Freeing Mt. Hood Fest

Organizers of the Mt. Hood Jazz Festival in Gresham, Ore., have made a couple of changes to this summer’s event. Admission will be free for the first time in 24 years in honor of the city’s centennial, but there won’t be any national or international acts on the bill.

Festival director Steve Reischman said the move is a temporary measure to help the August 5-7 festival cut costs as the board prepares for the event’s 25th anniversary in 2006.

“The theme that the board of the Mt. Hood festival came up with — “Bringing It Home” — was a combination of addressing the 100th anniversary and giving back to the city of Gresham,” Reischman told Pollstar. “Also, the idea of featuring regional artists who oftentimes feel left out of the booking process, this was an opportunity to give those folks what amounts to headliner status.

“In an ever-dwindling market for jazz — three-quarters of [legendary] jazz artists are dead — this is an attempt to reaffirm the fact the we respect and care about this local and regional scene.”

Last year’s fest, which hosted artists including Madeleine Payroux and Abbey Lincoln, attracted only 2,000 concert-goers with a $35-per-day entrance fee. The deficit was reportedly made up through donations.

In its heyday, the Mt. Hood Jazz Festival featured artists including Ella Fitzgerald and drew tens of thousands of people. It has had to make adjustments over the years for waning attendance.

Reischman said the Gresham/Mt. Hood board will now have an opportunity to recharge its efforts in seeking grants and new sponsorships at a higher dollar level in addition to the event’s regular sponsors.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for the Mt. Hood board that they continue to hang in there,” he said. “This festival has [evolved] from a gargantuan level of 10,000 people in a football field to returning to its more intimate roots here. [The board] has downsized over the last few years as they’ve struggled financially.

“They’ve been through the roughest of times and managed to keep their heads up and keep a financial base there that basically allows them to break even.”

Tina Amendola