The music of the 15th Annual Berks Jazz Fest faded with the final notes of Fourplay this past Sunday evening, but the memories gathered over ten days of great shows, precious time spent with the artists, fun with fellow jazz fans and with each other are still vivid in our minds.
Smooth Jazz Vibes publisher Peter Boehi arrived in Reading Friday, March 11, the first day of the festival, followed by music journalist Jonathan Widran on Monday evening, and the three of us had what we all agree is the first of many future reunions. The ten days flew by as we busily covered shows, talked to artists, took side trips in the area, and had more fun than any of us could have imagined. We hope you’ll enjoy this look at some of the ‘behind the scenes’ highlights of the week before we get into coverage of the individual concerts.
Our first behind the scenes event was lunch with Berks Jazz Fest’s General Manager John Ernesto and Mike Zielinski, Publicity and Marketing Director. We had a great time getting better acquainted with these two gentlemen. Here we are at the Wyndham Hotel with Mike Zielinski.
We were invited to appear on the ‘Feedback’ radio show on the local WEEU radio station the following day. This show is held at the Wyndham Hotel every morning of the Jazz Fest. Peter and Jonathan did a great job of sharing opinions about this festival, music journalism and the mission of Smooth Jazz Vibes. It wasn’t long before the host of the show, realizing I wrote the article he read on Berks and that I must be the ‘local connection,' insisted I share the microphone with the other two. We all answered more questions and I felt like a real celebrity being there with Peter and Jonathan!
Of course all newcomers to Reading must visit the Pagoda, the landmark home of the Berks Arts Council set on the mountaintop overlooking the city. We climbed the five floors to the top of the Pagoda to get the best view.
Jonathan accompanied me to my school district one day and spoke to two high school groups about a career in music journalism. He told them of his own efforts leading up to this career, which included a stint trying to ‘make it’ in Hollywood. The students found him fascinating and he enjoyed the time with them. Part of the emphasis of the Berks Jazz Fest is to include educational activities, so along with the Bass Boot Camp Gerald Veasley runs, and other clinics that were held, Jonathan did his part to share his knowledge with up and coming writers.
Weeks before his arrival, Jonathan lobbied for a trip to Hershey (as in Hershey’s Chocolate, HersheyPark), so one morning we headed west and went on the special tour of Chocolate World, saw the 3D show complete with special glasses and felt (and acted) like kids again. We spent enough time in the souvenir department to buy the whole place out, which Jonathan nearly did in order to take goodies home to all his special people in California. He was so fun to watch – and he’s so generous – even I received my own soft pillow in the shape of a Hershey kiss.
Peter enjoyed Hershey, too, but his favorite trip had to be to the King of Prussia mall, a very large mall halfway between Reading and Philadelphia. His favorite store is the Apple store, where he could check out all the new computer accessories – anything to enhance his listening of more and more of the music he loves. Without question, Peter does the IPod shuffle very well!
We ate lunch at the Peanut Bar, a quaint local favorite on the main street of Reading. It’s got great food, and it’s a place where peanut shells crunch under your feet as you walk to your table, the signal that you, too, may drop your peanut shells right on the floor!
We also ate at the ViVa Good Time Bistro and Lounge, a relatively new restaurant housed in an old knitting factory; it’s spacious with a great atmosphere and we were so happy to have Tom Grant with us on this occasion. His part in the festival was four evenings of dinner shows, two of which we had attended, and participation in the All Star Jam.
All during the festival, we had a great time connecting with others in the business of recording and promoting music, everyone from Dave Love of the Heads Up record company, to Steve Quirk of British radio, to Melanie Maxwell, of the Smooth Jazz News magazine and many others who promote contemporary jazz on the Internet. Many people already know Jonathan – artists who saw him immediately approached with their own special hugs, and everyone was delighted to meet Peter as this site is one of the oldest, well-respected sites on the internet and many have been following it for years. As for me, I’d say I was the one just happy to be part of it all – enjoying everyone making new friendships and connections and learning new ways of getting more publicity out about this genre of music we all love.
The shows we saw were Peter White (two shows), Pieces of a Dream, Boney James, Chris Botti, David Sanborn, Stanley Jordan, Carmen Cuesta opening for Chuck Loeb, Eric Marienthal, Jeff Kashiwa, and John Swana, Jeff Golub, the Berks All Star Jam, Heads Up Super Band (2 shows, one with the band’s music and one as a tribute to Ray Charles), Groovin’ for Grover, The Sax Pack with Chuck Loeb and David Mann opening, the 15th Annual Concert featuring Jason Miles and about 15 other artists, Michael Lington and Fourplay.
There were so many highlights of traveling around with Peter and Jonathan. One of them was watching Peter, who normally prefers to stay in the background, begin to enjoy getting his picture taken with artists and also being introduced to everyone. After getting a picture taken with Boney James, I could see he was thrilled as he looked at his digital camera shot and exclaimed, "Boney and Boehi" for all to hear!
Another highlight for me was on the way to Hershey in the car. We had decided to have a 'face-off' between Jonathan and me, with Peter as the judge. We each brought CDs to play and the contest was to see who knew the most words to the music. We played Steely Dan, Chicago, and Jonathan had a great CD of a bunch of oldies from the 70s and 80s. We sang our hearts out and it was pretty obvious Jonathan and I were rather evenly matched. On Jonathan's CD were songs I hadn't heard in years, and in some cases I had an emotional reaction to this poignant trip down memory lane. One of the songs was the theme from Rocky, and this was Peter's favorite of the oldies (no vocals and all those horns) -- of course we sang the instrument parts and thoroughly enjoyed belting out those notes leading to the climactic ending to the song. In the excitement of Rocky and then arriving at Hershey, we forgot to ask Peter for an actual verdict!
So there you have it, an idea of what it was like at the Berks Jazz Fest for the three of us. Three jazz aficionados who will now be lifelong friends and on any given day, might resemble The Three Musketeers, The Three Stooges, or just plain Three Amigos.
Here are Michael, Peter, Jonathan and I at dinner after the last show on the final night of the festival. To all the artists and fans we saw at Berks, we hope you arrived home safely and that the music is still ringing in your ears....We hope to see all of you next year!
Beverly J. Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council
Photo credits: Michael Packard, Peter Boehi