Today, I am the bearer of sad news, at least for me.
I have been informed by my old friend, fellow musician and music lover Danny Riddick, that Jammin In July, the great music festival held every summer at Historic Camden, is done. Riddick, who has been active in the music scene both here and across the state, created the festival back in the mid-1990s. He would organize and produce the festival for the next two decades, building a much looked forward to venue and in the process adding a unique facet to this community’s quality of life.
Over the years, the festival became quite an icon, both in musicians’ circles -- accomplished artists from literally all over the world graced the stage -- and to music lovers alike. For me, indeed, for many, Jammin became a much-looked-forward-to rite of summer.
Alas, as the late, great George Harrison noted, all things must pass. The festival had a great run -- 20 years, longer than many businesses in town -- and I am proud to say I was associated with it for pretty much all of those years. I think I attended all but two; I think I was privileged to play in all but three. As far as life circles go, one of the very first pieces I ever wrote for the C-I -- before I was even actually employed here -- was an advance feature story on the festival. Here I am, on my third stint here, writing about the end of the festival. Indeed, I feel like I’m writing an obituary for an old friend. In some ways, that’s exactly what I’m doing.
I owe a lot to Jammin and to Riddick, not only for allowing me to enjoy as a performer one of the most unique and satisfying gigs to be found anywhere, but for creating and nurturing such a superlative showcase for live music. It was fun for anyone to attend, but it was great for music lovers and especially satisfying for performers.
Indeed, that was one of the cool little secrets of Jammin: it was actually about the musicians first and everything else second. On the face of it, that may sound a little self-indulgent, and perhaps it is, but here’s the thing -- playing music may be fun, but as George’s band mate Ringo said, you know it don’t come easy. It’s hard enough to find places to play out at all; it’s even tougher to make a living at it. Certainly, nobody in their right mind ever set out to get rich doing it. In a perfect world, Guitar George (he knows all the chords) would bring home at least as much as the average, run-of-the-mill incompetent corporate weenie, but alas, there are but two worlds -- the world in which we live and the world in which we wish we lived.
The world I wish to live in venerates musicians. The world I actually live in does not.
Wet Willie sums it up nicely with this line:
“Playing in some honky tonk café, nobody’s listening to what you say, they’re just getting drunker anyway, just keep on smilin’…”
So to have the chance to play on a stage as part of an event whose stated purpose is to allow the artists an opportunity to do what they really want to do is refreshing -- and rare. At Jammin, a lot of us got the chance to fly original material, put new spins on old chestnuts, mine more obscure veins and otherwise just play the stuff that made our artists’ hearts sing, pardon the pun.
By logical extrapolation, it followed that the audience could and would recognize pure passion at a visceral level, even if some might not quite understand what was actually happening on stage.
Riddick and Jammin worked hard -- no, he gave until he bled -- to achieve that.
Of course, it wasn’t totally about the musicians. Jammin also served as a long-running and successful fundraiser for Historic Camden. Indeed, the relationship between Historic Camden and Jammin has always been and continues to be very positive. Nonetheless, my understanding is the organization, which is currently undergoing significant transition, is not able to host the festival this year. Hopefully, something can happen later, but Jammin In July, at least as we have come to know and love it, is done.
Thus, I bid a fond farewell and give my deep and heartfelt thanks for 20 great years.
As Peter Green said, “Then Play On.”