Not a Big Beer Party

Last week, Harold McMillan, whose DiverseArts organization stages the Clarksville-West End Jazz and Arts Festival, talked about what it took just to get to year nine of Austin's annual celebration of jazz. This weekend, for two days in Pease Park, a year's worth of work finally comes to fruition. Considering that last year's festival performed below expectations, McMillan and his staff of around-the-clock volunteers "did things different." While the idea of a big-name headliner, Ellis Marsalis, is not new (last year the festival brought in organist Jimmy Smith), this year DiverseArts put together a lineup of performers not only plucked from the local jazz scene, but also from the R&B camps (Blues Boy Hubbard), world music (the South African harmonies of the women in Inkululeko), gospel (Malachai, Voices of Christ), and even someone in a class all by herself, Toni Price.

"What we've always been striving for with this festival," says McMillan, "what my organization is supposed to be all about is multi-disciplinary cultural arts programming - multi-ethnic cultrual arts programming. So, we want the jazz to be the core of what's happening there, but what we want to do is an arts fair. We want to service as many of the senses as we can and have it be a good day for the entire family to come and hang out in the park. There should be something there to appeal to a whole range of folks, different age groups, different musical tastes and interests."

In that vein, in addition to the jazz stage (see schedule), there's also an acoustic/performance arts stage (again, see schedule), as well as plenty of arts and crafts, food booths, and perhaps most importantly, shade. Unlike last year, the jazz stage is now facing up into the hills, where the trees will provide natural cover for the audience - a kind of "amphitheatre effect," says McMillan. There's something for the whole family.

"You know, we're not throwing a big beer party," reminds McMillan. "This is not a come-and-get-drunk-in-the-park kind of thing just for adults. We make a point to try and say as often as we can that this is an event that's an excellent mix of art, music, education, and fun for the entire family.

"It's real important for us as a non-profit arts organization to always keep in mind that our mission here is about culture and not so much about commercialism and we have to walk a fairly tight line there, because we also need to pay for all this stuff. - R.H.

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