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How on earth could a town like Wangaratta in rural Victoria host a jazz festival?
Thirty years on, Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues is firmly established as Australia's leading jazz festival, bringing together musicians and punters from all over the globe. It has won tourism awards and is ranked as a Hallmark event by the Victorian Government.
But the festival's success didn't happen overnight. It evolved through careful planning, astute decisions. and an artistic director able to create an event that could differentiate itself from the host of jazz festivals around Australia. Most importantly, it had the support of the townspeople.
With its' annual Jazz Awards being the launching pad for many local jazz artists, along with the hundreds of established musicians who have performed, the history of the festival reads like a history of Australian jazz and blues.
There were many challenges and obstacles along the way. The book Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues- Thirty Years is the behind-the-scenes story of how they were overcome, told by its artistic director of twenty-six years standing. It is also the story of how musicians and punters alike embraced the festival, told through their recollections. Leading local and overseas musicians have written about their experience of the festival, one where the usual barriers are broken down and musicians walk around freely through the crowds, rubbing shoulders with the punters.
In February 2016, Wangaratta drew international attention because an outbreak of tumbleweed had left it piled up meters deep outside the doors and homes of some residents. But to the international jazz fraternity, especially in America, Wangaratta was already well known as the place that hosted one of the most discerning and cutting-edge jazz festivals on the international circuit. Glowing endorsements from returning overseas musicians who had performed at the festival secured its reputation.