Mt. Hood Jazz Festival Frees Up

GRESHAM, OR (CelebrityAccess MediaWire) — For the first time in its 24-year history, the Mt. Hood Jazz Festival will have free admission for all interested in attending.

Festival organizers have decided to book only local and regional artists, avoiding the fees and travel expenses of national and international acts, saving approximately 30-percent of the normal costs of putting on the festival. This way, organizers can afford to give up gate receipts at the August 5-7 concert, Mary McSwain, president of the Gresham/Mt. Hood Jazz Association told The Oregonian.

The festival is hoping the free admission will bring a wider audience to jazz and to the city of Gresham, which is celebrating its centennial.

“It is a sacrifice to give up the gate…but the pay off is so much better — the goodwill, and reaping the benefits of getting the community involved again,” McSwain told the paper. “No excuses this year. People need to come and check out jazz.”

Attendance has suffered over the past few years. Last year, when tickets were $35 each day, only about 2,000 people attended — only half of what organizers hoped for, despite the line up featuring international artists such as Madeleine Peyroux and Abbey Lincoln.

At its height, the annual showcase featured jazz greats such as Ella Fitzgerald and brought tens of thousands of people to the Mt. Hood Community College field. But as jazz performers and their audience aged, attendance declined. By 2001, the foundation running the festival could not pay its bills.

A group of local boosters formed the Gresham/Mt. Hood Jazz Association, which has put on a scaled down version of the event in the Main City Park for the past three years.

The association still plans to sponsor the nationally recognized “The Bite of Oregon,” which takes place in Portland the weekend after the jazz festival. It will also continue sponsoring jazz concerts throughout the area all year long.

The festival will announce its lineup within the next few weeks, according to McSwain. The association’s artistic director will create new combinations of artists that jazz fans haven’t heard in local clubs already. Drummer Ron Steen will lead nightly jams after the concerts. –by CelebrityAccess Staff Writers