Music lovers soak up sun, jazz, blues at Tacoma festival

While most audience members of the Tacoma Jazz and Blues Festival preferred to sip their beer on the sidelines, Karen Noyes, 60, was dancing to the beat.

She grooved to the rhythm of jazz and blues wearing blood-red leopard pants and a bedazzled Ed Hardy T-shirt: an eye-popping contrast to the scorching black pavement.

“I’m a silly person,” she said. “You’ve got nothing to lose, might as well dance.”

Noyes said it’s her goal to attend as many jazz festivals she can and has gone to eight so far. This was her first time at the one in Tacoma, and she said she was pleased so far but wished the crowd would liven up.

The 12th annual festival shut down two blocks of South Tacoma Way for the largest version of the festival Tacoma has seen, said Billy Stoops, director for the festival and lead guitarist of Junkyard Jane.

Stoops and two other directors began planning in February with a goal to make South Tacoma Way a destination jazz and blues festival for music lovers all over the state, he said.

In previous years, the festival was disjointed and spread out among several venues over 5 miles. This year, all the bands are playing on one main stage, providing a more intimate experience for the audience, he said.

Founder of the festival, Rich Wetzel, said musicians from as far as Germany came to play and that the festival has grown up since its first concert in the Rialto Theatre.

“Some years I had to reach pretty far into my pockets (to pay for everything),” he said.

Wetzel worked with Stoops to create the first-ever outdoor stage and beer garden with more than 15 bands.

Fan favorites included Little Bill and the Blue Notes, Junkyard Jane and Vicci Martinez, who were among the opening bands.

Junkyard Jane formed 18 years ago in Tacoma and is described as “swamp billy roots music,” Stoops said.

Leanne Trevalyan stirred the audience with her raspy voice. Some fans sang along while others drummed their fingers and tapped their feet to the bouncy tempo.

“We take our music very seriously, but we don’t take ourselves seriously,” Stoops said. “It leaves room for improvisation.”

Many of their original songs stem from personal experiences, he said. The song “What would Jimmy do?” was born when Stoops accidentally strummed an unusual chord on his guitar. He kept playing it and wrote what he calls “fun and nonsensical” lyrics inspired by his friend Jimmy Gardner.

Stoops said that watching the crowd have a good time is what makes the whole thing worthwhile.

The best part for Wetzel is being able to play with some of the best local jazz and blues bands, he said.

“(I love) getting to play with some of my best friends and my heroes,” he said. “How do I put it into words? It means everything.”