Not entirely true to the referenced Steely Dan song, the age of the VF Outlet Berks Jazz Festival doesn't resemble that of a young woman without knowledge of the queen of soul, Aretha Franklin, but rather symbolizes a mature and experienced voice in the quest to celebrate jazz in all its forms and from its beginnings to the present.
The maturity and experience of those putting together the Berks Jazz Festival attests to the wisdom they have gathered over the years. Everything from the line-up, including legendary and new artistic talent, to the location of shows, the local outreach that brings the participation and excitement of so many restaurants and businesses, the logo, right down to the lodging and special touches for visitors -- all this shows that Berks knows what you love and wants to make sure you, the listener, are the recipient of all things jazz during this festival. Worthy of note is that festival is coordinated and overseen by the Berks Arts Council and then is largely executed by a huge group of volunteers who give freely of their own time and talent before, during and after the festival.
Up-close-and-personal contact is a highlight of these ten days at Berks, both for artists and fans, and many are busily arranging breakfasts/brunches/lunches/dinners with those they've gotten to know personally over the years. Add to this group those representing recording companies and all forms of media, and you have quite a joyous reunion occurring throughout the festival.
The artist line-up has been posted here often, and you can also see it by going to www.berksjazzfest.com. There is an emphasis on traditional jazz, contemporary jazz and everything in between. Sometimes bluesy, sometimes funky, sometimes full of soul, but always that awe-inspiring improvisation that breaks out during any song and any show. Being in the audience at a festival like this is a great way to find out what the group of artists playing on your favorite CD will do when they're right in front of you! You won't believe it until you see it, as returning fans know, and it keeps them coming back.
There are other important highlights of the festival. For one, there is a worthwhile effort to engage young musicians who can benefit from the influence of artists who are traveling here as well as local artists during the festival. There are camps and workshops designed to promote accomplishment in music for the next generation. Another highlight is that in addition to the main ticketed events, there are countless free events to take advantage of in various venues, restaurants, churches, and anywhere people gather. All of this is listed on the www.berksjazzfest.com site, as well.
One of the keys to success at Berks is that the atmosphere reflects a spirit of generosity. Artists are generous with each other on stage, allowing each other full expression of their talents; fans are generous in getting to know each other, introducing artists to new fans and allowing all fans to enjoy the connection to the artists; media are not in competition with each other but enjoy and appreciate each others' work in taking pictures, sharing their magazines, doing on-site interviews and engaging in other promotional activities for the artists.
There is a fun atmosphere of shopping both at the local Vanity Fair Outlets and also inside some of the venues. You'll see some classy pieces of jewelry, some of which promote the jazz lifestyle and provide us with fun. You might choose a jazzy pin that lights up (it will be easy for your friends to find you in the dark!). Also available are lamps that have instruments built right into them -- talk about jazz providing a source of light in your life, that would do it! Then there is the table with Jazz Fest merchandise from years past, along with new items for this year. There are prints of jazz-themed colorful paintings to provide a pleasing reminder of a memorable time long after you arrive back home. Fans may be able to buy something or perhaps even be given an item promoting an artist, ie, my Nick Colionne earrings of which I'm very proud. Yes, they are in the shape of a guitar pick, have Nick's name on the his guitar logo. Some might think that's silly, but to me they're a fun reminder of the awesome playing and fun personality of this guitarist and of the times I've been at his shows.
What should you bring along to Berks? As always, your keen listening ears and your jazzitude (new word, there) -- you can be serious about your jazz, you can be silly with your jazz, you can be somewhere in between and travel back and forth between serious and silly for the entire ten days or however long you are here -- the music speaks to each of us in different ways at different times. One thing is certain, however, we all love the music and the music brings us together, not only at Berks, but perhaps especially at Berks.
So I'm looking forward to seeing all of you at some point during the festival! You'll find me with Peter Boehi from Switzerland, publisher of this site who is again our house guest for the ten days, or Jonathan Widran from California, established music journalist who writes all the bios for Berks and is also managing jazz editor of the new magazine, Wine and Jazz. You will see me with Mary Bentley and Bonnie Schendell of the online jazz magazine SmoothViews, or Melanie Maxwell of Smooth Jazz News, Steve Quirk from jazz radio in England, Dave Love from Heads Up, Jack Forschette of Koch Records, or the many artists I've come to know. I'll probably check in with John Ernesto, general manger of the festival or Connie Leinbach, who's the executive director of the festival, or, or...wow, it's not possible to list them all, there are so many to connect with!
If you've never been to Berks, please join us this year and you'll soon be connecting with many others like yourself, and your list might quickly become longer than mine!
Happy Jazzin' at the 19th Annual VF Outlet Berks Jazz Fest,
Beverly J. Packard
Jazz Circle Member of the Berks Arts Council