CHEROKEE, Iowa -- Hours before hundreds of visitors descend on downtown Cherokee for the 17th Annual Cherokee Jazz & Blues Festival on Friday and Saturday, more than 100 students will have received hours of instruction from some of the pros who gather for this event.
The Music Clinic, which starts the Jazz & Blues Festival, is a bit of a sleeping giant when it comes to collateral benefits.
"We have never been able to do it (the Music Clinic in Cherokee) until this year," said Corbett Butler, director of bands at Alta-Aurelia High School. "So I'm excited to go and participate. The kids are ready to start performing!"
Alta-Aurelia's jazz band, Butler noted, started its season with a contest in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on Saturday.
The timing really can't be better as these high school jazz musicians receive a day's worth of clinic work just as their jazz band season commences.
Students from the following schools will report to Cherokee Middle School on Friday for the Music Clinic: Cherokee Middle School, Cherokee High School, Sioux Central High School, Alta-Aurelia High School and Bishop Heelan High School.
David Sharp leads the 2017 Music Clinic, at the behest of Jim Oatts, who directed the effort for years until relocating with his family from Des Moines to Philadelphia.
Sharp, professor of instrumental music and jazz at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa, directs the Indian Hills Jazz Band. He, in turn, helped recruit musician-clinicians James Poulsen, Tim Crumley and Steve Charlson.
Additionally, Sioux Cityan Justin Kisor is on board as a clinician. Kisor, a North High grad, has played trumpet professionally for years.
Following a full day of instruction on Friday, the music heats up in downtown Cherokee with bands and professionals playing in four venues: The Northwest Iowa Musicians take over The Copper from 6-9 p.m., Break Even plays at the VFW from 8-11 p.m., Damon Dotson performs from 9 p.m. to midnight at the Brightside, and Chad Elliott plays from 9 p.m. to midnight at The Gasthaus.
The annual Cherokee Jazz & Blues Festival Jam Session takes place from 1-5 p.m. Saturday at The Gathering Place. Hector Anchondo, a native of Omaha, leads an effort whereupon anyone with an instrument and an interest may take the stage. Anchondo, according to Mark Buschkamp, executive director of the Cherokee Area Economic Development, brings lots of credibility to the Cherokee County seat.
"Henry Anchondo was a semifinalist in the 2015 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee," he said. "In 2016, he was a finalist."
Dotson, an Iowa Great Lakes native, who is now based in Des Moines, has opened for legendary figures such as BB King, Willie Nelson and The Beach Boys. Elliott, meantime, released his 20th album in 2015. The Lamoni, Iowa, native performs more than 200 shows per year. Both Elliott and Dotson are returning to Cherokee for encore performances, having been past Blues Fest entertainers.
"This will be my fourth Jazz & Blues Fest," said Elliott, who later this month will start recording an album entitled, "Ringgold," named for the Iowa county in which he was born. "I play at The Gasthaus and the people there are just great. I remember one year playing and people came in and started dancing, shuffling atop the crushed peanut shells on the floor. I hope to get people dancing again this year."
"This event has become part of the cultural experience in Cherokee," said Buschkamp, who has been involved in planning a number of Blues Fests. "It creates culture and an atmosphere for music. It's a pretty important part of who we are."
The other Saturday events include a "Bonus Band" performance by J. Jeffrey Messerole from 5-8 p.m. at The Brightside and the Big Band Dance led by the Mearl Lake Orchestra from 6-9 p.m. at Western Iowa Tech Community College in Cherokee.
"We'll probably have around 900 to 1,000 people who show up over two nights for this," Buschkamp said.