Any concert ticket that says General Admission on it already contains an unspoken incentive to stay ahead of the pack, but attendees of the Townsite Jazz Festival have been known to take their seats early for an entirely different reason. That is because each of the festival’s 6 pm and 8 pm concerts begin with a student ensemble kicking things off in advance of the posted start time.
“Creating opportunities for student musicians to play in a professional environment was a huge part of why we started this festival in the first place,” said artistic director Paul Cummings. “Having the chance to rub elbows with the pros is a massive boost to the confidence of a budding young musician, and also a great opportunity for the audience to appreciate the talent we already have here in Powell River, in addition to the talent we’re bringing in from elsewhere.”
Student groups from Powell River, Coquitlam and Nanaimo will be featured prominently at this weekend’s concerts, opening for headlining artists such as Dee Daniels, Oliver Gannon, Tina Jones and Tanga.
“When my Brooks jazz band sat down to blow their first notes back in September, they had no idea that they’d be opening for Dee Daniels at the Max Cameron Theatre on [Thursday] April 4,” said Cummings. “And, to be honest, neither did I. I’m still pinching myself about that one.”
And then there’s the School District 47 Mass Choir, numbering 150 or more students from kindergarten to university, taking the stage at the same time and venue the following night to warm up the crowd for the Fifth Street vocal ensemble. A repeat performance will take place on Friday, April 6, at 8 pm at Dwight Hall when they open for Tanga, a world fusion band from Vancouver.
“I’m so proud that we’ve found a way to get elementary students from around the district involved in the festival this year,” said Cummings. “Imagine the thrill of such a big performance so early in your musical development, under the mentorship of older students and with a group of professional artists cheering you on from the wings.”
Because the Townsite Jazz Festival occupies such a wide range of venues large and small, Cummings had to get creative with who he programmed where. Combos from Vancouver Island University and Wellington Secondary School in Nanaimo will occupy the 100-seat Rainbow Room for the 6 pm shows on April 4, 5 and 6. Larger groups will perform at Max Cameron Theatre or on the outdoor main stage during the Ash Avenue Amble on Saturday.
“Probably the best showcase for the student groups will actually be during the morning of Friday, April 5,” said Cummings. “We’ve got the Brooks Jazz Band and Vocal Jazz, Gleneagle Jazz Band and Vocal Jazz, Wellington Jazz Band and Combo; all back to back from 9 am until noon. It’s a free showcase, totally open to the public.”
Tickets for Townsite Jazz Festival’s 2019 concerts are available for $20 each from Ecossentials, Townsite Brewing and online at townsitejazz.com/tickets. Its website will be updated throughout the week as smaller venues continue to sell out.