In town, on the lake: Music festivals offer array of sounds

Robert Cray will perform at the Ridgefield Playhouse Saturday night as the first annual Jazz, Funk, and Blues Weekend.

Ridgefield is set to become the music capital of Fairfield County this weekend with not one but two festivals planned — one in the village that’s jazz-themed and spread across five venues this weekend, and another on Rainbow Lake that’s more folky and set to run from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15.

The four-day festival that will take over downtown Ridgefield is the first annual Jazz, Funk and Blues Weekend, running Thursday, Sept. 13, through Sunday, Sept. 16, at Ballard Park, the Ridgefield Library, the Aldrich Museum, the Ridgefield Playhouse, and the Lounsbury House.

“This is being organized and facilitated by the Ridgefield Economic and Community Development Commission with the idea of having all the musical venues in town highlight what they can do under the theme of jazz, funk and blues,” said Geoffrey Morris, the organizer of the event and commission member. “We wanted to bring it all together in one weekend so people could appreciate the music.”

Morris knew any festival would have to start with the Ridgefield Playhouse’s involvement, and he then looked at the other venues that would work well. CHIRP signed on with a season-ending concert featuring composer Robert Miller’s Project Grand Slam that kicks off the festival tonight — Thursday, Sept. 13 — at 7 p.m. The Aldrich, which always likes to remind people that they’re about more than just art, slotted itself for a performance from jazz guitarist Gil Parris at 2 p.m. Saturday.

“Then there’s the library, which is more than just books; and the Lounsbury House is such a great event venue and we thought a Sunday afternoon thing there would be a great showcase,” Morris said. “Once we had the pillars, we put the word out that anybody could be part of the weekend.”

To that extent, many of the Ridgefield’s restaurants will also be getting in on the action, offering performances from some local musical talent. Participating venues include TerraSole Ristorante, Village Tavern, 850 Degree Wood-Fired and Bernard’s & Sarah’s Wine Bar.

Out on the lake

Entering its fourth year, the Wataba Lake Festival will be held again at the vacant lot at 25 Clearview Drive — known as “Hippie Hill” to those who live around the lake and who have attended festivals there in the past.

The folk-themed festival offers a “bohemian vibe,” according to its organizers, and will feature performances from Jennifer Barrett’s Sticky Jams (opening act), Maggie Seligman and Richard Brooker, the John Bradley Quartet, the Flubber Brothers, Walker Liebowitz, Karen Zimmer, Mark Minkler and Bill Bickford, and Peter Calo.

“It’s eight acts who we feel really encapsulate what this festival is all about,” said festival organizer Kevin McCarthy.

“We didn’t know about the jazz festival when we picked out this weekend but I think they each offer their own distinct sound to people,” McCarthy said. “Ours is a lot of folk and Americana. It hasn’t changed much since we started it in 2015 … We’re just hoping on good weather. Our turnout is usually contingent upon that.”

McCarthy estimates that 300 people show up on Rainbow Lake — dubbed Lake Wataba for the festival — to listen to music every fall. The lot, which organizer Roger Grannis bought and turned into a space for festivals, can hold up to 500 but parking is limited.

“We advise people to park at Ridgebury Elementary,” McCarthy said. “We’ll have signs up in the neighborhood alerting any newcomers.”

In addition to music, the festival will be hosting local food trucks and vendors. For those looking to shop, Katonah-based Old New House will have a pop-up shop available. For those looking to relax, Ridgefield-based Serene Escape Spa will be offering messages.   

“Nature is our biggest appeal,” McCarthy said. “We have the backdrop. The trees, the lake — it’s all perfect for the fall season and it helps get people in the mood to just forget about life for a little while, enjoy the spirit of the lake, and listen to some good music.”

The event will also offer plenty of family fun.

McCarthy’s wife, Chiara, has a yoga business called Kismet Kids Yoga and will be helping set up kids activities with Quincy Coleman of Ridgefield Rocks and Dawn Jolly of Tinkergarten.

“Jennifer Barrett will get the kids going early with a drum circle at the beginning of the festival,” McCarthy said. “Her specialty is music and movement, and we think that’s the perfect place for us to start at Saturday.”

John Lissauer, record producer of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, takes the stage with Peter Calo at least year’s Wataba Lake Festival.

Jazz headliner

Legendary blues guitarist Robert Cray will headline the jazz festival downtown with a performance at the Ridgefield Playhouse Saturday, Sept. 15, playing the songs that have earned him five Grammy Award wins. The Funky Dawgz Brass Band will open for Cray.

“Beside the fact that it is a beautiful venue with great acoustics, it is a hometown show for me,” said Tommy Weeks, a 2009 graduate of Ridgefield High School and tenor sax player with the Funky Dawgz Brass Band. “It’s always special to be able to play for my family and friends that I grew up with. We tour all over the world and coast to coast here in the States so they don’t usually have too many chances to catch a show unless it’s here in town at the Playhouse. Also, being able to open for such a legendary musician as Robert Cray is a humbling experience. I’m sure we will learn a lot from watching him as well.”

The Funky Dawgz performing at the Ridgefield Playhouse for the 2015 FunkRaiser. The band returns as part of Ridgefield’s first-ever Jazz, Funk and Blues Weekend Saturday night.

Don’t forget about Friday

Dayramir Gonzalez, Cuban jazz pianist and noted composer, will deliver a lecture on Afro-Cuban music at the Ridgefield Library beginning at 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14. He will perform at 7 that same day.

“The audience will be able to experience a wide spectrum of today’s Cuban music — from classical to Danzón, to Cha Cha Cha to Afro Cuban Jazz, blended with New York vanguard harmonies and West African sentiments,” Gonzalez said. “My vision is to have a night where the audience can enjoy intellectual music with groovy rhythms.”

Closing performance

The final performance of the weekend will feature the Ridgefield High School Jazz Band, under the tutelage of conductor Michael McNamara, playing at the Lounsbury House on Sept. 16, starting at 2 p.m.

“Ridgefield is becoming a cultural destination and fall is such a great time of year, because people are home and back to school, but can still come outside and do things here,” Morris said. “Fall is a time when people like to explore and do things, so we saw this as a great opportunity to show people what the town has to offer.”

For a complete schedule of events, visit jazzfunk.org.

— Reporting by Steve Coulter and Keith Loria

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