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JAZZ & BLUES: WE DIDN’T ‘HIJACK’ FOOD FEST

sausageFood vendors at the 2009 edition of the Jazz & Blues Festival in Marine Park. (Click to enlarge)

Stung by the way it says it has been characterized recently, the Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Foundation has taken to the media to trumpet its virtues and push back against claims that it “hijacked” an event that began as a showcase for Red Bank restaurants.

In the wake of a decision last month by borough restaurateurs and local officials to revive Riverfest, the predecessor event to the former Red Bank Jazz & Blues Festival, foundation officials say in a letter distributed to news outlets that they didn’t know they were in a conflict until they read claims that Riverfest proponents had “won” the battle between the two.

jb-2008-backstageA backstage view from the 2008 festival. (Click to enlarge)

The letter doesn’t say if the foundation hopes to bring the festival back to Red Bank’s Marine Park following its displacement last month by a then-unfinished bulkhead rebuilding project. This year’s edition of the festival was held at Monmouth Park racetrack and renamed the Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Festival.

But foundation officials challenge assertions that they were “outsiders who hijacked the festival for our own purposes.” Rather, they say they offered to take over music production duties for the food festival, and later brought in food vendors from out-of-town after local restaurants “began participating less and less.”

Here’s the full text of the letter, said to have been “written on behalf of the JSJBF Board of Trustees and Membership:”

Recent articles and web postings have been written about the relationship between the town of Red Bank, The Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Foundation (JSJBF) and the festival that takes place during the first weekend of June each year.

As many people know, this year JSJBF was instructed by Red Bank officials to relocate the annual June festival from Marine Park in Red Bank, due to construction in the park. We were subsequently able to accomplish an agreement with the management of Monmouth Race Track in Oceanport.

Quotes in some of those stories recount the festival’s history, and explain that the festival was “taken away” from the original organizers of Riverfest, taking the focus off area restaurants, changing the event into primarily a Blues festival, and making it less of a family event. This tends to portray JSJBF as outsiders who hijacked the festival for our own purposes. We would like to take a moment to explain who we are and why we exist, and present some facts.

  • JSJBF is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is completely staffed by volunteers.
  • JSJBF is headquartered in Red Bank (as birthplace of Count Basie, Red Bank holds a special place in the history of Jazz).
  • The board and members work to present, teach, and preserve jazz and blues music, because they enjoy these truly American musical art forms.
  • JSJBF is an organization with family woven into the fabric, which is why you see the youth program musicians performing on stage alongside the seasoned professional musicians, and family members volunteering to run the festival.
  • We have always strived to make the Red Bank events notable and memorable, further enhancing Red Bank’s status as a destination for people, and as a result have been awarded grants from NJ Travel and Tourism.
  • We were recognized with a Circle of Excellence Award in 2008, presented by the Greater Monmouth Chamber of Commerce.
  • JSJBF was also voted one of the Best Places to Listen to Jazz and Blues in Monmouth County by the Asbury Park Press, and our June festival was voted Favorite Music Festival in Discover Jersey Arts People’s Choice Awards in 2009.
  • The JSJBF-run festivals in Red Bank were always free admission to the public.
  • We originally offered to handle the music production of the Red Bank Food Festival since that is our focus, and since so many local music acts are members of our organization.
  • We have an active youth music education program that welcomes young people from Red Bank and the surrounding areas. Many members of this program who have “graduated” continue to study and perform throughout the area.
  • Each year on stage at the June festival, we award education scholarships to area young people who are entering college.
  • We highlight Jazz in all forms, including Popular, Big-Band, Smooth Jazz, and Straight-ahead Jazz. Our recent festival at Monmouth Park headlined Jazz great John Pizzarelli performing selections from the Great American Songbook, as well as fresh new originals.
  • Blues is also presented in many forms, including Blues-Rock, which most people enjoy and recognize only as Rock.
  • When area restaurants began participating less and less, other food vendors were sought to offer on-site refreshments in the warm weather, and help provide revenue to help pay for the music.

Hearing that Riverfest organizers have “won the battle” to regain the festival was a surprise to JSJBF because we did not know that there was a conflict underway.

More than anything else, we at JSJBF do not understand why no one from the town of Red Bank, the Eastern Monmouth Area Chamber of Commerce, or the Riverfest organizing committee ever tried to contact us to discuss their concerns, or express an interest in working with us to accommodate their needs. Within the last couple of years, JSJBF has offered a greatly discounted rate to Red Bank food establishments to bring them back into the festival.

JSJBF has no selfish motives, just a love for the music and for Red Bank, and we have never refused an opportunity to work with the town or local businesses. We want to see Red Bank prosper as much as everyone else. A strong local economy is good for all of us … We live here also.

Remember: Nothing makes a Red Bank friend happier than to hear "I saw you on Red Bank Green!"
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