Port Angeles Dixieland jazz festival future hazy

PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce board has voted to no longer run the annual Jazz in the Olympics Festival, sounding a sour note over the future of the annual Dixieland weekend.

Unless another organization takes over sponsorship, the April 2011 event will be canceled.

The chamber has organized the festival for three years after taking over from a private Jazz in the Olympics committee, which had run it previously.

Last month’s event was the 11th for the festival, and like in 2009 and 2008, it suffered a decline in attendance and sponsorships, said Russ Veenema, chamber executive director, in an announcement at Monday’s chamber membership luncheon at the Port Angeles CrabHouse Restaurant.

‘Out of control’

“We had between an 8 and 10 percent decline in attendance,” he said, “and there are things that are out of our control.

“We have to pay for the bands and their lodging and travel, and those costs could skyrocket.

“If that were to happen and still did not have the attendance to make up for it, we could be in the red very fast. We are not in a position that we can financially do that.”

Ten jazz bands from as far away as Boston performed in the three-day festival April 23-25.

Four venues were used, and a band also performed on the MV Coho as the ferry was traveling across the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

A preview concert was held at 7 Cedars Casino in Blyn.

But all those attractions weren’t enough to reverse the declining attendance.

If another group wants to take over the festival in the future, Veenema said the chamber will assist by giving advice and information.

“But we simply cannot help financially,” he said of the chamber’s coffers.

He said the 2010 festival did make a little money — a couple of thousand dollars — but only because the decline in attendance and sponsorships was planned.

“We agreed to run with it, and the first couple of years were somewhat challenging,” said Jim Hallett, chamber president.

“But the attendance has been down, and the local community hasn’t embraced it quite as much as we would have liked.

“If we were to actually go and assign a dollar amount to it, it would definitely sometimes put us in the red.”

The festival drew an audience of about 3,000 in 2009 and a slight decline this year, though an exact number was not available.

“The board was not ready to take that risk next year,” Veenema said.

Bud Critchfield, who now runs the Jazz in the Olympics Dixielanders Youth Band, said he was sad to hear the news.

Critchfield had been one of the last members of the Jazz in the Olympics group to be involved in the festival before it was handed to the Chamber of Commerce.

“I was always primarily involved in the Youth Band, and I was sort of the last man standing in the society,” he said.

“It was a great festival, and I’m very sad to hear the news.

“What happened was all the people who were really involved in the festival just ran out of steam.”

Unlikely to return

He said that the Jazz in the Olympics Society was not likely in a position to resume running the festival.

“I doubt very much that that is an option,” he said.

He said the youth camp, which runs July 4-8, will continue as planned — so far with scholarships to spare.

“We are looking for more kids who want to come, and we do have some scholarships left still,” he said.

“That was the primary benefit of the festival to me.

“After the kids would play, we would get a lot of donations which were substantial in keeping the camp going.”

He said he wasn’t yet sure how the group would supplement donations without the gig.

For more information on the youth camp, phone Critchfield at 360-582-3082.

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