Any festival that's been around for 26 years is doing something right. But any festival that wants to be around for another 26 years eventually needs to do something different.
The Great American Brass Band Festival (GABBF) in Danville is a summer event both music fans and families look forward to, but the festival's organizers felt the need to shake things up.
"I think because it's been around for 26 years, we want people to realize it's not going to be the exact same thing that we've had every year. And for a while, it was that," says Niki Kinkade, the festival's executive director. "Fun means something different to everybody, so we want to make sure everybody enjoys it and wants to come back."
But the first changes spectators will experience during the free four-day festival, which began on Thursday, will be what they hear. The event will showcase 16 exceptional brass bands from across U.S. and as far away as the United Kingdom, ranging from trios to as large as 52 players. Ronald Holz, artistic director of the festival, says organizers have experimented with yearly themes over the past decade and will specifically focus on jazz for the first time in the event's history.
Although the festival will still feature a variety of brass band styles from the 1850s to present day, it's theme, "Brass Greats of American Jazz," will feature performers paying tribute to brass legends, from Louis Armstrong and King Oliver to some of the notable brass players of today. They are further driving the point home by bringing in two New Orleans-style jazz groups, soloists like trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and trumpeter Vince DiMartino and groups like the acclaimed United States Air Force jazz ensemble, Airmen of Note.
"You've got a formula of the widest range of musical styles under the umbrella of 'brass music'...and you've got to make it entertaining," Holz says. "It's keeping things fresh while maintaining, or keeping true to, the nature of the festival."
In addition to popular attractions and events like the children's activities area, The Main Street Parade and The Great American Picnic, the festival will feature several new events for your other senses. On Friday, there will be a BBQ & Brass luncheon and a late-night Great American Swing Dance while Saturday will feature an early morning Yoga in the Park event and the Beer and Brass Garden that will run from noon until the evening hours.
"The trend in festivals and the trend in music festivals is to give an experience," Kinkade says. "We are speaking to that and creating experiences for our patrons beyond music."