Some of my first memories as a child are of jazz festivals: hanging out backstage, dancing around in the audience, being mesmerized by the incredible legends on the stage. To me it all seemed as normal as going to summer camp or eating ice cream on a hot day. I loved the festival life – meeting new people, hearing new songs, trying new foods, sleeping in fancy hotels. Getting to do this every summer with my family was really a dream because it combined my two favorite things: music and family. Both of my parents worked with such talented and interesting people, the world of jazz and festival lifestyle feels like home.
I have since grown up and rather missed the festival life. Although I still work in music and sing jazz, I primarily sing at events so I haven’t received the opportunity to perform at festivals yet. But this summer brought an exciting change – my Dad asked me to sing with him at the Erie Blues and Jazz Festival… and my brother would be playing the drums! I was so excited to get the chance to dip my toe back into the water of festival life and return home to music & family.
We decided to road trip it for the full old school experience and drove to Erie from NYC. It was a long drive, but a great way to catch up and listen to fun songs in the car. We stopped at a delicious country market that had a restaurant half way there for lunch. The food was so fresh – the peaches came right off the tree! Once we arrived at our hotel in Erie I got so excited, there was a big poster for the festival in the reception area and a booklet outlining the performers and events. It brought back such wonderful memories from my childhood and this time I wouldn’t just be backstage or in the audience, I would be ON the stage!
The next morning, I woke up early to explore beautiful Erie. Our hotel was near the lake so I found a local juice bar, had a quick green juice and went for a run in the gorgeous woodlands. Everyone I came across was so friendly and said hello and waved. A nice change from grumpy New York City, haha. I got back to the hotel just as my Dad was leaving to drive out to the peninsula so I went to go exploring with him. We visited the lighthouse and the beach, climbed on driftwood and tried to balance on it like we used to do when I was a kid and stopped for lunch at a cute mom and pop café. Then we headed back to the hotel for a nap.
Going down to the lobby for call time felt like Christmas morning for me – I was stoked to get to finally go and serenade the lovely people of Erie. Additionally, it would be my first time getting to sing at a Jazz Festival in my home country of America so that made it extra special for me. Once we arrived at the venue, that feeling of home really set in. There I was with my Dad and my brother backstage getting our festival t-shirts and chatting with musicians – I was in heaven. We sound checked quickly and the show started. I only sang a few songs as I was a featured performer but it was a treat to watch my Dad and brother shine from the sidelines. I was also so proud of my sister friend Endea Owens who was up there killing it on the bass! My Dad hired Keith Brown on Piano for this performance whom I had never met before. He was such a gentleman to work with and an incredible pianist, I hope I get the chance to work with him again.
The audience was hospitable and generous with applause. It was so exciting to see so many smiling faces staring back at me, it reminded me how lucky I am to do what I love for a living. The show was like a happy blur, but I do remember one highlight: getting to trade with my Dad on Corcovado.
After the festival I remember having a great conversation with a vocalist from Erie who was backstage and I also met Jessica Sutton who was taking photos. I really liked her perspective and asked her for a card. She so graciously shared the photos with me that you see here on this blog. You can find her on Instagram at @jmsuttoncreativearts
Orion, Endea and I wanted to check out a bit more of what Erie had to offer so we headed out to grab a bite to eat. When we arrived at the restaurant, a bunch of people recognized us from the festival and bought us a round of drinks to thank us for our performance. One gentleman, a drummer from Erie, was particularly enthralled with Orion’s playing and it was so nice to watch them connect over music. That’s the thing about this music – it brings people together. Jazz is music and family whether that’s family by blood or by musical community. We ate our dinner and should have been tired but we were still on such an adrenaline rush from the show we decided to head for a nightcap at the bar across the street from our hotel. To our delight, it was mostly empty and they had a jukebox! After another round of drinks, we were blasting The Carters new album… no, not Ron Carter or Regina Carter… Beyonce and Jay-Z. Because you can be a jazz musician and like other kinds of music too. I also discovered that this jukebox had the full collection of all the songs I have written and recorded under my EDM pseudonym Eminent Pulse which was so exciting! So of course I had to play one of my own songs before heading back to the hotel to sleep.
Erie was a glimpse into my past but hopefully a glimpse into my future as well. A future where I get to continue singing at Jazz Festivals and spreading the family feels all over the world.