My mother and I recently spent the weekend in what felt like an amazing musical time capsule. We were taken back to the early 20th century when we attended the 3-day 18th Annual Pentastic Hot Jazz Festival in beautiful Penticton, British Columbia (below is a photo of Penticton’s gorgeous lakeshore near one of the festival venues). Festival goers were treated to over 70 performances by 11 talented bands from across the US and Canada specializing in Dixieland, ragtime, old-time gospel and traditional New Orleans/Chicago jazz with a splash of Zydeco/Cajun music.
Truth be told, I only planned to attend a few of the 75 min. concerts, as I had work to attend to and this genre of music was of mild interest to me. But, I came to enjoy the music so much that I wound up going to all but a few shows!
The average age of musicians was about 50 and the average age of festival goers was about 65. I found it fascinating watching this older generation and wondering what life must have been like for those around me who lived during the Great Depression and/or World War II. This music brought great joy to them. A few people I met, who were in their 70s, lamented that other similar jazz festivals are no longer around because of their dying generation and budget cuts. This festival, they all claimed, is the last of its kind, possibly in all of Canada. Throughout the weekend, I couldn’t help but think that word must get out about this fantastic event filled with musicians so passionate about keeping alive this genre of music.
Draga’s Dragons, Black Swan Classic Jazz Band, Tom Rigney & his band, Flambeau, and Gator Nation were stand-out acts. And we quite enjoyed Chilliwack, British Columbia’s Curbside Trad Jazz Band’s 1920s jazz and blues, and yet they ranged in age from just 16-22!
But, our festival fave was Blackstick – a band dedicated to playing the music of New Orleans jazz clarinet greats. Led by a grandfather-grandson team, Lloyd Arntzen (87 years young!) and twenty-something year old Evan Arntzen, from Vancouver (Evan is now based in New York), Blackstick played on the historic S.S. Sicamous boat (photo below), on the picturesque shores of Penticton.
The S.S. Sicamous is the largest surviving stern-wheeler in BC. It was built in 1914 and sailed for 22 years…and was such a beautiful time capsule to experience Blackstick on!
Lloyd taught Evan about New Orleans Jazz since Evan was just seven years old and the young Arntzen has gone on to win various awards, play with Michael Bublé‘s orchestra for his past two “Home for the Holidays” TV specials and be a featured musician at the 2010 Paralympic Games. Here’s a video of Evan and his brother, Arnt, playing the streets of Vancouver’s historic Gastown district with their “The Brothers Arntzen Brass Band”. The clip is a medley of songs and if you’re short on time, fast forward to the 2:17 mark for one of the many highlights. Evan is the clarinetist and Arnt is the banjo player.
Do make plans to attend this superb festival!! Here is travel info to assist you:
When: Usually the first weekend after Labour Day, September. On Friday, shows run from 4:30 pm – 11:45 pm, on Saturday from 10:30 am – 11:45 pm and Sunday from 9 am – 4 pm. Generally, four shows are running concurrently and each band performs up to eight times throughout the festival.
Where: The hub of the festival is the Penticton Trade and Convention Centre but free shuttle vans provide transfers to the 3 other venues: The aforementioned S.S. Sicamous, Shatford Centre and the Elks Hall (all are within a 5-10 minute drive) and the shuttle drivers will also drop you off at your hotel. We never had to wait more than 5 minutes for a shuttle. Parking is free at the Trade and Convention Centre.
Cost: One-day passes range from $50-70 depending on the day and a 3-day pass is $105.
Where to Stay: There are three major lodging areas: the northern lakefront on Okanagan Lake, the southern lakefront on Lake Skaha, and the Main Street strip that connects the two. Older motels are quite common. We stayed at the Days Inn & Conference Center which was the highest rated on TripAdvisor of the lodgings closest to the Trade and Convention Centre (a 10 min. walk). While not overly fancy, it was clean, quiet and included in the fairly decent room charge was breakfast, Wi-Fi, air conditioning, indoor pool, outdoor pool and workout room. There is also the Black Iron Grill restaurant on the property. Inquire about jazz festival special rates.