The Kaslo Jazz Etc. Festival is a 25-year institution and a highlight of every summer on Kootenay Lake, but it’s about time they come up with a new name.
“We’re not ready to abandon the name quite yet, but we’re also open to anything at this point,” said executive director Paul Hinrichs, who was brought on last year to reinvigorate the struggling festival.
“It’s definitely in discussion. As you can see in the lineup, there’s not much jazz. We’ve already re-envisioned the festival. But what it really comes down to is what’s jazz? You could talk for hours about that.”
More a redefining than a rebranding
Hinrichs believes it’s important the festival keeps the right spirit.
“Is it virtuosity in the playing? Does it mean all the artists have great technique? Great improvisation in the music? What element of jazz is it we’re hoping to retain? Maybe this should be thought of more as a redefining than a rebranding.”
Hinrichs noted hip hop derives from jazz, and plenty of improvisational antics happen onstage. There will be traditional jazz acts for those fans, mostly earlier in the evening, while other acts will go up later.
“That way, everybody wins. This year is really about celebrating the 25th anniversary. We all really felt that was something we could all rally around,” said Hinrichs, who noted he’s especially pleased the festival has re-teamed with Nelson Brewing Company.
“It was a no-brainer for us to team up with the home team. We’ve always had a great relationship and I’m glad we could celebrate this dual 25th anniversary together.”
Honouring the past, looking to the future
When Hinrichs set out to put together this year’s lineup, he wanted both familiar acts from the festival’s history as well as new blood.
“I went back through the archives and booked a band that played at the very first festival — Paul and Laura Landsberg, doing their Ray Charles thing. They met at the first festival and fell in love.”
He’s also bringing headliner Michael Franti, who played the jazz fest ten years ago, and Delhi to Dublin, which played the 20th anniversary.
They will be joined by Oscar Lopez, Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra, Shred Kelly, Rabs and Mooves and Breakwater, among others.
It’s an eclectic group meant to appeal to a wide audience.
“We’re going to have way more camping, more of a family vibe. Kids under 12 are going to be free.”
And they’re looking to capitalize on the hole left by this year’s cancellation of Starbelly Jam.
“That gave us much of the drive not to fold, because can you imagine if Starbelly and Kaslo Jazz went under in two years? That’s not something we were prepared to have happen, so we stepped it up this year.”
Attendance was up during last year’s festival, but wasn’t quite as high as they’d hoped for. They need to build more momentum and attract more visitors if they’re going to survive financially, Hinrichs said.
“It was a success in a lot of ways, but not financially, which determines how we grow or if we’re going to able to continue at all. This year we’re giving it our all and we’ll see where that takes us.”
‘We want it to be a party’
The highlight of last year’s festival for Hinrichs was the late-night concert by Elliot Brood, an act he considered their biggest risk. The band brought a significantly different vibe, but the audience loved it.
“The boys came out and everyone was sitting. Chad Hansen from Nelson Brewing Company and Rebeckah Hornung from Whitewater decided they wanted to stand up by the stage and within half a song , 400 people were on their feet dancing.”
He felt the festival was evolving before his eyes.
“It was alternative to what the programming had been. We’re talking a roots rock band playing at 7 p.m., and that’s much more the direction I want to take it.”
The festival’s first dance performance will be held on the floating stage this year, thanks to Slava Doval’s DanceFusion group, and will be joined by The Circus Act Insomniacs, another non-musical act.
Taking the programming even further away from jazz, this year will also feature local electronic duo Moontricks.
“We’re just trying to diversify and spread it all out so everyone in the Kootenays feels welcome.”
Put another way: “We want it to be a party.”
The festival takes place July 29 to 31.