If they would have asked Bob Dylan, he’d of said it was a simple twist of fate.
Where the rebound year for the annual music festival a year ago errored on the side of caution as America continued with the ramifications and health concerns of the pandemic, organizers asked music fans to wear a mask at the indoor venues.
This year inside was the ticket to cool music on a smokin’ hot weekend of music in the iconic downtown. The Ellensburg Music Festival brought 17 acts and beat the heat with air conditioning at eight venues over two days.
IT’S HOT OUT THERE
Triple-digit temperatures forced organizers to bring 45th Street Brass and Seattle Jazz Hall of Famer Greta Matassa and her quartet off the hotel rooftop and into The Hotel Windrow Ballroom.
The Clymer Museum stepped up, relocating the Ellensburg Big Band and groove band Freudian Slurp into its ballroom upstairs in the Ramsay Building.
It was a good weekend with great sounds, and more importantly, air conditioning.
“The attendance has been good, and I’ve been getting a lot of good comments on the street and emails about the music and the venues,” Ellensburg Music Festival board president Tony Swartz said.
“The biggest difference since pre-COVID is that we aren’t using Rotary Pavilion. We used to have some other small spaces like Fitterer’s, but other than that everything is back to where it was with a variety of different venues.”
ELLENSBURG MUSIC FESTIVAL
The completion of Unity Park in the not-so-distant future will offer another prime location and gathering spot.
But the beat goes on and musicians from across the Pacific Northwest turned it loose with a variety, ranging from Big Band to cool jazz saxophone to Bourbon Street Cajun fiddle and a little Hill Country Blues.
Skyler Floe made his return to the Pacific Northwest. The former Central Washington University graduate is currently living in Manhattan and came back for a stunning set in the Pearl Street Bar & Grill.
“I’ve been living in New York for a little over a year now. I played some tunes that are pretty friendly to the New York scene,” said Floe, who spent four years in the critically acclaimed Jazz Band 1 that won the Next Generation Jazz Festival, earning a performance in the 2015 Monterey Jazz Festival.
“Jazz in the Valley is great. When I was living here, I remember a lot of people coming from over on the West Side. There’s always been a great influence and quality to it that makes it special.”
VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE
The 45th Street Brass comes off as a brass band for about 30 seconds, but the delivery is so much more, delving into jazz, funk, a little soul, some hip hop, and a powerful horn groove.
The band consists of Trevor Parrish on trumpet, Dave Marriott on trombone, Peter Daniel on saxophones, Nelson Bell on sousaphone, Matthew Goodin on drums and the dynamic voice of Annie Jantzer out front.
“This band is a little different. It’s like a brass band that meets Motown,” Marriott said. “We have a singer out front, we feature a lot of solos, which is more like a jazz group.
“It’s kind of like those late 60s, early 70s bands that had a little bit of everything.”
45th Street Brass started the weekend off Friday night with a dazzling shake and bake set in The Windrow Ballroom. Matassa gave festival goers a taste of what earned her a place in the Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame with a sultry set on Saturday night at the Hotel Windrow.
Jazz and Blues guitarist Michael Powers has played every single Jazz in the Valley, now Ellensburg Music Festival, for over 24 years. The Seattle-based guitarist has played or recorded with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Eddie “Clean Head” Vinson and the legendary Ray Charles.
The guy knows how to work a room, playing solo in the Hotel Windrow Ballroom and again with his group in Gallery One.
“The thing I like about (the music festival) is everything is very comfortable, communal and there is a great interaction between the audience and the players,” said Powers, whose influence range anywhere from Jimi Hendrix to Carlos Santana to Miles Davis.
“During the COVID shutdown, I did a bunch of streaming and it’s not even the same as playing in front of an audience. I have to have the interaction. When I perform solo, I try to take a little bit more time. I tend to interact a little more with stories and reach out.”
SLIPPIN’ AND SLIDIN’
One of the highlights of the weekend was the Hill Country Blues Brett Benton retrofitted for a new generation, carrying on a Southern-style into a post-COVID world. Benton was just kind of slinging it on Saturday night from the perch high above the audience at the Pearl Bar & Grill back bar.
“We’re going to do one more, then come down and have a drink with ya’all,” he said with that Alabama-born, Southern-raised personality.
“The style is called Hill Country Blues. I’m playing the rhythm with my thumb and at the same time playing lead with my index singer, and of course, runnin’ the slide,” said Benton, whose influences are along the lines of Cedric Burnside, Reverend Payton, Jimbo Mathis and a slew of other Southern gents.
“You can find Hill Country Blues all over, but it originated in Northern Mississippi. In bringing this style out here, we’ve modernized it a little to make it more relatable to folks that have never heard it before.”
The local scene was well represented with the Ellensburg Big Band playing the Clymer Ballroom and Mel Peterson and Dr. Dre Feagin working the room in the familiar surroundings of the Gard Vinter.
“We always like to say, we sound better when people are dancing,” Swartz said, who plays trumpet.
The Big Band still has a few remaining members who started the band back in 2011, locals who play for the sheer joy of making music. The 18-member group is a showcase of jazz standards and modern styles.
The Mel and Dre show blends two dynamic voices into not just beautiful singing arrangements, but a show that demands audience participation.
Their show offers many different influences from gospel to jazz to R&B in a dynamic delivery that has generated excitement.
“The songs we do feature both of us, sometimes at the same time, sometimes individually,” Feagin said. “It’s great. It’s what allows us to have even more variety in our show. It’s two independent voices that just happen to be great together as well.”