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Bix Festival Preview

 This is the 50th anniversary of the Bix jazz festival, Aug. 5-7, which will be livestreamed for the first time.
Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society
This is the 50th anniversary of the Bix jazz festival, Aug. 5-7, which will be livestreamed for the first time.

This is a special year for the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival in Davenport, in more ways that one.

Fifty years after the first gathering and 90 years after the death of Bix, the legendary jazz cornetist and Davenport native, the new festival will be held Aug. 5th, 6th and 7th at the Rhythm City Casino Event Center, 7077 Elmore Avenue, in Davenport. There will be five, five-hour concerts over those three days, and for the first time, the event will be livestreamed online. You can pay for one livestream ($20 each) or all five through Eventbrite. A link on www.bixsociety.org will easily walk you through the process.

This year, eight professional bands from across the country will perform, plus the Bix Youth Band. The festival venue will include hand-sanitation stations, separate seating if you like, and masks will be available.

 The Cakewalkin' Jass Band from Toledo, Ohio, will make its 17th appearance at the fest, the most of any band.
Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society
The Cakewalkin' Jass Band from Toledo, Ohio, will make its 17th appearance at the fest, the most of any band.

The Cakewalkin’ Jass Band, from Toledo, Ohio, has been together for over 50 years and will make their 17th appearance at the Bix festival. Bix Society board president Steve Trainor says they’re one of the most popular bands for the fest, providing music and entertainment, compared to other pure traditional jazz bands.

“They can play notes verbatim like they were played in 1928, let's say, but that doesn't make them entertaining. And Cakewalkin’ and Ray, those people are entertainers and that's a big criteria for us.”

“They joke, you know, and that's fun. This is a three-day party. It's in the music, and the bands are fun. Some of the lyrics are funny - where several, many songs are just this side of ribald. You know, ‘Oh Baby Don't Say No, Say Maybe’.”

The jazz fest had been the same weekend as the Bix 7 race for years, but separated in 2011 for the first time, to create its own identity, be closer to the anniversary of Bix’s death Aug. 6, 1931, and attract more tourists to the area over a second weekend.

More than two dozen jazz festivals in the U.S. have died in the last 15 years, and Bix fest attendance has dropped off since its peak in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Trainor says. But it's the only traditional jazz fest in the Midwest still going.

“You know, cable television and the internet have exploded. And there is so much else for people to do, one. Two, there's practically a festival in the Quad-Cities every weekend.”

He fears that many local people have taken the jazz festival for granted, 50 years later, and it’s the Bix Society mission to keep the jazz of that era alive into the new Roaring ‘20s.

Fans who come from out of state (and even other countries) keep the fest alive, Trainor says, noting non-local patrons make up to a majority of the attendance.

“They travel; it's a big deal to them. As I’ve said, it’s a three-day party.”
“We’ve got some great supporters who in this last year and half have made sure that we have their donations. And it's because of them that we're still here, we’re able to put it on. I think attendance with everything has declined.”

“We wish that the people who are in their 30s and 40s would give us a try. I think they'd be pleasantly surprised. We get some people in their 20s, that love to dress up and dance, and they know how to dance, and they're entertaining. You can hear the bands and watch these dancers in ‘20s garb, and it’s fun.”

Two of the bands are considered “all-star” bands, with performers coming from all over the country, including Josh Duffee’s Graystone Monarchs. They’re not bands that play regularly as a unit. The other is a new lineup called Mortonia Sextet, highlighting music of pianist Jelly Roll Morton.

This will be the fifth year the fest will be held at Rhythm City, after one year in Bettendorf. Being inside, which they started in 2014 at the RiverCenter, the event gets to avoid the heat, humidity, bugs, trains, rain, and flooding of years past.

The event kicks off with the traditional playing of Bix’s cornet at the Putnam Grand Lobby on Thursday at 3 p.m., and this time the NOLA Jazz Band from Des Moines will be featured. There will be one free shuttle from Rhythm City to the Bix Museum at RME at 9 a.m. Friday, Aug. 6. People are encouraged to visit other times before, during, and after the festival (it’s open 10 to 5 weekdays and Saturday by appointment).

Also for the first time, a professional video (75 to 90 minutes) will be made of highlights from the festival, available by mid-September for $25. For more information, visit www.bixsociety.org.

Formerly the arts and entertainment reporter for The Dispatch/Rock Island Argus and Quad-City Times, Jonathan Turner now writes freelance for WVIK and QuadCities.com. He has experience writing for daily newspapers for 32 years and has expertise across a wide range of subject areas, including government, politics, education, the arts, economic development, historic preservation, business, and tourism. He loves writing about music and the arts, as well as a multitude of other topics including features on interesting people, places, and organizations. He has a passion for accompanying musicals, singers, choirs, and instrumentalists. He even wrote his own musical based on The Book of Job, which premiered at Playcrafters in 2010. He wrote a 175-page history book about downtown Davenport, which was published by The History Press in 2016. Turner was honored in 2009 to be among 24 arts journalists nationwide to take part in a 10-day fellowship offered by the National Endowment for the Arts in New York City on classical music and opera, based at Columbia University’s journalism school.