Lewiston’s jazz gift to the world got underway Friday night with a festival showcasing a broad array of styles and talents.
Five stages spread out over a few city blocks meant that jazz fans could weave their way through crowded streets surrounded by music while imbibing, consuming and celebrating summer.
Most of the stages were fronted by folding chairs, some brought by concert-goers but others supplied by the festival. The largest sea of seats was set in front of the Main Stage where Friday’s scheduled headliners were vocalist Veronica Swift (backed by the incredible Benny Green Trio) and, on Saturday, Elio Villafranca and the Jass Syncopators.
Way at the other end of the street was the Rising Star Stage, a venue devoted to young performers - vocalists and instrumentalists - with varied degrees of experience, ranging from the “maybe they’ll get better” to the “these guys are darned good” levels of talent.
In between those anchor stages were three spots showcasing smaller scaled (mostly) local ensembles displaying their sonic wares.
The Frontier Porch Stage fronted the streams of humanity shuttling between the two big stages and the bevy of vendors lined up along the street. This was where the musical volume was turned up a notch, whether it was from Friday’s turn with the funk-inflected stylings of the Marcus Lolo Group and Wazmopolitans to Saturday’s schedule featuring more horn-centric lineups like the Tim Clarke Soul-Tet and the Phil DiRe Quartet.
The Peace Garden and DiCamillo Courtyard Stages have, by virtue of locations set back slightly (Courtyard) or mostly (Garden) from the street noise, characteristics favorable for small-scaled vocal and acoustic outfits.
For long-time jazz fans, part of the fun involved with this year’s festival was discovering the presence of historically prominent performers backing up the featured stars (bassist Avery Sharpe and vibist Jay Hoggard in support of pianist Christopher Bakriges) or underappreciated musicians who’ve played with major stars like guitarist Eric Johnson, the man “comping” behind giants like Lou Donaldson, Jimmy McGriff, Stanley Turrentine, Hank Crawford and Ramsey Lewis.
All told, this year’s festival lineup is pretty solid and varied, containing a mix of old and new, national and local. Combine that tuneful mix and favorable (for the most part) weather and folks attending should come away with an impressive set of memories.
Northwest Jazz Festival in Lewiston on Aug. 24 on five stages along Center Street