Paul Hinrichs was backstage, watching Michael Franti perform on Friday night of the Kaslo Jazz Etc Festival, when the weather started to get dicey. This was his second year as the executive director and he was grappling with whether or not to shut things down.
“I was concerned about the perfect storm,” Hinrichs told the Star after the festival concluded. Before the night was through he would have to simultaneously deal with a large-scale evacuation and an emergency with a missing child. But in that moment he was most worried about the electricity firing across the sky.
“The floating stage has been hit by lightning twice before, so it was a real concern. Honestly, it was terrifying.”
He knew they had an emergency response plan, “but even though you have a theory in place, much like anything it comes down to execution.” Before making the call he started implementing new safety measures on the fly, restricting the space for the beer garden and calling the security team into action.
“I’m always the fan, but in that moment I had to be the one responsible for keeping the fans safe.”
In this situation, that was a tall order: a record-breaking 3000 people were in attendance and the concert was raging. But though Franti ignored his call to end the set for three songs, Hinrichs ultimately stormed on to stage and waved his arms to signal that the party was over.
“It was the hardest thing I had to do, but I think it was the right call.”
That being said, he acknowledges the experiences people were having in the moments before they evacuated the beach were magical. And the story has a happy ending: nobody was hurt, and everyone had an awesome time.
“It shows you how beautiful life can be in the moment.”
Local musicians limelighted
Erratic weather continued throughout the weekend, with rainstorms through most of Saturday afternoon, but every scheduled musician ultimately got the chance to play—despite the canceled concerts that had been scheduled post-Franti. And Hinrichs couldn’t be happier about how the 25th annual festival went down.
“This is one of the few times in my life I’ve been really, really proud of something I’ve done. That’s not an emotion I typically feel,” Hinrichs said, noting they sold 7,000 tickets over the course of the weekend.
That’s an “exponential” leap in ticket sales, according to Hinrichs, who was effusive about the support he’s received from the Kaslo community and the surrounding area. He’s thrilled that fans who came out to see some of the bigger acts—Frazey Ford, Rising Appalachia, Delhi 2 Dublin—were then exposed to local talent as well.
“How many people are going to go home now and know the name Moontricks? Or Dirt Floor? Or Jenny Robinson? It’s almost like we’re giving away the secret. These guys are incredibly talented and have chosen to live in this area, and now we get to share that.”
He said one of the highlights was the Ray Charles tribute put on by Paul and Laura Landsberg, a local couple who met at the very first Kaslo Jazz Etc Festival 25 years ago, who were now playing with their daughter Erica Dee.
“I think that speaks to the depth of their talent, for these guys to be so versatile that, for instance, Sean Rodman can go from an electronic-infused set one night to an acoustic thing in a farmer’s market the next morning.”
Lee was scheduled for six sets, including a visit to a local seniors residence and a kid’s show. Over the course of the weekend audiences could catch him backing up Jenny Robinson, anchoring local folk band Dirt Floor and Djing as Rafferty Funksmith.
“Jesse Lee is the hardest working musician in the Kootenays, and that’s only one of the reasons people were gushing about the lineup. These are my go-to bands, the ones I know will come and do a great job, and I couldn’t be happier with how everything went down.”
‘We took the corner at 90 miles an hour’
This year’s festival was light on actual jazz music, which was a conscious choice by management. They were hoping to draw bigger crowds, and this year’s ticket sales reflect the momentum it’s gathering.
“We turned a corner this year. And it feels like we took that corner at 90 miles an hour,” said Hinrichs. “Big picture it was a huge success—there are areas for improvement and we’re doing surveys to get feedback, but we set out to redefine what this event is going to mean and I think we accomplished that. We’ve established a new direction”
He was emotional during the closing ceremonies, where he shared the stage with a rotating cast of musicians and founder Jimi Holland.
“To stand on that stage during that closing ceremony and know I orchestrated that whole thing, connecting everybody, was just amazing. When you’re putting something like that on paper or in an email it’s a dream, but to see it all happen and to know I built it—I get goosebumps when I think about it.”
All photos by Louis Bockner Photography