With Bay Dreams, One Love and more, Tauranga is getting a name as a festival city; but there's something unique about the Jazz Festival.
It may be that it originated here, but that's not the only reason it stands out from other festival contenders. It is special.
The key moment that cemented the Jazz Festival in people's hearts was, I reckon, the move to downtown Tauranga in the mid-nineties. There were great successes over the years at various venues – the town hall, the racecourse, the Otumoetai Trust – but the move downtown put it in people's faces.
Suddenly, instead of being an event happening for jazz fans at a ‘destination’ venue, it was an inclusive happening, laid on for the whole city and offering music to them for free. A lot of once-sceptical people discovered there actually were types of jazz they liked and that a jazz festival wasn't either elitist of exclusive.
It was at that point that Tauranga people, many of whom had never been to a jazz festival up till then, ‘took ownership’ of the event. In people's minds it became ‘our’ jazz festival. I remember after that first experience with the downtown crowds another writer at the paper I was with – not a music fan particularly as I remember – described the whole thing as “an outbreak of community”.
That's what I felt this year at the festival. I wandered the streets through throngs of happy families, struck by exactly the same thing as festival manager Marc Anderson, who when walking around the downtown carnival on Saturday and Sunday, discovered that everybody around him was smiling. They were.
It felt like something greater than just a musical gathering, more like a collective expression of shared pleasure – pleasure at the music obviously, but it seemed more than that...
It was as if the crowds had turned out to fete and enjoy Tauranga itself, the beauty of its waterfront, its vibrant restaurants and bars, its wide streets and palm trees, making the weekend a celebration of the fact that we're all pretty lucky to live in such a place, a place where a small group of organisers put on an event that I would describe as about as good as any jazz festival I can remember here.
And it was particularly good because of a couple of improvements this year.
First up, the organisers finally worked out something to do on the Friday. This has long been a problem. It's Good Friday so there are limits. Holding a day's entertainment at the Historic Village was a brilliant solution and anyone there on Friday would agree. A particular feather in the cap goes to whoever managed to arrange a liquor license for the Village - that's an Easter miracle right there!
A new stage
The other great change was the new Wharf Street stage. There has, for several years now, been a problem with having four stages stretched along The Strand. With the best will in the world they always ended up being just close enough to each other for sound to uncomfortably bleed from louder bands, disrupting attempts at subtlety from others and making for a less-than-optimal listening experience.
Now, with the Wharf Street stage, the number of stages along The Strand is down to three and the sound issues have been resolved. And Wharf Street really came into its own, proving to be a rare and welcomed success for the late council.
So I guess I should mention some music! Highlights: The Jelly Roll Kings in the X-Space; the Phil Broadhurst Tribute; a reunited Collision chanting ‘We are the funk’ (and yes, dammit, they ARE the funk!); a bunch of great women singers – Fiona Cosgrove, Mandy Meadows, Catriona Fallon and more; top trumpeter Mike Booth seemingly playing with everyone; Joel Shadbolt of L.A.B. getting it on with Shaken Not Stirred (whose drummer was Shapeshifter's Darren Mathieson) and many others at a Hop House jam session that won't quickly be forgotten; and the vibe...
In the end it's all about the vibe. And the vibe was good.
Hats off to all the organisers, and thanks for a perfect weekend.