Written by Dave Clements
Aug 30, 2013 at 05:22 PM
ImageWe were up before 3:00 am on Saturday, August 17th to make our 6:30 flight to LAX.

By 10:20 am Pacific Time we’d connected through LAX and touched down in Palm Springs.  I had my camera bag over my shoulder and luggage in hand as we hopped in the rental car ready to head west on The Ten.  Yes, The Ten – not Interstate 10, not The Katy Freeway, not I 10…just The Ten.   When in Rome, or California!

Destination:  Idyllwild, CA, or as the locals call it ‘up The Hill’ – elevation 5000+ feet, population 3870, location about 2.5 hours out of  L.A. or an hour from the desert floor of Palm Springs.

We were on a mission to get to the 20th anniversary celebration known as Idyllwild Jazz in the Pines Music Festival.  The first day of the 2 day festival was just about to kick off as we headed into the mountains.

Fortunately everything was running smoothly and on time thanks in part to my wife’s excellent handling of the travel arrangements.

Before noon we had checked into our room for the weekend at the very rustic Strawberry Creek Bunkhouse.  Not a true bunkhouse at all, this was a quaint 50’s style motel.  The cozy little one story row of rooms was close to the festival and perfect for our short stay in Idyllwild.

Fifteen minutes later we are on a shuttle bus both excited that we were about to experience our first jazz festival and anxious but hopeful that everything would continue to go as smoothly as what we’d experienced so far.  Upon reflection our truth is that things just got better and better!

The festival’s PR person, Regina Davis, was there to greet us, giving us a big smile and welcome as well as our credentials for the weekend.  After a brief tour to get the lay of land, we were off to experience the music.  There were 3 simultaneous performances going on at all times.  All stages were within easy walking distance and strategically placed as to not interfere with each other.  The main stage was on the side of a hill, a pseudo amphitheater producing wonderful sound.  Most patrons were camped out on their lawn chairs or blankets looking laid back, settled in and grooving to the whole scene.  There was a nice breeze keeping the crowd comfortable and creating a beautiful billowing effect on the massive parachutes that had been hung across the lawn for shade.  And we were grateful!

Remember that we were a mile closer to that big fireball in the sky than usual.  We were also grateful for the credentials they  gave us provided access to the ‘green room’.   The altitude got to me initially but after a couple trips to this press and musicians area  downing lots of cold water, I was raring to go and listen to some cool jazz and start shooting!  (It was also rejuvenating to have the opportunity to chat in the green room with some of the artists and the great volunteers.)

The Ray Goren Band was the first we listened to as they graced the main Holmes Amphitheater stage.  He and his bandmates set a nice cadence for the first round of bands we got to experience. Keep an eye on Ray, the boy is just beginning a very long and successful career. Rocky Zharp and the Blues Crackers were over at the French Quarter stage, while Janis Mann was belting it out in The Barn.

The French Quarter was all about ‘N’awlins’. Along with a dance floor at its own shade providing parachute, it features a much smaller stage.  However, it was definitely not small on activity!  We heard good sounds and enjoyed watching lots of fans sucking down the suds and soaking up the music. The Barn on the other hand was more like a small listening room venue.  It had both indoor and outdoor seating. It was enclosed on three sides with the back end open.  More chairs were placed there outside under a tent so that patrons could still face the bands  and enjoy the music in the open air.  I wish I could report that there was an actual stage in the barn but no so.   Elevating the performers would improve the crowd’s enjoyment in my opinion. I noted very little room for improvement other than this one issue for the weekend.

I think that tells you, our HMR readers, just how well organized and professional the entire festival was run – and all by volunteers and neighbors.  Did I mention how friendly and informative everyone was?  We especially enjoyed our time spent chatting with Regina, Ken, Nancy and Colette.

We fielded a lot of questions about what brought us to the festival and where we were from.  Guess despite trying to get the California lingo right we still didn’t look like locals?  Maybe the boots, spurs, and cowboy hats gave use away … kidding!   At any rate, many were surprised to learn that we had flown in all the way from Houston solely to attend the event.

Now for the top 3 highlights for me:  Third place occurred at about 1:30 pm PST when the emcee at the main stage, Bubba Jackson, introduced Ms. Diane Schuur.  I watched as it took some time for this lady to move across the stage, with a gentleman guided her carefully toward the black Yamaha grand piano. I misinterpreted the reason for the slow and steady approach and thought this could be a real train wreck performance. I didn’t realize at that moment that Ms. Schuur was a two time Grammy winner and had been blind from birth. Maybe the emcee mentioned this in his introduction but I did not hear it.

Either way, it soon became clear that this 59 yr. old dynamo came to give us a show. She threw her hands up in the air greeting the audience then sat down on the piano bench and then her hands exploded across the keyboard.

Her opening number had her belting out a very special rendition of Merle Haggard’s song Today I Started Loving You Again.  It was way different than the many times I’ve heard Hag sing it, but terrific nonetheless. This lady can sing and she can play the piano with beautiful talent and gusto.  I was reminded to rethink my biases. Appearances can be deceiving and I never would have guessed she would deliver this amazing performance.

As an aside, this is not the first time I have drawn a faulty conclusion.  When I first saw Leon Russell live he was helped to the stage by two mean, one on each side and I thought he was going to collapse before he got there.  But lo and behold when he sat down at that keyboards he came alive and controlled the room for almost two hours straight of awesome nonstop entertainment!

The second place very high highlight of the weekend (besides having a weekend date with my wife) was on Sunday afternoon at high noon also in the main stage.  I was down front in the pit, waiting for this kid I’d never heard of named Casey Abrams to take the stage.

I’d read he was a contestant on American Idol but that didn’t mean much to me. I don’t watch much TV as a rule and AI would not be high on my list even if I did. I kept waiting for him to come from behind the stage but he duped us all by coming right down the hill, through the audience. He was smiling, shaking hands, signing autographs and just visiting with folks on his way down. He crossed the walkway on to the stage and took his place behind his bass guitar.

This 22 year old young man was incredible! Loved his songs, loved his guitar playing (including the stand up bass), loved his piano playing and especially loved his great connection to the audience. I immediately wanted to start comparing him to other artists that are favorites of mine. Having said that, he puts his original stamp on his performance with some flavoring of Jason Mraz, Keb’ Mo’, and Gavin DeGraw.

In this writer’s opinion it all adds up to the conclusion that this guy’s got IT. That X-factor that promises to make Casey Abrams a sure fire national star…and soon.

ImageRemember you heard it here first, this guy is the real deal and very soon everyone will know that.  Go to www.iamcaseyabrams.com and check it out. He also graduated from Idyllwild Arts Academy in 2009 – the very campus where this festival is held! Obviously this school is capable of turning out some of the nation’s finest.

Now for first place, top of the list, biggest highlight of the weekend, and the reason we discovered this jazz festival – Mr. Tim Weisberg.

You may not have heard of Mr. Weisberg, so let me fill you in.  He is a world class flutist who I first discovered back in 1978.  He played flute on an album with Dan Fogelberg called Twin Sons of  Different Mothers.   Two of the songs on that album (yes, album – not CD) were released as singles:  Tell Me to My Face and The Power of Gold.  I do like The Power of Gold, but it’s Tell Me to My Face that has been on my top ten favorite song list for many years now.  At this point in my life I’m guessing it’s locked in for the duration.

Tim’s friend Karen Smith was so kind in helping me communicate with Tim in advance of the event.  She let him know we were coming and would enjoy meeting him.  She also let him know my desire to get his autograph on my copy of the Twin Sons album, already signed by the now deceased Dan Fogelberg.  In addition I was hoping to get a photo of him performing at the festival with his hand in the air.  I am working on a book called Raising a Hand for Rett Syndrome and really wanted to include him as one of the featured artists.  Mission accomplished on all of the above!

This guy was extremely approachable.  He came up to me before I had a chance to find him, disguised by his newly short hairstyle, and jokingly introduced himself as a member of Tim’s band.  We got the chance to chat for over 45 minutes backstage before the show.  He was so engaging and open.  He talked about discovering that he and Fogelberg had been attending each other’s concerts without the other realizing it.  That mutual admiration led to Tim playing on one of Fogelberg’s early albums.  And that, of course, led to the collaboration on Twin Sons as well as a second album, many years later in the 90’s, called No Resemblance Whatsoever.  It was a special opportunity for me and I could go on…  Email me if you want more details of the conversation!

Tim signed several items for me  including four or five of his other terrific albums.  By far, though, the best of all is my now most treasured LP, Twin Sons of Different Mothers, signed by both Dan Fogelberg and Tim Weisberg – Woo Hoo!  It’s worth noting that there are not many of these albums signed by both artists.  I’ve included in the photo gallery a shot of Tim holding up the signed album.  He shared that it was the only one he could recall signing that had Dan’s signature on it.   That’s the basis for my theory that there aren’t many out there.  Maybe not a big deal … unless you are an enthusiastic fan and collector like me!

ImageAlso very important and special to me was capturing the hand in the air image I was after for my book.  Not an easy task for a flute player!  However, after a wonderfully entertaining hour plus performance (that included fave song Tell Me to My Face) the crowd stood up to give Tim and the rest of the band a standing ovation.  He fist pumped high in the air, flute in the other hand, and a big genuine smile on his face.  I dodged people to get in place and got the shot.  Thank you Mr. Tim Weisberg!

Next on my wish list is to get you Tim and your multitalented band to Texas.  We love good music and gracious, generous artists here in Texas and you have plenty of all of that to share.

As I wrap up this longer than usual review, I’d like to give a shout out to local artist Marcia Gawecki of  Idyllwild who provided the pop art banner you see of Tim as a backdrop for the performance. I had no idea that it would be going up and am so thankful that it was there.  It added significant interest to my images of him.

So, in conclusion, if you want to experience a quiet little mountain town with lot of rustic flavor, good food and wine, and a rich variety of soulful jazz music – you owe it to yourself to visit this unique event that is the Idyllwild Jazz in the Pines Music Festival.  Put it on your radar screen for August 2014.

Don’t put it off…remember there is no time to kill.