Woodstock vibe to come alive at annual Morristown Jazz & Blues Festival on Saturday – Daily Record

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It was another spectacular day on the Green for the 2017 Morristown Jazz and Blues Festival on Aug. 19, 2017. William Westhoven/DailyRecord

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The Woodstock generation was bummed out when big plans for a 50th-anniversary concert for this weekend fell through.

Fortunately, for those who still crave at least one day of peace, love and music, one Woodstock veteran is expected to take the stage Saturday at the ninth annual Morristown Jazz & Blues Festival.

Ten hours of free music on the Morristown Green begins at noon with a set of elegant jazz from the Antoinette Montague Experience. No tickets are needed. Patrons are encouraged to bring lawn chairs, blankets, food, drink and their dancing shoes.

Starting the day with jazz and building to a traditionally electric blues finale, the festival draws up to 7,000 people a year to the historic square park in the center of the county seat.

“It’s become one of the bigger jazz and blues festivals in the region,” said Linda Smith, who produces the festival with her husband, Don. “We hear regularly from managers and artists who want to include Morristown on their summer tour. They know it happens on the third Saturday of August, every year, and it’s a great venue with a great crowd.”

Knowing this year’s festival would take place 50 years to the day since Woodstock revolutionized America’s music and cultural landscape, Smith said they knew the 2019 festival would have to pay proper tribute.

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They found the ideal artist to represent the Woodstock vibe right in Morris County, enlisting singer and harmonica ace Rob Paparozzi to fill the midday showcase slot at 4 p.m.

“Rob is perfect because he moves smoothly from jazz to blues to rock, and for many years was a member of Blood, Sweat and Tears, which played Woodstock,” Smith said.

Originally from Union County, Paparozzi said “to be asked to do this right in your backyard is really cool.” The Mendham resident, who fronted Blood, Sweat and Tears from 2005 to 2011, later toured the world fronting the New Blues Brothers Band.

Paparozzi, 66, lamented, “Woodstock was before my time,” but founding BS&T guitarist Steve Katz did play at Woodstock on Aug. 17, 1969, in between Johnny Winter and the newly formed Crosby, Stills & Nash.

So when Paparozzi learned that his friend had a solo gig the night before the Morristown festival at nearby Stanhope House, he reached out to his old bandmate.

Katz agreed to join him for his afternoon performance in Morristown and revisit the BS&T performance before a sea of hippies a half-century ago in Bethel, New York.

“He’s going to stay at my house Friday night. Then Saturday, we’ll do some BS&T songs, and some Blues Brothers stuff as well,” Paparozzi said. 

Paparozzi and his “Juke Joint” show takes the stage at 4 p.m. Guitar legend Bucky Pizzarelli, who for years has presided over the traditional 2 p.m. “Guitar Summit” slot, has retired, but his frequent partners, guitarists Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo, will play at 2 p.m. with longtime Les Paul bassist Gary Mazzaroppi.

The volume will rise as the sun goes down, with two hot blues guitarists whose closing sets were rained out in 2018: Bernard Allison at 6 p.m., followed by Davy Knowles at 8.

Those performances will happen rain or shine this year, as the 1,300-seat Mayo Performing Arts Center has been secured as a backup venue.

“But we won’t need it,” Smith said confidently.

It took less than a decade for the festival to become one of the biggest annual events in Morris County.

“It’s not just several thousand people coming at one time, it’s spread out over the whole event,” said Morristown Mayor Tim Dougherty.

“The location on the Green and the historic sense of it makes Morristown so uniquely capable of holding this event,” Dougherty said. “The way the green is designed, it’s got a lot of shade, so people aren’t stuck baking in the sun all day long.”

Some people come early and stay to the end. Others come late for the hot blues guitars. Restaurants and taverns around the Green will be open for people who want to take a break from the sun or order takeout.

“Some people come in the middle of the day, put their chairs down, sit for a while, then they go into town to enjoy a meal or cocktail at one of the establishments in town,” Dougherty said. “Then they come back.”

Linda and Don Smith, he said, help “bring it all together” not only by recruiting top stars from the jazz and blues worlds, but by slotting them at the right time on the mobile stage.

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A custom 35-foot trailer arrives on the Morristown Green and is transformed into the stage for the 2017 Morristown Jazz and Blues Festival. IPHONE VIDEO BY WILLIAM WESTHOVEN AUGUST 19, 2017 William Westhoven

Preparations begin in January with the launch of the annual fundraising campaign.

“It’s all covered by the sponsors, every dollar, soup to nuts,” Dougherty said. “I don’t want to start mentioning sponsors because I’ll forget some names, but we could not possibly do this without them. Sponsors and volunteers make this happen.”

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William Westhoven: 973-917-9242; wwesthoven@dailyrecord.com.

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