Morganton is known to warm-season travelers for its cool Foothills climate.
But this weekend, that town just 80 minutes northwest of Charlotte is a hot destination: Saturday at noon, the free-admission Morganton Jazz Festival gets underway at the Courthouse Square.
Until 4 p.m., the stage will have jazz bands from high schools across North Carolina will compete in jazz clinics.
At 5 p.m., the Original King Street Jazz Band takes the stage, and an hour later, the afternoon’s first-place jazz band will play.
And at 7 p.m., the clinic/competition judges themselves will headline.
Oh, yeah. They happen to be the Marsalis Brothers band – Delfeayo Marsalis, Jason Marsalis, Geoff Clapp and Rale Micic and Zack Page.
The Marsalis family is both jazz and New Orleans royalty. The patriarch is jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis Jr., who is as famous as an educator and musician as he is an father. Two of his sons – saxophonist/composer/bandleader Branford; trumpeter/composer/educator Wynton – are major jazz stars in their own right.
Delfeayo (trombone) and Jason (drumss) are siblings to Branford and Wynton. That teaching gene makes them ideal for Saturday afternoon’s coaching/judging sessions. The jazz gene makes them great entertainers.
Drummer Geoff Clapp, by the way, studied classical percussion at the N.C. School of the Arts, in Winston-Salem.
And the Original King Street Jazz Band is nothing to sneeze at. The six members, all from the Foothills, were the opening act at Asheville’s Grove Park Inn for the All That Jazz Weekend that starred Henry Butler, the Preservation Hall Band and Ellis Marsalis Jr.
This day of jazz on the lawn is free of charge.
Bring some jingle: Vendors there will sell salt and pepper catfish, shrimp, slaw, red beans and rice in addition to burgers, pizza, soft drinks, wine and beer.
Getting there from the Charlotte area: Take I-85 South to Gastonia; take U.S. 321 North to I-40, then I-40 West to the Morganton exit.