a stronger youth element. The Festival has always been about raising funds to send young musicians to Jazz Camp, and we have always included a handful of outstanding youth jazz bands, all of which we will continue. We will also be adding a ‘Pro/Am Jam’ room, where young musicians can sit in and play with the pros. We are also looking at including a few jazz education clinics during the weekend, for musicians of any age to learn a few tricks.”

It’s obviously a very fluid situation, but President Biden gave a helpful sign to the nation, stating that there will be enough vaccine to vaccinate our entire population by May, and that Americans can plan to hold backyard barbecues on the Fourth of July 2021. Let’s hope that also includes jazz fans attending festivals and jazz parties.

The following events have confirmed dates with us:


April 21-24 Zehnder’s Ragtime Festival (Frankenmuth, MI)

May 9-13 Sarasota (FL) Jazz Festival
May 15-16 Pensacola (FL) Jazz Festival

June 18-20 Elkhart (IN) Jazz Festival

July 10 Cline Wine & Dixieland Jazz Festival (Sonoma, CA)
July 23-25 Evergreen (CO) Jazz Festival
July 30-Aug. 1 – Newport (RI) Jazz Festival

Aug. 5-7 Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival (Davenport, IA)
Aug 13-15 Sutter Creek (CA) Ragtime Festival

Sept. 10-12 Pentastic Jazz & Music Festival (Penticton, BC, Canada)
Sept. 30-Oct. 3 – French Quarter Festival (New Orleans, LA)
Sept. 30-Oct. 3 – Redwood Coast Music Festival (Eureka, CA)

Oct. 1-3 Colorado Springs Jazz Party
Oct. 8-10 & 15-17 – New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Oct. 13-17 Sun Valley (ID) Jazz & Music Festival
Oct. 13-17 Roswell (NM) Jazz Festival
Oct. 21-24 Jubilee-By-The-Sea (Pismo Beach, CA)

Nov. 4-7 Arizona Classic Jazz Festival (Chandler, AZ)
Nov. 19-21 Suncoast Jazz Festival (Clearwater Beach, FL)
Nov. 24-28 San Diego (CA) Jazz Festival & Swing Extravaganza


Jan. 13-23 Tucson (AZ) Jazz Festival

Feb. 3-5 North Carolina Jazz Festival (Wilmington, NC)
Feb. 25-27 San Diego Jazz Party (Del Mar, CA)

March 4-6 Jazz Bash by the Bay (Monterey, CA)

April 8-10 Three Rivers (CA) JazzAffair

June 1-4 Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival (Sedalia, MO)

Sept. 2-5 Hot Jazz Jubilee (Sacramento, CA)

Lew Shaw started writing about music as the publicist for the famous Berkshire Music Barn in the 1960s. He joined the West Coast Rag in 1989 and has been a guiding light to this paper through the two name changes since then as we grew to become The Syncopated Times.  47 of his profiles of today's top musicians are collected in Jazz Beat: Notes on Classic Jazz.Volume two, Jazz Beat Encore: More Notes on Classic Jazz contains 43 more! Lew taps his extensive network of connections and friends throughout the traditional jazz world to bring us his Jazz Jottings column every month.

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