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It’s a wrap

2016 Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues

It’s not often you list amongst your highlights what DIDN’T happen however with the threat of floods causing some significant and late changes to the festival format, it was a sense of relief that turned quickly to joy as Wangaratta turned on some classic north east Victorian Spring conditions this Jazz & Blues Festival weekend.

People in their thousands were able to sit and relax under the trees at the open air stage of the King George Gardens with its consolidated Blues program. The music pleased the Blues purists with some scorching guitar blues from Geoff Achison and the Soul Diggers who closed Saturday night then doubled up on Sunday afternoon. A collaboration made in ‘blues heaven’ of Wilson-Manning-Southwell and then Fiona Boyes & The Fortune Tellers, kept the tempo up and those present witnessed the emergence of a star in JJ Thames, with help from Geoff Dodd, Shaun Kirk, Three Kings, Route 61 and Blue Heat closing out the weekend of Blues.

Sharing the Blues stage were performances from a number of artists originally slated for the Hume Bank Garden Stage who brought an unexpected but pleasing new dimension with a mix of up-tempo soul, funk and folk rock. The Bamboos brought the house down Friday night and the high energy of the Pierce Brothers had the whole park jumping on Sunday afternoon. This venue promises great things for the future and this year cemented it as a place for people who enjoy a relaxed setting with great music, festivities and all the food and wine of the Ovens street precinct.

The Riverside Community stage offered visitors a free space to enjoy local and emerging performers and the Busker’s Boulevard, Paint Presto pop up art installations and “I’m in the Band” window displays provided colour to Wangaratta’s streets over this festival weekend.

Once again, for lovers of jazz an exceptional line up of performances was enjoyed. Melissa Aldana mesmerised audiences and mentored emerging artists; sharing the stage with Monash University students and also judging the National Jazz Awards, which was ultimately won by saxophonist, Mike Rivett. Ronan Guilfoyle visited with his trio and extended to sextet to perform his stunning composition ‘A shy going boy’. Sandy Evans, Shannon Barnett, Paul Grabowski, James Morrison, Andrea Keller, Joe Chindamo were all names that we’d expect to delight, which they did; but perhaps most pleasingly this year was the emergence of some ‘lesser-knowns’ that provided some extraordinary highlights. This fact serves as evidence that the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues is as much about nurturing the future of music as it is about celebrating the present. That’s a tough double act to pull off but one which the festival has managed for twenty-seven years.

The Wangaratta Festival of Jazz & Blues provides a significant economic boost to the local economy with over three million dollars added to local businesses over the weekend and six full time jobs resulting from the annual event. But it is the less measurable social and cultural benefits for the local community that make this festival an important part of Wangaratta’s identity. The involvement of children in the arts through school programs such as ‘I’m in the Band’ as well as providing a stage for young performers provides pathways and forums for us to come together with a sense of pride and pleasure and congregate with friends and family to enjoy music and festival fun.

It is the community too who help ensure the festival’s sustainability. The support of individuals and businesses via our Friends of the Festival forms a critical part of the financial equation and it is our volunteers who give their time to make sure our visitors have a high quality experience that makes the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues a memorable and viable event.

So this is an opportunity to say thank you, to the performers who entertain us, our sponsors and partners, with a special acknowledgement of the Rural City of Wangaratta’s assistance in managing our flood challenge and the Victorian State Government’s ongoing support of the arts, our volunteers and Friends of the Festival, our Board and our community.

Thank you and we hope to see you, your friends and family back in Jazz country next October.

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