Wednesday, October 12, 2005
A conversation with . . .
Susan Mattingly of Lyric Theatre talks about the Jazzburg event and "Lies and Pies," and what they mean to culture in Blacksburg
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MATT GENTRY | The Roanoke Times
Susan Mattingly, Executive
Depending on who you ask, some people might define civility like this: sitting outside on a nice fall day, enjoying a great jazz band and sipping a glass of chardonnay.
Enter Jazzburg, Blacksburg’s newest festival that turns a mere 2 years old Saturday. Occurring simultaneously at the Lyric Theatre will be “Lies and Pies,” a chance to enjoy live storytelling, bluegrass music and fresh homemade pies. In the midst of all these seasonally hearty community events, it seems time for a little reflection on the cultural fabric.
The Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce is the main force behind Jazzburg’s inception and continued coordination. Lyric Theatre Executive Director Susan Mattingly coordinated Jazzburg’s musical acts and through the theater is a driving force behind many of the community events taking place in Blacksburg.
With a big weekend coming up, Mattingly shares some perspective on the challenges and rewards of weaving the town fabric through community events.
How did Jazzburg come into being last year?
Susan Mattingly: The Chamber of Commerce had been trying to come up with an event to serve the downtown Blacksburg community. The Wilderness Trail Festival in Christiansburg has a long history. But there hasn’t been a comparable event for Blacksburg, so this is an attempt to fill that void … We already had Steppin’ Out, so we wanted to do something different. The idea of a jazz festival had been bouncing around Blacksburg for a while, so it seemed like this would be a natural fit because we had an organization that was willing to lead and take on the organization of this new event.
What was the response to last year’s festival?
SM: Well, it was disappointing. But it was the first year we did it, and the weather was not cooperative — it was a very chilly day.
What’s the goal of having the festival on Parents Weekend?
SM: It brings more people into town, but also because of the success of the football program there aren’t that many free weekends available in the fall.
Alternative events have to steer around the football schedule.
SM: That’s right, it certainly drives programming.
I can’t think of any event in or relatively close to Blacksburg that’s like Jazzburg — a place where you can drink beer and wine outside while relaxing to jazz.
SM: No, this is it, I believe.
And this Saturday there’s another event — “Lies and Pies” — going on simultaneously with Jazzburg at the Lyric. Can you tell me about that?
SM: I was approached by Perry Martin of the Service Learning Center at Virginia Tech. They wanted to put together a program that will feature Appalachian storytellers, bluegrass music, and they will also be serving homemade pies at the theater as a benefit for the New River Valley Agency on Aging and the Virginia Tech Service Learning Center … It’s a good community event, and between that and the jazz thing there should be something for everybody.
A lot of other towns have venues or they hold these kinds of events like a jazz festival more often.
SM: I think that’s why the jazz festival format was selected, because we didn’t have that … Blacksburg has quite a few street fairs — the international fair in the spring, the flower and garden show now and Steppin’ Out … We wanted to do something different.
I wish an event like this could take place more than once a year.
SM: Yeah, but again going back to our population, it’s hard to pull these things off in the summer because our population is basically cut in half … Not to mention putting Steppin’ Out together is a tremendous amount of work and effort. And it’s had years to grow and get a regional recognition.
Steppin’ Out seemed a lot cooler this year with a much better musical lineup. As opposed to some other family-oriented music events that tend to get lame.
SM: Well, the key to programming in any community is to keep it diverse; you have to have something for everybody.
But if the right people are putting an event together, it can be family oriented and still be good.
SM: Absolutely … There’s nothing unfamily-friendly about … rock. Little kids can run around and have a good time with that music just like everybody else, and it’s not going to put off people over 50. But the bottom line is it’s really hard to pay bands. Again, programming is about finding sponsorship and people who will help support this because it doesn’t come cheap.
So, in the fall every weekend is consumed by football, in the summer there’s nobody here and the rest of the time, it’s too cold to do anything outside.
SM: That’s right, but like I say we have to steer our events around the football program in the fall, but of course … if we get more and more weekenders, that’s going to economically drive better entertainment … It may compress programming for just a few weekends, but I think it does open up a lot of opportunities … because as I said these things don’t come cheap.
The money has to come from somewhere.
SM: Somebody has to pay for it. With the chamber event, they have sponsors — local businesses who are pretty much coming up with the budget money, saying, “We’re going to help support this festival.” They do it for altruistic reasons and also to get their name out there … But they’re not going to do it if there isn’t a chance for a critical mass … We’re hoping Jazzburg will continue to do well and get bigger … It could really grow, but it needs support from both the business community and the listening public.
The second annual Jazzburg festival will feature the Virginia Tech Jazz Ensemble, the Pace Brother’s Organ Group with Cyrus Pace and the Jeff Decker Band. It will be from 2 to 6 p.m. Saturday on the corner of Jackson Street and Draper Road in downtown Blacksburg. “Lies and Pies” will be at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Lyric Theatre.