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  • Neil Hillel plunges into his role as Capt. Rufus T. Whizbang as he leads the Ophir Prison Marching Kazoo Band during the 40th annual Sacramento Music Festival parade in Old Sacramento on Saturday.

  • Doug McHaney leads the California Repercussions,a collection of musicians who had formerly played in the bands of various California universities, in the parade in Old Sacramento.

  • Roger Biddle, 11,left, and brother August Biddle,6, from Oakland, scramble for some of the candy that was thrown by a parade participant on Saturday.

Sacramento Music Festival still striving to grow beyond Dixieland jazz roots

Published: Sunday, May. 26, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Wednesday, May. 29, 2013 - 8:18 am

While some acts performed Friday, a blessing of warm weather helped kick off the official start of the ever-evolving Sacramento Music Festival in Old Sacramento on Saturday.

This weekend's annual four-day event is the second since organizers jettisoned the historic Sacramento Jazz Festival and Jubilee moniker, a reflection of their goal of becoming a more broad-based music festival.

On the parade route, jazz jubilee die-hards were out in full force, as was a decidedly younger crowd. The latter is a demographic that festival organizers are eager to court to stem a marked decline in patronage the last several years.

Last year, festival executive director Vivian Abraham said the festival saw an almost 10 percent drop in attendance revenue.

This year, the festival pursued a new booking strategy – with an emphasis on roots music and blues – in an effort to move away from its traditional Dixieland jazz past.

But it appears the past will provide the bridge to the festival's future. And it is a future where patrons from outside Sacramento will be prominent.

That much was evident with some of those that lined the parade route, like Union City resident Craig Brown, who came with a multi-generational party of six – including his parents and his 14-year-old daughter.

"My parents introduced us to the festival tradition," Brown said, adding that he attended for the first time last year.

"We came because we do like jazz, but then we got the program and we saw that there was a little blues, a little rockabilly."

Emma Brown, his daughter, came along because she is an avowed fan of traditional Dixieland music. She plays tenor saxophone in the school band and jazz band at Cesar Chavez Middle School in Union City.

"I'm in band so I really appreciate this music," she said. "I get into the instrumental aspect. … I think it is cool."

Another parade attendee, Barbara Piper, traveled from Orinda.

"My friend has been coming out here for 35 years – he got me to come," said Piper.

She said she was well aware of the shift in the festival's musical focus – and that she was both supportive and skeptical.

"I think you need to have more focus on jazz because it is a tradition, and I think that traditions are good because too many of them are being lost in our country," she said.

In putting together its roster of artists, the festival used different bookers, like longtime local roots and blues music booker Mindy Giles.

But when Giles started booking, she did not constrain herself to Sacramento-area artists.

"There has always been a blues element to the festival, but it's really been primarily local artists," she said.

Giles was instrumental in booking acts like Los Lobos, The Blasters and the United Kingdom-based James Hunter Six this year. The new acts, Giles contends, have created a lot of interest in the festival.

"The feedback so far has been tremendous. … people have been telling me how different the festival looks this year and how happy they are there is roots music that they love," she said.

Despite the new focus, the festival still thrives on its longtime fans. Nowhere is that older demographic stronger than in the large number of individuals who rent RV spots at local campgrounds and RV parks.

One of those is the Sacramento West/Old Town KOA campground and RV park in West Sacramento. That site offers 72 RV sites, 20 tent sites and 18 cabins.

"All of our sites here at the park are booked for this weekend and most of those are here for the jazz festival," said Amy Crozier, owner of the KOA site.

"They book early, and a lot of them will book their sites for next year's jazz festival before they leave this year's jazz festival," she said. "I would say it's an older demographic that rent here; they're between 50 and 90 years old."

Call The Bee's Edward Ortiz, (916) 321-1071. Follow him on Twitter @edwardortiz.

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