Whether it was the fantastic weather, the lineup of extraordinary talent or the fact it was the tenth anniversary celebration, the Jazz At The Lake Festival is being described as the biggest and best yet by organizers Cheryl Fisher and Eric Allison.
When they began planning this year’s festival they wanted to highlight the best of the past ten years while providing a variety of entertainment in venues both inside and out that would draw the community.
“We sold out four of the five ticketed concerts,” enthused Allison. “The fifth was not far away.”
“Attendance at all the events was higher than ever before.”
Fisher suggested it might be that the festival, after ten years, is finally catching on and drawing a loyal following. They heard from several attendees that they plan family reunions and other personal events so they can take in the festival’s performers and sounds.
Crucial to the festival’s success, they also had a bigger number of sponsors and loyal past sponsors increased their donations.
One of the highlights of the weekend was the concluding jam session which took place at Meadowlands Golf Club.
They were sold out by the Monday prior to festival weekend and accommodated about 200 people at the golf course where fireworks choreographed to music concluded the evening’s entertainment.
The music was George Benson’s White Rabbit version from Jefferson Airplane, the pair said. “It was actually the song that got me interested in jazz years and years ago,” added Fisher.
Winner of the Canmore vacation raffle was Jamie Johanson, daughter of Jim Guloien.
“The feedback we got was all positive, especially for the jam,” said Allison, during an interview Tuesday. “It seems like that’s the perfect place.”
Fisher added that by bringing in the Polyjesters for the Late Night Lions events Friday and Saturday (who were a huge hit), they were able to give the jam session back “its special night”. In past years, a jam session took place Friday and Saturday evenings and then concluded with the extravaganza Sunday evening. That meant the final evening was just an extension of the previous two nights.
“It made that night special again,” she said.
“They were the perfect up-energy band, not competing with our headliners,” Fisher added. “They could go from the Beatles to Jimmy Cricket’s theme song to Led Zeppelin, done acoustically in a jazz format with humour. It was a very good idea.”
Donald Ray Johnson’s 11 piece blues band was “pretty special”, the duo added.
Outdoor venues were better attended and “really contributed to the picnic, outdoor, festival aura”, said Fisher. “We love having the combination of outdoor and indoor venues. It makes the whole town feel like it’s participating, pulling in all kinds of contributors. It has the feel of a town-wide event.”
A fitting tribute to jazz legend Jim Guloien, a Sylvan Lake resident, was the 10th anniversary t-shirts with a line drawing of him playing the saxophone. Guloien was a surprise guest at the Friday night performance, joining Tommy Banks for several songs, then performed at the Legion during the pub crawl and at the jam Sunday evening, receiving multiple standing ovations.
“How fitting that he was honoured that way,” said Fisher.
Guitarist John Stowell “is such a talent”, the pair said. “He’s an amazing musician.” They hoped that with his guitar he’d be a draw for younger people and they were rewarded during the jazz workshop where several were amazed by his talents.
Johnny Summers Little Big Band, opening the festival at the Legion Thursday evening, played to the largest dance yet. It was “fabulous”, said Fisher.
Community bands, Flat Iron Jazz and Jazz Explosion were in fine form, they agreed. Fisher added, singers Haeley Ginter of Jazz Explosion and Joan Ree of Flat Iron deserved particular mention. “Everyone loves a singer,” said the singer extraordinaire.
The H.O.T. Dixieland band were their effusive selves, noted Allison who’s part of the group. Particularly sporting their new caps and red vests this year.
The pub crawl on Sunday afternoon also expanded this year with ten venues, up from a previous high of eight. Among those added were Cities Gastro Pub and Waves Coffee House in Ryders Square, a departure from the downtown core. Both enjoyed full houses, said Fisher and Allison.
The co-organizers were also laudatory in their thanks to Kathy Bradshaw who “did not only an outstanding job as festival manager this year but also stepped in as volunteer coordinator at the last minute when we lost their previous coordinator”.
“All the other volunteers demonstrated understanding and patience with the fact she was doing so much and some stepped in as site leaders,” added Fisher. “We have a good core of volunteers.”
One of the “special moments” which happens between volunteers and entertainers, said the pair, was Saturday evening when pianist Michael Kaeshammer went into the audience to find Bradshaw, danced with her and then invited her to sit on the piano bench beside him while he performed.
“She’ll never forget that.”
“It’s pretty cool when it starts to take on a life of its own,” said Fisher of the festival.
Asked about the future, the two were coy. “Every year we have to start planning earlier and earlier,” said Allison.