It has been a long, life-changing journey for Michael Campbell, who started the Pentastic Hot Jazz Festival 20 years ago this weekend.
Two decades ago, Campbell was a rock ‘n’ roll guy, he still is, but jazz would become his legacy in Penticton.
He and his wife, former Penticton mayor Beth Campbell, were initially looking to bring a blues festival to town, but found themselves more aligned with the jazz crowd after attending the TerifVic Jazz and Swing festival in Victoria at the suggestion of a friend who worked for Tourism Victoria at the time.
“We loved it. We thought, this is a match for us,” Campbell said.
They approached a few bands in Victoria, including the first group the festival ever hired, Igor and the Jazz Cowboys, and they had some discussions about a possible festival. A few months later a man from the Delta Jazz Band out of Courtenay reached out and said he was coming through the Okanagan area.
Campbell and his wife booked the band for a one-night stand at the Lakeside Resort. It would become the formative meeting of the initial board of directors.
Despite his best efforts, Campbell became the face of the festival.
“If I’m the face of it, I thought we’re in serious trouble,” Campbell laughed.
Campbell hit the phones, calling around 10 bands.
The first year pales in comparison to what the festival is now. However, after seeing the same people attend the first festival who were at the events on the coast, Campbell knew he had done something right.
A few years were spent working out the kinks, finding the right venues and getting it just right.
“Now, we’re a machine,” he said. “Frankly, it has gotten better every year.”
The non-profit festival has always relied heavily on community support including the City of Penticton, and many others.
“It was never going to be for-profit. It was for the good of the community,” Campbell said.
Campbell had no qualms admitting he was a rock-and-roll guy, but his relationship with jazz has evolved along with the festival.
“I say to people the only reason I like jazz so much is that I can’t go to too many places and get called ‘son,’” Campbell laughed. “I love jazz now, I love it.”
Not only has the festival expanded his musical horizons, it has brought lifelong friends into his life.
“I’ve gotten to know many of the musicians quite well. We invite them up to the house, that sort of stuff, we get invited to their houses in Florida, Calfornia. I’ve met some incredible people,” Campbell said.
He said the reason those relationships were cultivated is because they treat the bands with respect.
“We treat them how we would like to be treated, and we pay our bills,” Campbell said.
He declined to answer which his favourite performance of the last 20 years was, noting that he “loved them all.”
Not only has he made friends, it has become a full-time endeavor for Campbell.
“Out of 365 days of the year, I gurantee you I do something for the jazz festival 320,” Campbell said. “It’s good busy. I love it, I love the people that come.”
He marvels in delight the fact that people come from the jazz hub of New Orleans to attend the Penticton Festival.
“Is that like bringing the coals to Newcastle?” Campbell said.
When Dave Bennett was announced at this year’s festival, Campbell received calls from Saskatchewan to
Arizona. The festival has also become such a hit in Courtenay that a group is bringing 68 people this year with a charter bus and convoy of cars.
He didn’t know the festival would be such a hit when he started, but he always hoped.
“You dream big, and we dreamt big and were willing to take baby steps to get up there,” Campbell said.
What does the future hold for the Pentastic Hot Jazz Festival?
“We’ll start planning for next year on Sunday afternoon. It’s our intention to keep it going until they don’t want us anymore.
This year, like years past, there is an outreach performance at Princess Margaret Secondary School at 1:50 p.m. featuring the Rossi Gang from Vancouver, which anyone can attend for free.
The Pentastic Hot Jazz Festival runs from Sept. 9 to 11. For tickets, a schedule and more information including free shuttles from sponsor hotels, visit www.pentasticjazz.com