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Festival fun continues at Webster Groves jazz and blues fest

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 16, 2009 - Fall is festival season in St. Louis, and that includes everything from celebrations of art and wine to ethnic roots. Just since the beginning of September, we've already had plenty to choose from. Last weekend alone, we had the Hispanic and Polish fests as well as the St. Louis Art Fair in downtown Clayton, and the start of the Pirate Fest in Wentzville.

Many of these events feature music as a sidelight. But if you're looking for an event that puts its primary spotlight on some of the best bands and musicians that the metro music scene has to offer, check out the Old Webster Jazz & Blues Festival in Webster Groves this Saturday, Sept. 19.

Now in its 9th year, the Old Webster Fest has grown from modest beginnings back in 2001 when four traditional jazz bands performed on a single stage, to a two-stage event that features 10 area bands, a bevy of food and beverage booths, an educational seminar - and even a brass band leading New Orleans-style second line parades through the streets of the Old Webster business district.

The fest's two stages are in the heart of the Old Webster Business District - one at the train tracks on Gore Avenue; the other at the north end of Allen Avenue. Both Gore, Allen and the small streets in between are blocked off to vehicular traffic - creating a pedestrian-friendly area that allows easy access to both stages for music that runs from noon to 11 p.m. - with plenty of food and vendor booths in between.

The Beacon recently talked to the festival's artistic director, Jennifer Bellm, to get an overview of the music schedule for the Fest - as well as a quick look at what's new for 2009. Bellm also owns Webster Records, 117 West Lockwood. The store is right between the two stages and is the oldest record store in St. Louis still operating - and the third oldest in the country at this point.

"I've been involved as the artistic director of the Old Webster Fest for the past four years," Bellm says. "My involvement coincided with purchasing Webster Records, and it's been a great event to be involved in - and certainly a natural tie-in with the record store."

According to Bellm, the festival has expanded its musical spectrum from a focus on jazz to include blues music as well.

"The event was originally called the Old Webster Jazz Festival," she explains. But when I got involved, it seemed that the musical artists we were already featuring were covering a larger spectrum of music than jazz. So in 2007, we changed the name to the Old Webster Jazz & Blues Festival. I'm a big fan of both jazz and blues, so it's been exciting to add more blues artists to the lineup to reflect the new name."

Diversity definitely appears to be the name of the game for the 2009 edition of the Old Webster Fest. A look at the Fest schedule (see sidebar) reveals jazz groups such as Carol Beth True's Two Times True, Eastern Central Pacific-Standard Time, which features SIU-Edwardsville Jazz faculty members Reggie Thomas and Rick Haydon, and eclectic guitarist Mathew Van Doren's Trio. Since we ARE in Webster Groves, the Webster University Faculty Jazz Band and the Webster Groves High School Jazz Band are also mainstay attractions.

If you're in the mood for blues, the Soulard Blues band will certainly deliver, the Dogtown Allstars blend blues with R&B, funk and rock influences, and the Steamrollers mix various musical styles into a basic blues framework.

"My goal as the artistic director is to showcase the talent and diversity of the best St. Louis musicians St. Louis has to offer," Bellm says. "Musically, I really think there is something for everyone this year -from blues to funk to swingin' big band!"

Bellm is particularly excited about the headliners at each of the stages for this year's Fest - and for a new musical twist that's been added off the stages as well.

"Wild Cool & Swingin' is our festival headliner on the Gore Main Stage, she adds. It's a band that features music made famous by Sinatra and the "Rat Pack" during the swinging Las Vegas scene of the '60s. This will be a really high energy closing set! And on the Allen Avenue Stage, we're closing out with a special group of some of the best St. Louis musicians coming together for a one-time performance. The band is called the St. louis Jazz & Blues Revue and features, Anita Rosamond, Rich McDonough, Jesse Gannon in a seven-piece band. They'll be saluting St Louis' rich musical heritage by playing hits from the past - and showcasing their contemporary music as well."

Bellm also notes that this year, the Funky Butt Brass Band, a St. louis group that carries forward the New Orleans tradition of brass bands parading through the streets, will be part of the musical lineup as well.

"We have added even more music this year with The Funky Butt Brass Band strolling down Lockwood Avenue in the second line tradition," she states. "It's just another way to try and make the Festival continue to grow, and hopefully make the Fest even better and more fun."

Terry Perkins is a freelance writer who has long covered music.