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Organizers pull the plug on 2018 Dixieland jazz festival in Lacey

Dave McClung and Jacqueline Armstrong of Vancouver, B.C., hit the dance floor during a performance by the band Titan Hot Seven at the America’s Classic Jazz Festival in 2013.
Dave McClung and Jacqueline Armstrong of Vancouver, B.C., hit the dance floor during a performance by the band Titan Hot Seven at the America’s Classic Jazz Festival in 2013. Olympian file photo

After 27 years, the annual Dixieland jazz festival in Lacey may be coming to an end.

America’s Classic Jazz Festival attracts thousands of people for four days of music and dancing each June. Since 2002 the festival has been held on the campus of Saint Martin’s University.

Late last month, university officials notified organizers that the dates for the 2018 festival wouldn’t work for the university. Festival organizers had been promoting those dates since the spring; musicians, hotels and national advertising already had been booked.

“I guess they just thought we could move it around anywhere,” said Walt Bowen, the festival director.

Instead organizers decided they had to cancel the 2018 festival.

A representative for Saint Martin’s said the university received a late request from the Archdiocese of Seattle to host a Catholic youth conference and the only dates that would work were June 27 to July 1.

“The last weekend of June had traditionally been held for the (America’s Classic Jazz Festival), but as we did not yet have a signed contract for this year’s festival, and this was an exceptional circumstance, we felt obliged to carry out the Archdiocese’s request,” Genevieve Canceko Chan, Saint Martin’s vice president of marketing and communications, wrote in an email to The Olympian.

She noted the university offered organizers alternative dates later in the summer and help finding another location if they could not reschedule.

Bowen said organizers looked at other venues, including the Thurston County Fairgrounds, but that would be too far from hotels and restaurants, and buildings there were too small.

“By the time you put a dance floor in there and the bandstand, you’re down to 150 people,” he said. The largest Saint Martin’s venue could hold 700 people.

The city of Lacey helped bring the festival to Saint Martin’s and would be sad to see it go, said City Manager Scott Spence. The city had included in its 2018 budget $40,000 in lodging tax money to support next year’s festival.

“We understand the importance of the jazz festival,” he said. “It brings in a lot of people from out of town, it fills rooms in the hotels, it’s a multiday event where people shop, go to restaurants.”

The festival is organized by the Greater Olympia Dixieland Jazz Society, which also hosts monthly dances and offers scholarships for high schoolers to attend jazz camp. Bowen said attracting fans and musicians to the 2019 festival after taking a year off could be difficult for the all-volunteer group.

“Once you break that chain for this kind of event, this niche (event), it’s hard,” he said.

He said the group will meet in January to decide what to do next.

Abby Spegman: 360-704-6869, @AbbySpegman

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