The Wangaratta Festival of Jazz is more than a music festival.
Twenty six years ago a group of enterprising local Jazz fans realised the potential economic and cultural value an annual music festival could bring to their beloved Wangaratta (Not to mention saving many trips to Melbourne and Sydney to satisfy their own love of live jazz music). The Wangaratta Festival of Jazz was formed and to this day remains, at its heart, a festival of Jazz music which has now become a part of our community’s identity.
Local families have grown up with the festival circled on their social calendar and central to so many valued memories shared as part of their life story. As sons and daughters, friends and families have ventured from Wangaratta the “unofficial long weekend” remains a date marked for a return-to-home-pilgrimage, to once again enjoy each other’s company in the friendly streets and parks of Wangaratta, listening to great music, sharing a laugh and a glass of local cheer.
Like our community and its people, the festival has weathered challenges and seized opportunities to grow and evolve. Today our programme includes blues artists and ‘cross-over’ acts. New places and spaces are being explored to open up even more of our beautiful town to the festival. This growth has been achieved through a lot of work from many people over the years and has ensured the enjoyment of festival-goers and the ongoing viability of the festival. That work represents economic value to the community in the form of jobs, as does the influx of welcome visitors who fill our accommodation houses, our restaurants, cafes, wineries and shops.
The opportunity to experience world-class music provides a less tangible, ‘cultural’ benefit to our town but to put some measure on it, imagine how many young local musicians have been inspired and supported by the festival over those twenty six years? This year, the Diddley Bow Project is a great example of introducing young people to the opportunities and joys of music. Who knows, maybe even the next Lead Belly will be amongst those gathered for the World Record attempt?
These economic and cultural benefits are so important to regional communities but the most important part of any community is its people; people are what makes a community strong. Every day, people in our community come together in times of need and in times of celebration and by its simplest definition a festival is simply a large, annual gathering of people. In this instance we gather to celebrate jazz and blues music but in reality we are gathering around to celebrate one another.
Our Friends of the Festival supporters are everyday members of the community who have felt compelled to support the festival and in turn, their community. They are taxi drivers and bus drivers, doctors and mechanics, real estate agents and accommodation providers, shop owners, builders and winemakers. Whilst they come from different backgrounds, they are all part of one community and they all share the same reasons for supporting the festival. They will walk amongst you at this year’s festival with their friends and family, happy in the knowledge that we all benefit from their generosity.
One of our Friends, Bruce Wallace moved to Wangaratta from Melbourne some thirty-eight years ago. In that time Bruce has established a successful machinery sales business and whilst Bruce enjoys music he is not a die-hard fan of jazz. Ten years ago however Bruce felt it was time to give back to the community that had welcomed and supported him and decided to sign up as a Friend Of the Festival. Bruce is now a platinum supporter, the highest level, and when asked why he supports the festival, Bruce simply answers, “I just love helping Wangaratta out”.
Ask that question to Lachie and Beth from Ovens and King Builders and you’ll get the same response. Lachie started building homes in the North East around the same time those intrepid jazz fans were planning the first festival. Today, Lachie and Beth’s business is focussed on creating sustainable buildings, making quite a nice metaphor for their contribution to the festival and a sustainable community. Ovens and King builders are also sponsoring this year’s Diddley Bow Programme which introduces kids to music and as such Lachie and Beth are investing in the future of these children, the music industry and our community. These are good friends to have!
Our Friends of the Festival are a humble lot and don’t support the festival for accolades but if you see any of them walking around or in their place of work, be sure to thank them.
I wonder if those enterprising jazz fans could possibly have imagined the fuller value of the festival when they first sat down and planned the festival. They should be acknowledged by all of us for their legacy as should all who support our great festival, friends one and all.
With Special thanks to our Friends of the Festival:
- Bruce Wallis Engineering & Woodwork Supplies
- Nevin Lenne Gross
- Ovens & King Builders
- The Centre
- McGregor Machinery Pty Ltd
- Wangaratta Chronicle / Northeast Newspapers
- One Mile Motors
- North East Fasteners
- Browns Wangaratta
- Computing Today
- Fallons Wangaratta
- Garry Nash Real Estate
- Ray & Isabel Dunstan
- Touchstone Pianos
- 1300 Temp Fence – North East
- Wangaratta Caravan & Tourist Park
- Win Securities Ltd
- Dr Bolitho & Rosemary Calder
- Cheryl Hoysted
- Chris Herft
- Cunie O’Keefe
- Dysons Group
- G.A.S. Honda Motorcycles & Power Equipment
- Linger-A-While B&B
- North Eastern Business Machines
- Monapet Office National
- Rangeview B and B
- Rob Humphrey
- Margaret Brickhill
- Auldstone Cellars
- Jennifer & Stephen Shearer
- Wangaratta Arts Council Inc
- Wangaratta Taxis
Pictured: Lachie and Beth Gales, Ovens & King Builders