Erie's Blues & Jazz Festival Goes Online for 2020
The venerable Erie event will be streaming the first weekend of August
Erie's Blues & Jazz Festival's celebration will ring a bit differently for its 28th year. Presented by Highmark, it will still take place over the first weekend in August, though this time virtually, due to COVID-19 and public health guidelines. Music enthusiasts can tune in to a combination of live performances from the studios of WQLN Television, rebroadcasts of past festivals performances in partnership with Community Access Media, and blues and jazz programing on WERG radio.
According to John Vanco, artistic director and festival board member, the decision to move online challenged the festival artistic committee, consisting of artists, curators, and arts administrators, with rethinking the festival to meet the current, unprecedented circumstances "and they certainly have risen to that challenge."
"We had a meeting with Lake Erie Cyclefest, a partnering event on the same weekend traditionally, to discuss the idea and that's when WQLN came forward with the offer to help us broadcast," said Amanda Sissem, festival board member. "It made sense to us and we believed that it could be done safely and still inject resources into the arts sector and joy into the lives of our Festival audience on our traditional weekend in August."
Despite these 2020 changes, the Blues & Jazz Festival remains dedicated to providing live quality performances by blues & jazz performers albeit with shorter sets. Artists in other disciplines, including dance, poetry, theater, and visual arts will also be featured.
Saturday's headliner will be Jerron "Blind Boy" Paxton, an accomplished 31-year-old Los Angeles multi-instrumentalist who embodies the spirit of 1920s and 30s blues.
Sunday will feature George Burton, a brilliant jazz pianist and bandleader who blends hardbop with elements of R&B and hip-hop. The Brooklyn musician released his latest album, Rec·i·proc·i·ty, in February of 2020.
Viewers can also expect Turkish calligrapher Bunyamin Aysan, who will visually interpret a hip-hop artist during his performance, a Palestinian ballad singer who is teaming up with a modern dancer, and Sudanese henna artists who will demonstrate a full bridal henna tattoo as part of Erie Arts and Culture's folk arts program, with the support of a grant from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.
The festival will also host online events, such as dance classes, and socially distanced yoga.
In lieu of the festival's traditional "bucket brigade" volunteers, guests are encouraged to donate online via Donately.
Food and beverage vendors will prepare take out, "grab and go" offerings that will be promoted to the audience, further evoking the festival spirit.
As the festival committee works to create a seamless and powerful viewing experience that captures the multi-faceted festival feel, Vanco appreciates the support and understanding from fans.
"Everyone has been grateful to know that there will be some version of the event this year and, hopefully, a return to the usual format in 2021," said Vanco. "Artists largely have been enthusiastic about being able to do something to share their work with the public. Getting them to understand how they will be participating is a bit time-intensive, but it's coming together. We are very grateful to have the wonderful resources of our public broadcasting station."
As August 1 approaches, Rebecca Styn, interim festival board president, anticipates the festival going smoothly thanks to the tears of talent and commitment from Vanco, board, and committee members.
"This alternative version will serve as an alternative version of what we have come to know and love," Styn said. "Of course we will miss interacting with the attendees and the musicians, and the amazing energy that the event brings, but we hope that those that have made the festival a mainstay in their lives, find that camaraderie with their families and friends and participate from afar."
Stay tuned to the festival's Facebook page for live updates, events and other details, go to https://www.facebook.com/BluesandJazzFestival/
For more information, including the weekend's full lineup, still to be announced: visit the festival's website: www.eriebluesandjazz.com.