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Art and Jazz Fest Stuck in a Rut

By David Goe

So who’s pumped for the Hazel Miller Art and Jazz Festival? That’s what we are calling it now, right? I just assumed so because she’s headlined this thing longer than it took me to finish college ... twice.

I’ve got to say, I had to do a double take when I saw this year’s lineup. I thought I was looking at the 2012 festival lineup, or the lineup from the year before that, or the year before that.

Well, as it turns out I had the correct announcement. Miller is headlining, again.

Not to take anything away from Miller and her band, she is a great singer, but we’ve seen that act and know how it goes. This year’s Art and Jazz Festival is the same as it ever was, and I’m not impressed.

Complacency is not good enough. There is no buzz, no thrill around the Art and Jazz Festival. This thing is dead on arrival.

All the things that make music festivals great, mainly anticipation and unpredictability, are missing. All the things people love about jazz music — improvisation, creativity and enthusiasm — are missing. Rolling out another predictable and tired line up is just not good enough.

Over the last four years, I’ve been to more than 250 live shows and 12 music festivals across the country. The thrill of live music, and the reason I keep going to see bands play, is variety. I want to see something fresh and inspiring, something stunning, something outside of my imagination. Mostly, I want to be entertained, and I can’t see that happening at this year’s fest.

The organizers of the Art and Jazz festival owe us an explanation. This event has the potential to bring vibrant, radiant energy to Main Street, yet it has languished in mediocrity for far too long. What’s going on here?

Isn’t this supposed to be a marquee event for downtown Grand Junction? It sure doesn’t feel like it.

Why, exactly, should I get excited about this? At face value, this year’s event is no different than the last four. In fact, besides a beer garden, the difference between the Art and Jazz Festival and the summer Farmers Market on Main Street is negligible.

If we are not committed to bringing new performers and fresh energy to the Art and Jazz Festival, then what’s the point of having it at all?

Across the country, jazz festivals are diversifying their line ups. That’s the trend. From the bellwether event, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, to regional events such as Jazz Aspen Snowmass and the Telluride Jazz Festival, there is an array of performers and variety offered year to year.

Meanwhile, back in Grand Junction, we are getting the same event over and over.

Imagine how quickly we would be bored with Country Jam if it booked the same headliners year after year. No one would tolerate it, so why do we do it with Art and Jazz?

Those in a position to influence the Art and Jazz Festival have a responsibility to the community to put on a show that we can get excited about. How does the event ever grow if we never demand anything more than what’s already been established?

My hope is that the Art and Jazz Festival can become more than a glorified road block between Orchard Mesa and Grand Junction. I want this event to be special and something we eagerly look forward too each year.

I love downtown Grand Junction and I’m a huge supporter of live music but I’m telling you here and now this isn’t good enough.

Our expectations for this event need to be raised. We can do better.

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