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Riverfront Jazz Festival: Labor Day Weekend in Stevens Point

UWSP_FacultySextetBY Taylor Hale

The undulating timbres of jazz will be flowing through the streets of Stevens Point this Labor Day weekend at the Riverfront Jazz Festival, held at Pfiffner Pioneer Park. The festival has been running for over a decade and brings in some of the biggest names in modern jazz. This year’s featured artist will be Benny Golson and his quartet. Golson is a world renown jazz musician from Philadelphia, PA.

Jennifer Bellmer, Riverfront Jazz Festival Event Manager, has helped the event grow progressively since its inception, helping bring in bigger names each year to perform for the public. She feels that the event helps preserve the history and heritage of jazz, something that matters deeply to her.

“I think preserving jazz music is important. It’s America’s invention. It’s a part of our history. Music that we hear today, even rap and hip-hop, all still have elements of jazz in it,” Bellmer said. “New musicians of today can thank our ancestors for coming up with things that we still borrow. Because our festival is free and we can reach a lot of people, I think it helps to make people aware of jazz, which helps preserve it.”

Jazz’s diversification in the sonic realm has helped it spread its roots across the modern soundscape. Bellmer feels that jazz is a type of music that takes many auditory profiles, but has a form that everyone can enjoy.
“There are so many genres in jazz that there is something for everyone, no matter how complex or simple,” Bellmer said.

The alcohol-free and family-friendly event will also have food from local vendors. Everything from gyros to shaved ice will be available for patrons to enjoy, but the great food, music, and atmosphere aren’t the only things guests will enjoy. The event is right on the Wisconsin River, lending the festival the perfect backdrop for all in attendance to appreciate.

Performers and guests alike are sure to savor the natural beauty of the American music and landscape at the Riverfront Jazz Festival. It is an assemblage of people who care about American culture, history, and art. Bellmer is devoted to giving the audience a good show, and she is not alone. Another committee member, Mathew Buchman, Artistic Director, is dedicated to bringing in renowned musicians to play for guests of all ages.

“I think the crowd continues to grow as the festival does thanks to Mathew who always puts together a great and varied line-up,” Bellmer said.

Building a larger audience has been a mission of the committee’s from the start. The first festival, in 2004, saw approximately 2,000 guests, and this year’s event is expected to draw around 5,000 patrons. Bellmer and the other committee members have more than doubled the size of the crowd since the festival’s initial start date, and she is thankful that it is still growing. The entertainment has also grown along with the crowd.

“This year’s fest is going to be great,” Bellmer said. “We have some local acts which are always a crowd favorite, and then we have a huge jazz legend, Benny Golson, coming to our stage. I think he’ll even draw in more people from other areas because he’s such a respected musician. I really cannot wait to hear what he brings us. We keep outdoing ourselves each year with who we bring in to perform. So, I’m sure 2017 will be very special too.”

Bellmer knows that this year’s festival will be a crowd-pleasing mixture of good food, great music, and a relaxed and fun atmosphere – and she knows next year’s event will be even bigger. But, regardless of size, Bellmer’s main goal is to put together an event that people will enjoy.

“My favorite part of the event is hearing and seeing the community enjoy themselves. I have never seen anyone there who is disappointed. Unless it’s weather related,” Bellmer joked.

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