Rethink, reach out

The Sacramento Jazz Festival & Jubilee is moving in new directions

Let’s admit it: You say the words “Sacramento Jazz Festival & Jubilee,” and the images that spring to mind are banjos, bow ties, Dixieland bands and peppy old gals with frilly umbrellas. Fine for some folk, but maybe not for you, right?

You know the festival draws some 60,000 to 70,000 people every Memorial Day weekend, thousands of whom drive in from out of state, and you’ve heard there’s more to it than Dixieland. You love live music, and you’ve been meaning to check it out, but somehow just can’t picture yourself doing the cakewalk down the Old Sacramento cobblestones with all those RV drivers just in from Sheboygan and Saskatchewan.

It’s OK. We understand. But this year’s festival, the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society’s 37th, offers more than enough reasons for a rethink.

Perhaps more than ever, the STJS is reaching out to the broader Sacramento music community with this year’s festival, offering not only a wide range of jazz styles, but also an expanded selection of Latin music, zydeco, blues, funk, western swing, Rolling Stones-style rock and even tributes to Santana and Steely Dan. They’re also offering tickets for a recession-friendly 10 bucks to their series of genre-themed “party” events.

It’s all part of a conscious effort to rebrand the festival and appeal to a broader, younger audience, said Scott Kaufman, STJS marketing director.

“We had noticed in the past that our numbers were trending downward, and we needed to figure out a way to make this music and this festival more accessible to everyone,” said Kaufman. “We’ve had this perception that we’re one thing—Dixieland music—and that’s really not the truth. We have blues, zydeco, swing, mainstream jazz, and we’ve expanded our Latin music this year. So we’re making a push forward to rebrand ourselves to be younger and hipper, because we have music that appeals to just about everybody in the community.”

A glance at the lineup confirms that, in addition to plenty of traditional jazz, the festival offers a virtually encyclopedic list of popular music styles. And why not? Just about all American music of the 20th century, from Aaron Copland’s classical compositions to salsa, rock, soul, blues, hip-hop and beyond, owes a direct debt to the musical miscegenation of early jazz musicians who bred rhythms from Africa and the Caribbean to song forms and harmonies from Europe and spawned a revolution that continues to this day. But never mind all that. The point is that this year’s festival offers a broader range of programming than ever, and if you can’t find something to like, well, you’re not really trying.

One significant area of expansion is Latin music. “We’ve always had a Latin band or two, but this is the first year we’re making a big push,” said Kaufman.

This year’s festival features Latin jazz group La Descarga!, the mariachi band Mariachi Los Gallos, and Caribbean-Brazilian jazz funk from the Bay Area Ray Obiedo & Mambo Caribe, who will all perform as part of a Latin Party on Sunday, May 30.

The Latin theme is also featured on Saturday, May 29, with a Santana Tribute by classic rockers the Rhythm Vandals. “Now there’s something people probably wouldn’t expect to see at the jazz festival,” said Kaufman.

There’s also a Thursday Night Kickoff Party on May 27 with eclectic blues/soul band the California Honeydrops and funk from Aftershock; Friday night’s Zydeco Party with Zydeco Flames, Gator Beat and Tom Rigney and Flambeau; and a Saturday night Western Swing Party with the Quebe Sisters Band and Billy Mata & the Texas Tradition. Sunday will feature not only the Latin Party, but also a Blues Party with Catfish & the Crawdaddies, Sacramento Blues Revue, the Delta Wires and long-running local band Mick Martin and the Blues Rockers in a 25th-anniversary celebration show featuring special guests. And we would be remiss if we failed to mention that the festival will also include performances by Molly Ringwald, who in addition to being a film star and generational icon, has a long-running career as a singer that debuted at the Sacramento Jazz Festival when she was only 3. Ringwald and her group will be performing two sets of standards on May 29.

Tickets for the party events can be had for $10 from 8:30 p.m. on, which gives you plenty of time to take in the headliner and get your dance on. But if even a sawbuck is a bit much for you these days, you owe it to yourself to at least venture down to Old Sacramento during the Memorial Day weekend for a leisurely stroll and a chance to soak up some of the atmosphere and sample the free entertainment.

“People ask us every year: Is Old Sacramento closed off during the festival?” said Kaufman. “But it’s free and open, like any other day, except that there will be lots of music. We have our Opening Day Parade, and a Family Stage in one of the grassy areas that will have entertainment almost all day. We have musicians who will be playing throughout Old Sacramento on the streets. We’re hoping, with the $10 tickets and the free events and the expanded range of things we’re doing, that we can introduce a whole new group of people to the festival and get them to experience what we’ve been enjoying all these years.”