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New Orleans-style festival comes to town

By Julia Sendor
Correspondent

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  • Want to go?

    May 10

    7-10 p.m. TGIF concert, MOJO & The Bayou Gypsies (Cajun & zydeco). Historic Burke County Courthouse Lawn.

    May 11

    1-4 p.m. High school jazz clinics, locations throughout town.

    Smokin’ Hot Jazz Stage (Historic Burke County Courthouse Lawn).

    3-8 p.m. New Orleans-style cuisine.

    3 p.m. Hickory Jazz Orchestra: Playing 40s swing era and modern big band.

    4 p.m. Original King Street Jazz Band: From traditional Dixieland to contemporary jazz.

    5 p.m. Joseph Hasty & Centerpiece Jazz: Playing classic jazz, swing tunes, show tunes, original scores and old favorites.

    6 p.m. High School All Stars: First place high school jazz band from North Carolina.

    6:30 p.m. Geoff Clapp Quartet from New Orleans.

    For information about the Morganton Jazz Festival, call 828-438-5252 or visit morgantonfest.org.



For the first time, jazz, Cajun and zydeco tunes and gumbo, beans and rice, and powdered-sugar beignets will transform the heart of Morganton into a mini New Orleans at the inaugural Morganton Jazz Festival.

The festival will begin with Cajun and zydeco music fresh from New Orleans at the TGIF concert 7-10 p.m. May 10. Saturday’s lineup features jazz and authentic Louisiana cuisine 3-8 p.m. May 11 at the Historic Burke County Courthouse lawn.

“It brings a whole new style of music to the area,” said Sharon Jablonski, of the Historic Morganton Festival. “It’s such an honor to have such a great group of musicians coming into Morganton.”

The lineup on the Smokin’ Hot Jazz Stage mixes local bands like the Hickory Jazz Quartet, with New Orleans-steeped music from MOJO & the Bayou Gypsies, and the Geoff Clapp Quartet.

“One thing you can say when you go to New Orleans is there’s lots of different styles of music. We’re trying to bring that,” said Jablonski.

While jazz may not dominate Morganton’s musical scene, the festival highlights some strong North Carolina jazz connections. Geoff Clapp, for example, grew up in North Carolina, and his brother lives in Morganton. After following jazz to New Orleans, Clapp has performed, recorded and toured with jazz legends such as Ellis and Wynton Marsalis.

The festival also builds on the solid base of Patton High School’s five-year jazz fest for high-schoolers. This year, the Historic Morganton Festival Inc. partnered with Patton’s Band Boosters to open the festival to the community.

“They wanted a bigger venue, and we’ve been wanting something different,” said Jablonski. “We just said, ‘Hey, we can make that happen downtown.’ ”

At this year’s festival, high school bands from across North Carolina will perform 1-4 p.m. May 11. The Geoff Clapp Quartet will select one of the bands to open for Saturday’s headliner.

Chad Higdon, Patton High School band director, described how he meets with the school’s jazz band at 7 a.m. each day before school, driven by a love of jazz music.

“I enjoy the improvisation,” said Higdon. “You can have seven or eight recordings of the same song, and it’s different each time. I think that’s the most exciting part of it.”

The rich stews of Cajun-style cooking will fuel festival-goers. Phil Scarboro, of Morganton’s Friday Friends restaurant, is already practicing his gumbo, shrimp etouffee, red beans and rice, and beignets, along with hamburgers and hot dogs.

“He always challenges himself to learn new things, and we’re all reading up on (the food) to make sure it’s authentic,” said Jablonski.

Jablonski visited New Orleans during a national conference in April, which happened at the same time as the New Orleans French Quarter Festival.

“So I plan to steal every possible idea known to man,” said Jablonski.

The festival is free to the public.

“Bring chairs and blankets to sit on the courthouse and just enjoy the music,” said Jablonski. “Come hungry!”

Julia Sendor is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Julia? Email her at julia.b.sendor@gmail.com.
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