The Quad Cities has a number of festivals all through the summer. From late May into September, there's always some festival or event going on in one of the cities each weekend. But none of the events are bigger than the annual Bix Beiderbecke weekend, which, so happens, comes up this very weekend.
The Bix weekend consists of three major events - the 35th annual Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Jazz Festival at Le Claire Park in downtown Davenport; the 32nd annual Bix 7 road race on the streets of Davenport on Saturday morning; and the 35th annual Wells Fargo Street Fest on the streets of downtown Davenport on Friday and Saturday.
Now, some of you are going to ask - who the hell is Bix Beiderbecke?
Leon "Bix" Beiderbecke was a legendary jazz musician who was born in Davenport just after the turn of the 20th century. Known as a bad student and kind of a "ne'er-do-well" while he lived in Davenport, Bix was the Jimi Hendrix of his day - an avant garde cornet player who set the music scene on its ear in the 20's. Even though he composed only five tunes, his stylings influenced a generation of jazz greats who came years after Bix died.
A longtime alcoholic, Bix died in squalor in a seedy apartment in New York City in 1931. He is buried not too far from our house here in Davenport.
Given that Bix wasn't much of anything but a gifted musician who died too young from alcoholism, a group of people in the Quad Cities decided in the early 70's to glorify this native son and they started the Bix Beiderbecke Memorial Society. And they chose to honor him with an annual jazz festival that began in 1972. And it wasn't a jazz festival with modern jazz, but that old traditional "Dixieland" style of jazz - the popular music of the 20's. The stuff your grandparents or great-grandparents were listening to when they lost their virginity.
Also in 1972, the city of Davenport hosted their first street festival. They closed off some of the streets downtown, had some live music on a stage (non-jazz), some people set up craft booths and food booths, and they made it a big deal. About 6 or 7 years ago, Wells Fargo Bank threw corporate money behind the festival and got the naming rights. It's easily the single largest festival each year in Davenport.
Well, unless you're a runner - the annual Bix 7 road race started in 1975 with 6 runners winding 7 miles through the streets of Davenport. The race has grown to become one of the foremost running events in America with nearly 20,000 runners and/or walkers taking on the hills of Davenport each year on Saturday morning.
I've worked the stage area of the Street Fest as the stage manager, host and master of ceremonies for the musical acts since 1999. It's a lot of work, but I like working with a lot of the local bands (well, most of them), and I've made a lot of good friends from working the event over the years.
As the Bix 7 road race and the Street Fest have grown over the years, the attendance of the Bix Jazz Festival has dwindled. They - may - get about 1000 people total at the jazz fest during the weekend. And that may be a liberal figure.
A story about the jazz festival -
I moved to Davenport 15 years ago to be the General Manager of the old Audio Odyssey audio/video store. A couple months after I moved here, the Bix weekend came up. The guys at the store told me that I had to go downtown to partake in the festivities. They described it as a lot of fun and it sounded like it really was a very large time.
Well, I'd heard about the Bix jazz fest, and I remember seeing bits and pieces on Iowa Public Television when they would show taped segments of the musical acts who would play at the Le Claire Park bandshell. I thought, "Well, I don't really care for that kind of music. But if I'm going to live here, I'd better become familiar with the local traditions."
I didn't go down to the fest on Friday, nor did I go down after work on Saturday. On Sunday, I decided to go down that afternoon and check out the festival. I went to the park and there were, maybe, 50 people there. And Le Claire Park is not a small place. And I was, by far, the youngest person in attendance. I'm not kidding you, I think I was there for an hour and I swear I heard "Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey?" three times.
I went into work on Monday morning and I told the guys, "You know, I went to the jazz fest yesterday and it was lame. A bunch of old people, a bunch of bad jazz. It wasn't what I thought it was going to be."
I was then informed that the jazz festival WAS lame. The Street Fest was what everyone was referring to when the "festival" term was brought up.
This weekend, the weather is supposed to be scorching hot - 92 on Friday and 94 on Saturday. I work from 9 a.m. in the morning to about 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Each year before the fest, I think that I may be getting too old to do this stuff. But I usually have a lot of fun seeing people and working with the bands that I tell myself that I'm ready to do it again the next year.
I'll post information on the bands who are playing for the Street Fest sometime next week. I'm not happy with the line-up (that's another story), but for the most part, some of the best bands in the Quad Cities will be playing this weekend.