Boquete Jazz & Blues Fest: An Artist's Perspective
If you have been to the Bouquete Jazz & Blues festival you might know that the festival has been called the “biggest little festival in the world.” Each year the festival grows stronger, catching the attention of performers and music lovers alike, from North, Central and South America.
Recently we received a note from John Wolff the festivals producer with an artist’s perspective of the festival. The article speaks to artists who have attended in the past, and other who will be in attendance this year, each word taking the reader on a journey, through the eyes of the performer.
In a time when festivals come and go, it’s especially noteworthy when one commands the admiration of musicians in North, Central and South America like the intimate and charismatic Boquete Jazz & Blues Festival in Boquete, Panama, February 25 through 28, 2016.
Few fests offer the divine and diverse delights of Boquete, perched nearly 4,000 feet up in the Chiriqui highlands near Costa Rica. Now in its tenth year and with only 800 attending, Boquete has been a must for fun-loving patrons—as well as a string of musicians who lobby for their place on the roster. “Some of the biggest names in world music want in,” says festival producer John Wolff. “We’d love to have them, if we had an open slot. This says a lot about how Boquete has emerged as ‘a musician’s festival’ in just ten years.” Back for more is Deanna Bogart, booked for her second Boquete appearance. Bogart’s first time at the festival was 2015, yet given her broad-based appeal, promoters elevated her to associate producer. The triple-threat powerhouse on piano and vocals, as well as a four-time Blues Music Award winner for horn, says, “They’ve created a wonderful freedom for the players. The vibe allows us to work together, play together and come together organically to make great music. The feeling and energy at Boquete inspire us to take our jams into different and exciting directions that feel great to all of us, musically and beyond. They want us to have fun and we do!”
The promoters take special care to make Boquete memorable and carefree for the artists, providing top-quality lodging, exquisite cuisine, convenient transportation, and even cell phones. They host lavish luncheons so artists can get to know one another before hitting the stage for after-hour jams lasting deep into the night. Boogie woogie, jazz and jump blues keyboard maestro Mitch Woods welcomes a return to Boquete. “As musicians, we get to know some of the locals, including ex-pats, and what they like to hear. They’ve loved jazz and good music for years, but the blues is relatively new to Panama. It’s been exciting to see how well received it is, especially when we mix it up in our jams at the amphitheater or in restaurants.” Randy Oxford, famed trombonist, bandleader and Washington State Blues Society Hall of Famer, is in harmony with the sense of freedom and fluidity. “The universal language of music transcends any communications issues on stage. Sometimes it’s rehearsed, sometimes it’s on the fly. It’s always great fun to be part of Boquete. Wish I could play there for a week!”
One hundred percent of festival profits go to Panamanian schools for music education, instruments and to develop local talent. “I love introducing good music to children in Panama,” says a gratified Oxford. “It’s very rewarding to be part of this effort,” he smiles, patting his heart. Bogart, a long-time music mentor, agrees. “I met a family while I was sitting in with a local musician. Their children played horns, but they’d never seen a woman on sax before. So of course I had to meet them. When I saw them listening outside, I snuck them in. Then I told one of the promoters what I did. He laughed, said that’s what we’re about, and thanked me. And now I’m an associate producer.” For details on Boquete Jazz & Blues Festival 2016, visit www.boquetejazzandbluesestival.com.