The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Jazz Fest successful, despite changes

Iowa City’s 2014 Jazz Fest, held downtown July 3-5, seemed destined to sing the blues at its outset. A few days before the festival began, heavy rains made the planned setup for the Main Stage impossible.

“The biggest challenge this year was having to move the Main Stage off of the UI Pentacrest,” said Lisa Barnes, the city’s Summer of the Arts executive director. “The final decision was made Wednesday morning, with festival setup starting that same day, so the entire layout had to be changed to accommodate the new location of the Main Stage.”

Potentially problematic, the stage’s shift to the intersection of Iowa Avenue and Dubuque Street ended up being just a minor blip. Every performance continued as scheduled, even when rain unleashed on downtown Saturday morning and continued to drizzle throughout the afternoon.

Crowd members stood under umbrellas, shoulders raised to block the wind, ears perked up to catch the drifting notes of jazz.

The crowds were small, though, in comparison to the previous two days. Barely able to squeeze past other festival-goers around the Main Stage, downtown was home to thousands last week. With food vendors lined up and down Iowa Avenue, the Beverage Garden resting on the corner, shop tables set up along Clinton, and jazz flowing in from all sides, it was hard to find a reason to leave. The smells and sights drew you in and the sounds kept you hooked.

July 4 was notable, as, in the spirit of Independence Day, the town was painted red (white and blue). Stars and stripes filled the space, beers filled hands, and music filled the air, mingled with shouts of “Merica.”

And there the entire time to keep it all running smoothly was Shane Schemmel, Summer of the Arts associate executive director. Schemmel kept volunteers coming in and out, fulfilling every need. This proved especially important on July 5, when volunteers squeegeed the Main Stage to keep water away from the artists and, more importantly, their valuable instruments and equipment.

“We’re lucky in Iowa City to have such a supportive community toward volunteerism,” he said. “It’s really nice to see people coming out to support the arts as their volunteer choice.”

The volunteering spirit seemed to strike some suddenly, as the volunteer booths experienced “walk-in volunteers,” individuals at the festival who simply came up, asked, “How can I help today?,” and did what was needed.

Kim Schillig, an Iowa City native, was one of the 150 scheduled volunteers.

“I’ve supported Summer to the Arts for many, many years, and I’d love to see that it continues,” she said. “I think volunteers are one of the ways we can ensure the festival continues and keep the cost down; with a festival like this, we couldn’t afford to pay everybody.”

Since the festival’s inception, Schillig has noticed a big increase in its offerings and appeal.

“I hear the crowds just keeping getting larger, and that’s based on their experience,” she said. “They enjoy it, so they keep coming and encourage others to come.”

That’s what happened with retired UI elementary education professor Dick Shepardson and wife Marty. Having been absent from the festival for the past few years, they came back for Smith Studio Jazz’s performance on the Youth Stage on a friend’s recommendation. The band, they’d been told, was very danceable, perfect for the pair.

“The music was wonderful,” Marty Shepardson said. “It’s nice to see a group get together and just enjoy music.”

As the festival headed into its coda, Barnes said she felt confident about what they had accomplished over the three days.

“At this time, I can say that the festival has been very successful because of the caliber of talent featured on the four stages,” she said. “We were able to bring in some of the biggest names in the jazz community [Tom Harrel and Esperanza Splading, for example], and the performances have been spectacular.”

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