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Groups organize outdoor jazz, blues festival

by on February 16, 2014 1:55 AM

The Dad Band, an Indiana amateur jazz quintet, got its start doing gigs for kids in classrooms.

Now, to commemorate its 10th anniversary, the group has teamed up with the Indiana Arts Council to organize Indiana’s first Westsylvania Jazz and Blues Festival, which will bring national headliners to IRMC Park on May 24.

“We’re really proud of the small-town atmosphere that we have here, but bringing a jazz festival brings that element of a large city just for a day, just for a little bit, the things that you would go to Pittsburgh for,” said Dave Ferguson, bass player in The Dad Band. “If we can bring some of that to Indiana, it basically rounds out the whole experience for everybody.”

The free, outdoor festival on North Seventh Street will serve not only to bring local and national jazz musicians of all ages to Indiana, but also to generate business and educate people so they have an appreciation for jazz.

Members of The Dad Band haven’t forgotten the days of performing for their children at day care. Education is a big part of their mission. As a way to incorporate this educational aspect into the festival, they have reached out to area high school band directors to put together an “all-star band of students from around the county,” Ferguson said.

The festival is to be a multigenerational event.

“Jazz in general is America’s musical art form,” Ferguson said. “It’s a style of music that was invented and perfected in the United States. And I think it’s absolutely crucial that we do as much as we can to raise awareness and interest in jazz in America and to make sure that we expose young people to this type of music.”

Another important mission of the festival is to bring people in from out of town to generate business.

According to Indiana Arts Council Executive Director Rebecca Slak, a recent study shows that the arts industry in America generates more money than tourism.

“The arts industry is a massive economic engine,” Slak said. “When we use that to our benefit, we benefit our whole community, benefit the local merchants, business owners and other community members.”

Rather than having vendors line North Seventh Street, the festival’s steering committee wants out-of-towners to visit Indiana shops and restaurants.

To encourage this, The Dad Band saxophonist Michael Powers said he plans to work with downtown bars and restaurants to host after-hours gigs starting at 9 p.m. after the festival.

The idea for the Westsylvania Jazz and Blues Festival came about in the summer when Powers approached the Indiana Arts Council as it was simultaneously trying to plan a bigger event for the town.

“Our board of directors had just finished strategic planning, and one of the objectives that came out of that strategic planning was to create and/or support outdoor music and arts events,” Slak said. “And so, here was this other group of community folks coming to us.”

As of Jan. 15, the steering committee, which is mostly made up of The Dad Band and Indiana Arts Council members, had raised enough money through the Kickstarter program to make sure the festival is a go.

Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform that helped the committee run an online campaign to raise its minimum funding goal of $6,000. The program was an all-or-nothing deal, though, because if the committee hadn’t achieved its goal on deadline, all of the money would have been refunded to those who donated.

A few days before deadline, the committee achieved its goal and received $6,188 from 83 backers, according to Slak.

“We had people donate from Massachusetts, Florida and everywhere in between,” Powers said.

In addition to the Kickstarter program, the committee also received funds from the Pennsylvania Department of the Arts, Lively Arts at IUP and a sponsorship from Michael B Shoes.

“We are getting a great level of support, locally, regionally and at the state level,” Slak said. “We couldn’t really ask for more.”

The $6,000 will go toward a budget to bring in big-name bands and headliners, who will be announced in March, Powers said.

However, the committee is still in fundraising mode and would like to raise an additional $1,500 to reach a comfortable zone.

“We’re looking for those larger donors who can already see there’s a large base of support,” Ferguson said.

Every dollar the committee receives from sponsors will go toward getting more or better musicians, according to Powers.

In the meantime, the committee plans to hold a few events throughout the spring to raise awareness of the festival. The Artists Hand Gallery will host Downtown Jam Sessions from 6 to 8 p.m. on the second Thursday of every month. These sessions were scheduled to begin Feb. 13, but the first session was canceled due to Thursday’s snowstorm.

The next session will take place March 13. Community members of all ages are invited to come by to perform with other jazz musicians or to stop by for a listen.

“We’re hoping to see everyone from junior high and high school students to college to professionals play together once a month to lead up to the festival,” Powers said.

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