Sac Music Festival is over

After 44 years, this local jazz fest has played its last tune

Musicians toot their own horns in the now-shuttered Sacramento Music Festival.

Musicians toot their own horns in the now-shuttered Sacramento Music Festival.

Photo courtesy of Sacramento music festival

After 44 years, the Sacramento Music Festival is calling it quits.

The news apparently caught most by surprise when a thank-you note on festival letterhead was nonchalantly posted on Facebook December 18. It was a screeching halt to a beloved era with halcyon years during the 1980s and 1990s. The closure adds to the recent troubles of Sacramento arts organizations, including the low attendance and temporary hiatus in 2014 of the Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera.

Lyle Van Horn—who for more than 30 years has served on the board of the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society that ran the festival—confirms that the price of running things has gone way up. He offers another tidbit that might be the missing piece to this puzzle.

“When we lost Cal Expo as a venue about ten years ago, things really changed,” he recalled. “You have to imagine the scene there with up to 200 RVs parked for Memorial Day weekend, promoted by RV groupss and people living and sleeping in their vehicles between attending concerts.”

Even if each attendee wasn’t a DIY bed-and-breakfast sleeper, the unique experience created a loyal fan base.

Then in 2012, a noticeable change occurred when the keyword “jazz” left the title: “Old Sacramento Dixieland Jazz Jubilee” previously suggested something meaningful for Dixieland purists. Then, the festival took the liberty of adding rock bands to the lineup. Groups like Tower of Power or even ’90s alt-rock bands clearly stretched any original Dixieland concept of the festival beyond recognition.

“Jazz and blues are the basis for so much of our music today,” Van Horn explains. “So including rock bands and other types of music wasn’t too far off from what we had been doing all along.”

Perhaps he’s right; festivals often thrive more from serendipity than strategy. In that sense, can anyone really declare it dead once and for all?

“I know the [Owners and] Merchants Association of Old Sacramento have been talking about keeping something going that doesn’t involve us,” Van Horn added. “I am not bitter that it doesn’t include us. … We might still do something on Memorial Day Weekend at different venues. Who knows?”

Perhaps a little New Orleans voodoo will help make the Dixieland thing come back as some sort of zombie.