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Ford Center for the Fine Arts

Knox-Rootabaga Jazz Festival 2023 Sees Record Attendance

The Knox-Rootabaga Jazz Festival returned to Galesburg May 9-13, 2023, welcoming Grammy Award-winning guitarist Bill Frisell as the headlining act. 

Knox students at Lombard Middle School

The John Tate Trio, featuring Lenard Simpson, traveled around the city early in the week, visiting local schools and performing for students. Bass player and trio leader John Tate had a specific interest in this tour as it was his first visit to Galesburg since growing up in the area. The group played at Silas Willard, the elementary school Tate attended. 

“It’s really special for me to be back and a part of this. This festival basically shot me off into the musical direction I went to school for,” Tate said.

Knox students at Lombard Middle School

The festival hosted multiple performances at the Galesburg Community Art Center throughout the week, opening the stage to a variety of acts. Local school bands, including Galesburg Junior High and High School Jazz Bands, ROWVA High School Jazz Band, and the Canton High School Jazz Band were invited, giving budding jazz talent a chance to shine. The younger groups were balanced by the Knox Faculty and Friends Combo and the Knox Alumni Big Band, who shared a collection of toe-tapping pieces with a packed crowd the following night.

Knox students at Lombard Middle School

The festival concluded on Saturday with multiple events for attendees to enjoy. The John Tate Trio made a final appearance at the Galesburg Public Library, playing a free “Rootabaga Kids” performance. Headliner Bill Frisell hosted a Q&A session at the Orpheum Theater after  soundcheck. 

On Saturday night, the Orpheum filled up quickly in anticipation of the headlining  performance of the festival. The Knox Jazz Ensemble opened the set with a range of swinging tunes, giving Knox students a chance to showcase their work while setting the stage for one of the country’s finest guitarists.

Knox students at Lombard Middle School

Frisell’s group played a varied set of songs, incorporating layers of guitar pedals segwaying between the pieces during theset. The performance featured extended, expressive jams, showcasing top-tier jazz musicians at their best. 

Andy Crawford, Knox College's managing director of jazz and instrumental programs, says this year’s Knox-Rootabaga Jazz Festival saw record attendance, with close to 500 attending the headlining show at the Orpheum Theater, 700 taking part in the Galesburg Community Arts Center shows over three days, and over 3,000 students listening during the school tour.

Knox students at Lombard Middle School

Crawford was thrilled with the turnout. He was impressed by the student interaction with each school performance and was proud to see Galesburg, Knox, and surrounding community members support live music at the Orpheum. 

“Bill Frisell is a quiet genius,” Crawford said. “It was one of the most subtle but mind-blowing and beautiful concert experiences we’ve ever had for Rootabaga.”

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Printed on Saturday, May 18, 2024