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LA crosse Tribune article


Published - Monday, August 07, 2006

Great River Jazz Fest kicks off four days of music today
By Geri Parlin, La Crosse Tribune

Welcome to La Crosse, where jazz lovers might be few in numbers but are large in their passion for jazz. How else could you pull off a yearly jazz festival in a community as small as La Crosse? The key, according to many of the musicians who have played here, is organizer Wayne Arihood.

“Wayne, he is an absolute treasure to you guys,” said drummer Vince Bartels, who will be bringing Migrant Jazz Workers to the festival this weekend. He should know. Bartels has served as president of the Sacramento Jazz Club and helps put on the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee, the biggest traditional jazz fest in the country.

“I think the La Crosse festival is perfect in its size. It’s manageable. It’s got a great variety of music, and it’s a diamond that people don’t know is there. If more people from the West Coast knew about La Crosse, you’d be turning people away. I’ve always loved playing at the festgrounds, especially the little stage. The people are great. And the beer and the brats make that festival. You just can’t get brats like that out here.”

But it’s really the music that attracts people like Bartels.

“Wayne does such a good job. It’s well-rounded entertainment, a little bit of everything for everybody. I get to see people that I don’t get to see out here. La Crosse is very lucky to have that festival.”

Bartels blessed with ‘dream band’

Vince Bartels was 8 when his dad hired him for his first professional gig. Vince had been taking drum lessons for about a year when the drummer in his dad’s band didn’t show up for a gig at the Plumber’s Union Christmas party.

“Put your drums in the truck and put a suit on,” his dad told him. At the end of the night, Hank Bartels handed young Vince $35. Was he hooked on jazz? You bet he was.

“I grew up on jazz. My father was the original bass player in the Dukes of Dixieland. Dad played music in Denver and Wyoming, and I was a member of the Casper Troopers Drum and Bugle Corps.

It was the Troopers, in fact, that first brought Bartels to La Crosse.

“I came to La Crosse for drum and bugle corps for a Blue Stars competition. We stayed in the homes of the Blue Stars.”

He has been here many times since to perform at the Great River Jazz Fest. And he’ll be here again this year, this time with his all-star band, Migrant Jazz Workers.

“I’ve always been playing music since I was a kid,” Bartels said. When he started lessons as a 7-year-old, he couldn’t read music, so his teacher taught him with rhythms and beats, something Bartels understood very well.

“(Drums) kind of found me. Dad put me on lessons because I kept beating my mom’s pots and pans. I would turn Dad’s records on and try to play to them.”

Following his dad’s advice, Bartels pursued music with a passion, but got himself a day job to pay the bills.

“Being in construction, I own my own business,” he said, so he doesn’t have to worry about putting food on the table. That allows Bartels to play music whenever and wherever he wants.

And what he wants nowadays, he said, is the opportunity to play with the best musicians available to him. Hence, the Migrant Jazz Workers.

“I put that band together about three years ago at the L.A. Sweet & Hot festival. These guys have been friends of mine for years and years. I liked playing with them, and we hit it off good.”

So, for the first time in his music career, Bartels decided to be the guy in charge.

“Why wait for something to happen when you can make it happen yourself,” he said. “I put my dream band together. I picked some pretty good guys, and it’s pretty hard to book ‘em,” he said, so they don’t play often. “They’re from all over the country.”

This band is a way of stepping outside of his comfort zone, Bartels said.

“I’m trying to come out of the box a little bit at 50. I’ve been in bands, and for the first time I’m trying to lead the gigs. The band is awesome. I don’t think there’s a better band in the country for what we’re doing. The greatest say ‘yes’ when I call them to play. I feel blessed that way.”

And the greatest blessing of all, Bartels said, is that he is still playing jazz after all these years.

“I didn’t have a choice. It’s an addiction. You ask my wife — I have to do it. If I stop playing, I’m absolutely miserable.”

The Great River Jazz Fest, Aug. 3 to 6, 2006 in La Crosse, will celebrate its 21st year in conjunction with the City of La Crosse’s Sesquicentennial Celebration and the annual Sand on the Riverfront. Riverside Park along the banks of the Mississippi River will be filled with activities relating to the history and culture of La Crosse, including history walks, architectural tours, log rolling, sand sculpting contest, story telling, period costume displays, games, dances, food and much more. The Jazz Fest grounds, with two outdoor stages and the indoor venue in the La Crosse Center Ballroom, will feature 10 jazz bands representing a mixture of jazz styles.




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