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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Final Jazz Fest a mix of, newsy, hot and annoying in Green Bay

Critic At Large

University of Wisconsin-Green Bay

Dirty Dozen Brass Band performs at Weidner Center for the Performing Arts, Jan. 25, 2020. (Warren Gerds)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV)

Jazz Fest 50 was a mixed bag.

A one-hour break between the halves turned into a test of patience. Knots of concertgoers broke into handclaps at times – the “let’s get going” type of handclaps – as sounds of soundchecks were heard behind the stage curtain. It seemed as if the music would start… but didn’t…. time and again… and again. Kept in the lurch, the audience caught cold, so to speak. Some concertgoers left. The second-half act felt the chill in the hall. It would be many songs into the band’s show before the vibe of icy and unkind thoughts melted away.

What happened Saturday night won’t happen again at a University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Jazz Fest because the event was the last one with that name. Jazz Fest is no more.

Green Bay Jazz and Blues Festival will be held March 27, 2021.

The new event was announced at the start of the concert in Cofrin Family Hall of Weidner Center for the Performing Arts by Michael Alexander, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs.

Alexander made the announcement to a large audience that was eager to hear the double bill of the New Orleans bands, Squirrel Nut Zippers and Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

From Alexander’s announcement and conversations in the hall Saturday night with him and music faculty member Adam Gaines, director of Jazz Fest, this is what is in the works: Jazz Fest becomes Green Bay Jazz and Blues Festival in a multi-year partnership with the City of Green Bay agreed to by Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich. Events will take place in more than one venue. Daytime learning and performing activities for high school bands will continue. An event for alumni will be held March 25, 2021. Concert action will once more include the UWGB Jazz Ensemble, which has not performed on the Jazz Fest bill in recent years. Everything is in a formative stage… drawn in pencil at this point.

One thing definite on Saturday night was the opening act, Dirty Dozen Brass Band. It’s a powerhouse outfit of seven players with no quit when it comes to dishing out dynamite numbers.

Frontman and trumpeter Gregory Davis and trombonist TJ Norris insisted the audience stand at times and get with it for handclaps and call-backs and body groovin’ and such. Spontaneous dancing in the aisles happened, too.

The songs were like fireworks going off, relentless burst upon burst.

The band is built for loud power. In song selections, it is all muscle. A sardonic soul says the band is like a guy who is so, so, so muscle-bound he can’t tie his shoes. Dirty Dozen Brass Band doesn’t know the word “soft” – or want to.

The other act, Squirrel Nut Zippers, definitely had a hole to crawl out of that was dug by the 60-minute lag between acts.

The band’s persona is akin to a carnival sideshow entourage made up of distinctive personalities. Included are a world-wise frontman, super-active and acrobatic fiddler and female singer adept in as many styles as in the multitude of eye-catching costumes she wears.

Nine songs into its show, Squirrel Nut Zippers was cooking with its splashy array of music – jazz, blues, honky tonk, klezmer and variations thereof. Action erupted out of such juicy titles as “West of Zanzibar,” “I’m Fading,” “The Suits are Picking Up the Bill” and “Bad Businessman.”

Some lyrics have whiffs of New Orleans-ee decadence. The title guy of “Bad Businessman” is a drug dealer: “Shooting you straight to hell, ain’t no bottom to the wishing well.” For “Plenty More,” a jaundiced view reigns: “When you lose the one you love” (slight pause) “there’s always plenty more.” Heavy.

By the end of the night, almost 3½ hours after the start, Squirrel Nut Zippers had folks standing, vibing and dancing along.

***

THE VENUE: Cofrin Family Hall is one of three performance spaces within the Edward W. Weidner Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. At its maximum capacity setup, the hall seats 2,021 over its three levels of maple-and-burgundy seats. Opened Jan. 15, 1993, the hall was built to adapt to the needs of orchestra concerts, operas, musicals, plays and organ, band and choral concerts. For acoustical properties, wood is emphasized on the seats, mezzanine and balcony surfaces and walls near the stage. Many surfaces are curved to help shape the sound. Wood is featured for an aesthetic reason, too – a “from here” aura of woodsy Northeastern Wisconsin.

THE PEOPLE: The name Cofrin relates in great degree to A.E. Cofrin, founder of Fort Howard Paper Co., and his son, Dr. David A. Cofrin, who was instrumental in building the Weidner Center through multi-million-dollar donations. A friendship developed between David A. Cofrin (1921-2009) and Edward W. Weidner (1921-2007), the beloved founding chancellor of UWGB. Weidner spoke slowly and carried a big idea. Weidner arrived when there were no buildings on the present-day campus on rolling hills near the shore of Green Bay. His interests ranged from academia to birding to sports. He loved building projects. It was in his blood. He guided the building of the Weidner Center, so named from early on in construction. Weidner admitted his eyes welled once when driving to a performance and seeing a green sign along the highway: WEIDNER CENTER.

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