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Why do you really go to Sac Music Festival? The survey says ...

A saxophonist for the High Street Band on the dance floor at the 43rd annual Sacramento Music Festival in 2016. The 2017 festival lineup includes Pete Escovedo, Cornet Chop Suey, Mumbo Gumbo and Vivian Lee Quartet.
A saxophonist for the High Street Band on the dance floor at the 43rd annual Sacramento Music Festival in 2016. The 2017 festival lineup includes Pete Escovedo, Cornet Chop Suey, Mumbo Gumbo and Vivian Lee Quartet. Sacramento Bee file

If you went to the 2016 Sacramento Music Festival primarily to see Big Bad Voodoo Daddy or Pablo Cruise, don’t plan on seeing similar bands this year with Billboard hits to their credit.

And if you attended the 2016 Sacramento Music Festival primarily to see Pablo Cruise or Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, you were in the minority.

The Sacramento Music Festival, which takes over Old Sacramento from Friday-Monday, May 26-29, has changed its tune in terms of booking bands. That includes a strategy of scaling back on headlining acts, especially in terms of pop and rock, and emphasizing more rootsy music for which the festival is traditionally known.

The move comes after a survey of 1,500 attendees from the 2016 Sacramento Music Festival that shed insights about listening habits at the event.

“The big pivot is away from headliners to what’s considered ‘featured acts,’ ” said Jairo Moncada, a spokesman for the Sacramento Music Festival. “It was 2 to 3 percent (of survey responders) that essentially came for the headliners. The overwhelming majority came for the festival experience.”

Formerly known as the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, the Memorial Day weekend tradition has worked to reinvent itself in recent years as its core audience has aged and jazz itself declines in popularity. According to the Nielsen Year-End Report for 2016, jazz accounted for a mere 1 percent of album sales in the United States.

At its peak in the mid-1980s, the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee drew more than 85,000 attendees, and the festival’s reach included stages around Old Sacramento, Cal Expo and other local venues. In 2016, attendance was down to 24,000 during its multiday run in Old Sacramento.

The event was rebranded as the Sacramento Music Festival in 2011, and its musical offerings were widened to attract those who otherwise weren’t sold on Dixieland and traditional jazz stylings. That resulted in booking such acts in recent years as the mainstream rock of Collective Soul, Latin rock icons Los Lobos and Pablo Cruise’s soft-rock to expand the festival’s demographic reach.

Such bands were defined by festival organizers as “headliners,” or groups with a kind of brand-name recognition and often a catalog of hit songs. They generally came at a higher cost than a typical banjo-based band. In 2014, the festival received a $65,000 grant from the Sacramento Tourism Marketing District for booking Collective Soul, Trombone Shorty and other headliners at the festival.

The Sacramento Convention & Visitors Bureau no longer helps to book headlining bands or solicit sponsors for the festival. Scaling back on headlining acts also works as a financial strategy for the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society, the primary producer of the Sacramento Music Festival.

“There is a cost savings, that’s part of it,” said Moncada. “And it also makes sense on what attendees are there for. Let’s bring to them what they’re looking for.”

That means emphasizing an overall festival atmosphere of multigenre music rather than cherry-picking a few headliners that hopefully boost attendance. The Sacramento Music Festival will now focus on “featured” acts, or what’s considered a performer with strong audience recognition within its genre, rather than mass appeal.

For the 2017 Sacramento Music Festival, its lineup includes such noted names as Pete Escovedo, the legendary Latin jazz percussionist; traditionalists Cornet Chop Suey; the Huey Lewis and the News cover band SuperHuey, plus local favorites Mumbo Gumbo and Vivian Lee Quartet.

The Sacramento Music Festival will also reintroduce a kickoff party on the eve of the festival that had gone away in recent years.

“We have 70 bands performing at 14 venues, which is on par in recent memory,” said Moncada. “It will have the traditional jazz (lineup) as always, but we’re doing zydeco, rock, Latin music (and more). Nothing is going to change that much.”

Chris Macias: 916-321-1253, @chris_macias

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