A Ridgefield Jazz Festival? Economic commission, Stockel talk idea over

Dixieland, swing, bebop — a Ridgefield Jazz Festival may be added to the region’s cultural calendar, as the town continues pursuing the economic and cultural benefits of its lively arts scene. But in a town with limited hotel space, where would jazz fans stay?

The jazz festival idea — still in the early concept stage — sparked a wide-ranging discussion Monday, Aug. 7, when Ridgefield Playhouse Executive Director Allison Stockel and Ridgefield Arts Council member Alison Greely met with the town’s Economic and Community Development Commission (ECDC).

“We could consider a jazz festival as an annual thing,” said ECDC chairman Arnold Light.

As ideas were kicked around, the group envisioned a festival based on a collaboration among The Ridgefield Playhouse, CHIRP and The Aldrich Museum — with jazz performances at different venues for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, and local restaurants recruited to feature live acts in the afternoons.

The thinking was that CHIRP — the Concert Happenings in Ridgefield Parks organized by Selectwoman Barbara Manners — already has Thursday night concerts, and sometimes has jazz performers. And The Aldrich has its “First Fridays” tradition, with live music and cocktails

at the museum during the first Friday evening of most months. The Playhouse could book a jazz act for the Saturday night of the festival.

The long weekend could then be promoted as a Ridgefield Jazz Festival, drawing people to town similar to the Ridgefield Film Festival.

“Something the film festival people did really great, they really did involve the town,” said Stockel.

Removing the unknown

A festival could also be organized as an extended weekend of varied jazz bookings at venues like The Ridgefield Playhouse.

“The nice thing about doing it at The Playhouse, you don’t have to worry about the things outdoor festivals worry about — the weather, building a stage,” Stockel said.

The idea grew from The Playhouse’s promotion during the last weekend of July, when it had three jazz performances in a row: The Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans on Thursday night; saxophonist Dave Koz and bassist Larry Graham in their Side by Side Tour on Friday night; and jazz guitarist and ex-Yankee baseball star Bernie Williams and his All Star Band on Saturday night. The latter hosted a benefit concert following an afternoon charity softball game to fight Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis.

“The three shows were booked separately, each different types of jazz,” Stockel later told The Press, “but we thought it would be good to market it as a jazz weekend — each time we do a jazz show, we market it as an evening of art, wine and jazz.

“We do a wine tasting and exhibit a local artist in the lobby (who sells their work) and then of course a great jazz show — it has a great community feel,” she added. “Gallo does the wine tasting, and the artist is always someone local, so it’s a great pairing with a national name.”

When to have it

Stockel asked the Economic and Community Development Commission for help promoting the weekend, and they invited The Playhouse to take part in a program where groups place banners on Main Street lampposts publicizing upcoming events.

John Devine of the ECDC suggested that a jazz weekend might make a good annual event.

If a Ridgefield Jazz Festival is organized, Stockel proposed the first weekend of August rather than the last week of July.

“There’s just a lot going on jazz-wise and festival-wise,” she said.

More rooms

Another concern is Ridgefield’s shortage of hotel accommodations.

“I love The West Lane Inn ... but it’s 12 rooms,” Stockel said.

Outside of the village, Ridgefield also has Stonehenge Inn and a Days Inn, both off Route 7, as well as The Green Rocks Inn bed and breakfast off Route 35.

The discussion noted that The Elms Inn on Main Street had closed a couple of years back.

Arts and economy

At the Cultural Alliance of Fairfield County’s July 25 meeting, Stockel heard officials from neighboring towns speak highly of Ridgefield with its active arts organizations.

“They were all talking about: Ridgefield is something to look at,” she said. “... We have something they don’t have — a fabulous arts scene.”

That cultural alliance meeting heard a presentation on a study by Americans for the Arts that looked at the economic impact of the arts in 341 regions around the country. The study found that in 2015, more than $235 million was spent in Fairfield County by nonprofit arts and cultural organizations and their audiences — good enough to support 6,789 jobs and generate $9.3 million in revenue for local governments.

Stockel said the study calculated that visitors attending arts events spend an average of $34 each — excluding the cost of tickets. The biggest part — $20 of the $34 per person average spending — goes to meals and refreshments.

“We have 100,000 people a year walk through the doors of The Playhouse — that’s $3.4 million to the town,” Stockel said. “And that’s just us. It’s significant.”

The outsiders

When The Playhouse opened 17 years ago, audiences were 80% local and 20% non-local, Stockel said.

That’s changed.

“More than half our audience is from outside this community,” she said.

That shift could benefit the town.

“How are we positioning RIdgefield? It’s a destination town,” Stockel said, recalling the Chamber of Commerce’s ‘Destination Ridgefield’ slogan.

To really be a destination, she said, the town should have more overnight accommodations.

“We already have amazing, amazing restaurants. We already have fabulous quality entertainment,” Stockel said. “We don’t have enough places for people to stay.”

It’s something to work on.

“I don’t think we need a ginormous hotel,” Stockel said.

“This is an issue you guys will have to deal with moving forward.”

Overall, economic commission members were supportive of a potential Ridgefield Jazz Festival.

“That could be a huge event,” Devine said.