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Jammin' In July celebrates 20 years out of the box

Posted: June 11, 2015 5:11 p.m.
Updated: June 12, 2015 1:00 a.m.
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In a world that seems to change in the blink of an eye, to have anything last two years, much less two decades, seems nothing short of miraculous.

Yet the 20th Jammin’ In July music festival is coming up in less than a month, and this year’s event continues to stay true to its original spirit.

Founder and producer Daniel Riddick started the festival 20 years ago with several ideas in mind, he said. First, he wanted to provide a venue that celebrated the artist rather than catered to a bland commercial market, he said. 

Second, he wanted to help up-and-coming musicians build promotional portfolios so that they could have a better shot at getting their work before the public.

“At that time, 20 years ago, I was booking and managing a number of bands and artists and performing myself all around the Carolinas,” Riddick said. “There was a great lack of places to perform original material, but even moreso than that, most people trying to get out and play didn’t have proper promotional materials. Jammin’ In July was started – musically -- to provide promotional materials to the performers. They all got professional quality photos, recordings, etc., from their performances at the festival.”

Riddick notes that technology has changed that somewhat; almost everyone has a smart phone with a high quality camera and recorder, for example. Also, social media has influenced how information is shared.

Another underpinning idea was the concept of trying to present different types of music in an acoustic format, he said. For example, hard rock bands playing their material on acoustic instruments instantly gave them a different feel and aspect as well as satisfied people who might be more inclined to listen to more folk-oriented material.

“The idea was to put everything in a basic context – short sets, large lineups, similar instrumentation, family friendly setting – remember, a lot of these musicians were playing late nights in places where their families probably wouldn’t be able to see them perform – and it seemed like a great way to present all this to a diverse audience. From the beginning it was meant to be a family-friendly event.”

Twenty years later, the format and the idea has largely stayed the same.

“I think it has enjoyed such longevity mainly because it was for the musicians,” Riddick noted. “It’s an avenue for people to perform original material and/or otherwise step outside their comfort zones. Also, the sheer variety of genres I think has kept people interested – you’re going to hear something different throughout the evening – and who knows, you may find that you like it.”

Riddick says he has been pleased with the sheer number and variety of performers who have graced the stage over the years. International acts from as far away as Sweden, South Africa and Australia have performed here. A number of local artists, many of whom have gone on to successful careers, played Jammin’ in July over the years as well.

“It’s really been great to see a lot of the performers who have been here and gone on to other things over the years – there are so many highlights that come to mind,” Riddick noted.  “It’s been very rewarding to me to see a lot of the people who performed over the years to see them in different configurations.”

Riddick, a seasoned and skilled musician himself, has been able to enjoy a little stage time as well over the years, putting together different finales consisting of several of the musicians throughout the evening coming together at the end of the night for something of an all star jam.

“The finales have always been fun – and the audience seems to really like it,” Riddick said. “Part of the magic of Jammin’ In July is that even if you’ve seen some of these folks before, they are still digging deep into their set lists to do something new and different.”

The festival has always been a lot of work to put together, but the results have been worth it on so many levels, Riddick said. For one, the location, between the Craven House and McCaa’s Tavern at Historic Camden, is the perfect setting for the festival. As the festival has always been a major fundraiser for Historic Camden, the partnership has been very mutually beneficial, Riddick said.

“It’s such a beautiful place to have something like this,” he said. “They’ve always been great to work with – it’s been a really wonderful partnership. And in 20 years, we’ve been pretty blessed with the weather – it’s the summer, but there’s usually a nice breeze and we’ve only been rained out, I believe, twice.”

One year, a sudden and vicious thunderstorm hit, forcing the festival to relocate indoors to The Venue in downtown Camden. While a lightning bolt struck the Craven House, burning the wiring and damaging some equipment, no one was hurt and the crew was able to relocate, set up and start on time, he said.

“All things considered, I’m very pleased and very blessed,” Riddick said. “We’ve had artists from all over, the cream of the crop locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. It’s been a joy to work with Historic Camden. And we’ve only had a couple of times when we had weather issues.”

“What I’ve always tried to do is encourage people to get into a position where you hear something different – you just might like it,” Riddick said. “And if we’re able to do that, and they enjoyed it, then I think you really have been successful in doing something worthwhile.”

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