Aimed to defend its title as the KC Visitors Choice Best Music Festival, the 2012 Rhythm & Ribs Blues & Jazz Festival celebrated the two great Kansas City traditions of barbecue and jazz.
The 2012 festival is the seventh since the inaugural festival in 2004. The 2009 festival was canceleddue to a lack of financial support. While the original three-day festival attracted 30,000 people, the festival has only toned down in size, not in quality.
Karen Anderson has worked for the American Jazz Museum as an administrative assistant since it opened in 1997.
“With the economy being the way it has been, more sponsors have focused on education versus entertainment,” Anderson said.. “Despite that, we have still maintained high caliber entertainment, and this continues to be a great festival.”
The event was held Saturday at the American Jazz Museum in the historic 18th and Vine district, and while torrential rain forced the festivities indoors, the rhythm and ribs were still smoking hot.
The festival was produced by Steve Baker Productions.
“[Despite] some unexpected but heavy rain, we’re going forward with all the music,” Steve Baker said. “We’re having a great time, there is beautiful music in the Blue Room, the Atrium stage and the outdoor stage has been moved to the Gem Theater. The talent is ready to deliver great shows.”
The three performance stages featured a variety of acts, from platinum record selling R&B sensation Brian McKnight to Kansas City’s own salsa and Latin jazz pioneer Miguel “Mambo” DeLeon.
Chris Hazelton played his Hammond B3 Organ on the Atrium stage, offering a dynamic dueling show with Everette DeVan.
“This is my third time [performing at Rhythm & Ribs],” Hazelton said. “It’s exciting. This is the largest jazz festival that we have here in Kansas City. And on a personal note, DeVan taught me everything I know about playing this instrument. That’s a real honor.”
While the rain drove some vendors off, others just moved indoors to the visitor’s center. Frederick Preston, president of WordPlay Multimedia out of Jacksonville, Fla., was one of the vendors who stuck around. His company publishes books, makes documentaries, does graphic design work and sells T-shirts.
“I travel the country doing a lot of jazz festivals,” Preston said. “I found out about this one. I had actually been to Kansas City before, and they screened my documentary film, ‘Ain’t Nothing Funny,’ for about a week. Kansas City was good to me then, so I came back. My expectations for this are very high. Even with rain I expect a good turnout.”
Turnout at the festival was as diverse as the musical genres represented. Local jazz hounds, Japanese tourists and an entire family reunion seemed eager to enjoy some good eats and listen to music provided by more than 20 separate acts.
John and Annette Talbot said they were eagerly awaiting the band Elderstatesmen of Jazz on the Blue Room stage.
“We regularly go to a lot of the jazz performances around town, stuff here and the Majestic,” John Talbot said. “A long time ago, we used to go the Kansas City Blues and Jazz Festival. We hadn’t been to this, but we always wanted to. We expect to hear a lot of good music.”
Gates BBQ, Fiorella’s Jack Stack BBQ and Jimmy D’s BBQ provided the ribs that accompanied the rhythm, and North Coast Brewing provided a great selection of beer for $5 per 16-oz. cup.
This year’s festival also strove to be family-friendly. Children 12 and under enjoyed free admission and a variety of educational workshops, such as Jazz Storytelling, Brave New Voices youth jazz poetry, a Woman in Jazz Film Talk and The Art of Jazz Creation Station.