Each year, about 5,000 people come to Lacey from all over the country — and beyond — to listen and dance to the music at America’s Classic Jazz Festival, which will be in full swing this weekend.
But for festival director and jazz lover Charlotte Dickison of Olympia, there’s little time to enjoy the music.
“I’m too busy to sit in there and listen,” said Dickison, 90, who has been directing the festival the past 20 years. “I maybe can sit down for 15, 20 minutes at a time. So I usually go to other festivals to hear the music I want to hear.”
She has gone to as many as 18 festivals and jazz cruises in a single year.
“People at other festivals around the country know her quite well,” said Walt Bowen of Olympia, president of the Greater Olympia Dixieland Jazz Society, which puts on the festival. “She likes to dance, and she talks up the festival.”
Although Dickison has been gradually handing over some responsibilities to Bowen, it sounds at times as though she has been practically a one-woman festival committee.
“I do a million and one things,” she said. “I choose the bands. I buy the airline tickets. I get the rooms ready for them and arrange for the transportation. I’m the treasurer also.”
The festival attracts fans of traditional jazz from around the world to the St. Martin’s University campus.
“We had 33 states represented last year, and Canada,” she said. “This year, we have two people coming from Australia and two or three from England. We’ve had people from Japan.”
“People from all over depend on us to have a good time,” Bowen said.
Ironically, the festival is little known in South Sound.
“We have more people from out of town come to this festival; 97 percent are from out of town,” Bowen said.
“We’ve been working on getting more locals,” he added, “and it’s been increasing for the past five years, but there’s just so much to do here.”
The festival attracts people of all ages, but the most common age of attendees is in the 70s.
“There’s this big hive of people all over the United States,” Bowen said. “When they were younger, they were out flirting and going to all these dances. Now that they are older, they still like to dance. They have time, they have money, and they go to these festivals and on cruises.”
Dance is a major activity at the festival, which has three big dance floors and offers lessons in the foxtrot, the Charleston and the Balboa.
The society also hosts monthly dances at the Elks Club in Olympia, and offers young musicians scholarships to jazz camp.
“Our purpose is to promote live music and live performance,” Bowen said. “This is about keeping jazz alive.”
With the membership of the society getting older, he said, new members are very welcome.
“When Charlotte started doing this, there was a group of people, and they were all about the same age,” he said. “Many of those folks have died.”
While Dickison still is going strong, this will be her last year as festival director. She’s stepping down because of health issues, and next year, Bowen will take the lead.
“I will be in the wings,” she said. “I don’t want people to think I’m not going to be there anymore.”