The Sacramento Traditional Jazz Society announced that the Sacramento Music Festival, formerly the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, has ended its 44 year run.
Held annually on Memorial Day weekend, the festival has seen declining attendance and revenues for years, and the 'Society' has decided to pull the plug.
In its heyday, over 85, people attended. Last year, and estimated 20,000. In 2002, they had $2.7million in revenue, in 2015, $425k
This saddens me, as I went to it for 16 years straight.
The organizers point to rising costs, as well as competition from other events, such as Bottle Rock, as the key reasons for the festival's declining attendance.
While some of that may be true, I don't think that's the core of the problem.
I think the main reason is the Society's board was out of touch and set in their ways, until it was too late.
I'd break it down to these factors:
- When the festival started 44 years ago, it was celebrating Dixieland, or what they would call 'traditional' jazz. It was at one time impressive to find 50 bands dedicated to playing this art form, but once you've heard 50 versions of 'When the Saints Go Marching In' you've heard them all.
- When people wanted more, they gave them barbershop quartets, blues and big band
- Over the years, when serious jazz fans (like me) complained that it was 'straw hat and banjo' bands playing to a literally dying audience, they held firm, saying that there were plenty of other places one could hear other forms of jazz, and they were giving their audience what they wanted. They blamed falling revenues on other factors.
- There seemed to be resistance to anything more serious or urban, youthful or challenging.
- When they finally decided to add in more variety, it was too little too late. Sure, they brought in headliners like Trombone Shorty, and Tower of Power, but only for one of the 3 days. To fill all of the slots for 3 days, they brought in a lot of local bands that can be seen, often for free, at parks and bars around town.
- Still, nothing too urban or youthful or challenging.
The scope of the operation:
- Too many of venues. I think they had 28 last year. They all needed bands playing all day. More bands means more money. Eventually, they started moving bands around. You could see band A at 1pm at one stage, then 4pm at another.
- The venues were too spread out, some too far away. They should have kept it strictly in Old Sac. Most people don't want to walk long distances or catch shuttles, they want to go from stage to stage with ease. I remember going to see bands at the Holiday Inn Ballroom. The room was set up for hundreds, but there were perhaps 20 people there. It was a sad scene.
- Too many days. 3 days of road closures, security, police, fire, equipment rental, power, staff, feeding and managing volunteers, etc. It's an overwhelming thing to organize and present.
- Of course, that also meant 3 days worth of bands to manage and pay for.
- It did a poor job of telling their story or generating interest. They had a list of musical styles, and a list of bands. Nothing telling you which bands played which styles. Virtually no information given for most bands. Very few band bios, not even links to their websites or Facebook pages. Just lists of bands. How was anyone supposed to plan their day?
- There wasn't even a 'contact us' button on the website. I called to ask if they had band information and if they could put it on their website, and got the reply, 'We're all volunteers, and we're doing the best we can'. I'm sorry, that is too important a piece of the puzzle to use that excuse. Cancel one of the nearly 100 bands and use the savings to hire someone to do it. I even volunteered to help.
It boils down to the fact that the leadership of the Society refused to change with the times, and when they decided to give in a little, it was too late.
I'd love to see a real jazz festival take its place, but only for one day. Maybe have some sort of kickoff concert the night before to get more overnight stays, but really, a one day festival is all that's needed.
1 day, 5 to 10 stages, known jazz artists as well as some newcomers, in Old Sac. That would do it.
I'm sorry to see them go.