Saturday, June 22, 2013

Day 41 - Attending a Jazz Festival

I have never been to a Jazz festival. As hobbyist musician and a lover of Jazz music, going to a Jazz festival has been an event I have wanted to do for years. Despite my desire to do so, every previous opportunity I had to attend a such a festival has been stifled by scheduling conflicts or out-of-town trips. Now, when I say every opportunity, I literally mean every opportunity. Weddings, birthdays, family events, and other random occurrences have always had a knack for falling on any weekend a local Jazz festival was occurring. As a result, I simply never had the opportunity to experience one firsthand. With this in mind, I knew I needed to make attending the Isthmus Jazz Festival a priority when I learned the event was occurring this weekend. After all, hanging out at the Memorial Union Terrace, having a few beers, and listening to Jazz music on a summer day seemed like the perfect way to spend a Saturday.

After a very wet morning and a persisting threat of rain through the afternoon, Rachael and I laid low for the majority of the afternoon. With a bit of sunshine breaking through the clouds, we finally decided to head to the festival a little after 4:00 pm. Although the weather left something to be desired for a summer music festival, our choice to take in some Jazz music that afternoon and evening turned out to be a good decision.

Rachael and I found our way down to the union Terrace after parking our car near State Street. We wound our way through ongoing construction as we chatted about the weather and the prospects of the Jazz festival continuing through the night. I found myself worried that the festival attendance would be low as a result of the pending rain as we walked through the last stretch of parking lot before the terrace. While I knew the crowd size wouldn’t diminish the quality of the music, a part of me wanted to see a large crowd to gain the full Jazz festival experience. With the sound of Jazz echoing off of the buildings around us, we rounded the last corner to meet the sprawling terrace behind the Memorial Union.

The terrace
To my surprise the rainy conditions had done nothing to deter the festival goers that afternoon. The terrace was covered with people in high spirits laughing and drinking around the brightly colored tables that are a fixture of the Memorial Union. Rachael and I wandered the multiple levels of the terrace looking for an open table as I took in the music of a 10 piece Jazz band performing under the canopy of the venues only stage. A smile crossed my face as the sound of a walking bass line and the calls of brass instruments swelled in the open air. Before long Rachael and I found a table and took our seats just off center stage in the second level of terrace seating. “How can anyone not fall in love with music when they hear it?” I said getting comfortable in my seat. “That’s a bold statement” Rachael replied questioning my effort to rush with a very broad stroke. I continued, “I mean, listen to it. Look at what it does to the people around us. I know everybody has their own tastes, but this music just does something to people. I can’t help but relax and enjoy the moment.”

Cold beers
Rachael shot me a muted smile in response to my remarks before offering to grab us a few beers. I happily accepted the offer, which sent Rachael wading through the crowd of people toward the outdoor bar near the terrace’s waterfront. In her absence my gaze remained fixed on the band, watching their hands move across the various instruments they were using to craft the music floating through the air. It seemed only seconds had passed before Rachael returned with two large glasses of beer. She set them on the table and took a seat next to me. Based on the size of the glasses, it was apparent she was in it for the long haul.

Shortly after taking her seat, the band that was playing ended their set and left the stage. A few minutes later the University of Wisconsin Jazz Symphony took the stage with Marcus Shelby, an experienced Jazz band leader from San Francisco, California. The band pieced together quickly before breaking the flutter of conversation in the crowd with a burst of horns and piano. For the next hour we listened on, sipping our beers as Marcus Shelby walked us through the sources and inspiration of the Jazz songs he and the Jazz symphony played. The music was grand and the company was great. I was soaking in the moment and enjoying the festival around me.

Eventually, Rachael and I decided we should break away from the music to find a bite to eat. We kicked around a few choices of restaurants before we settled on Chautara Indian Restaurant on State Street. While it was quite a hike from the terrace, we wanted to try the restaurant before their inevitable closure at the end of June. In turn, we walked down the restaurant and found a seat indoors to escape the rising humidity outside. Hoping to catch more of the Jazz festival before the weather turned, Rachael and I ordered quickly. My meal was a basic chicken curry, whereas Rachael ordered Masala Dosa, a vegetarian dish with a massive crepe rolled around the entire meal. Seriously, check this thing out.

Would you like some dinner with your crepe?

After our dinner we headed back down to the Jazz festival, which had gained more attendees in the hour we had been gone. Rachael and I found a new table a little further back on the terrace and listened to the Tony Castaneda Latin Jazz Sextet for a brief period. As we sat we observed the sky darkening and rain falling across the other side of the lake just behind the performance area. Knowing we were likely going to face the rainfall if we stayed at the festival for too long, we decided to head home shortly after Tony and his band took the stage. Our decision was none too soon given the intense rainfall that hit the area some 20 minutes later. Although I was disappointed we only spent a few hours at my first Jazz festival, I was glad we avoided a soaking from the onslaught of rain that came that evening.


Today’s experience at my first Jazz festival was about what I expected. Although I would have enjoyed some better weather and a little more time at the event, the time we spent at the festival was a great way to relax on a summer afternoon. I have always loved Jazz music, but experiencing it in an outdoor setting among a crowd of like-minded people is something special. Based on this first experience, I undoubtedly will attend another Jazz festival in the future, assuming schedule conflicts and the weather don’t get in my way, of course.

1 comment:

  1. My husband loves Jazz and is determined to make me like it. Since I love the Blues he cannot fathom why I wouldn't like Jazz. I remind him every time he puts it on we are not the Huxtables from The Cosby Show and it is just too random and "A.D.D" sounding for me to just sit and listen to. I have to say that after reading your post I am inspired to give it another shot. I think maybe a live Jazz performance will be the key. It sounds like you guys had a great time. Thanx for the post! Keep'em coming!