The Origin Story – Early 90’s

By Larry Adelman & Charlie Wuth

The Fairlanes

It’s 1990, and the seeds that were planted by past festivals are taking root and are ready to grow.

It was clear after the success of the 1988 and 1989 festivals that jazz and blues were a significant part of the musical landscape at the Jersey Shore. The 1990 and 1991 festivals proved that jazz and blues were here to stay. The structure of the 1990 festival created a format in which the foundation partnered with various performance venues throughout the shore area. At this point in time, the festival did not have a one-location home. That was about to change!

By 1990 it was obvious that Bob Santelli’s words and vision were gaining traction. In his “Welcome to The Festival” pamphlet, he wrote, “Originally conceived in 1988, the fest is intended to showcase the best jazz and blues talent at the shore, and to spotlight selected artists and bands from the metropolitan area.” He goes on to describe that there are 140 musicians performing, and more than 20 bands playing during the 1990 festival week. Venues included Cheers, McLoone’s Rum Runner, Matawan High School, The River Lady, The Stone Pony, T-Birds Café, Monmouth County Library, and Jason’s. There was also a Dixieland Cruise on the River Lady featuring Ira Brodsky and his Dixieland Band. National and local blues and jazz headliners included such notables as Johnny Copeland, The Fairlanes, Jay Owens, Jeannie Bryson, Sonny Rhodes/Frankie Lee, and The Blackberry Blues Band.

The success and potential of those origin years did not go unnoticed. As a result, The JSJBF was approached by “Riverfest,” the Red Bank food festival held on the first weekend of June, to join forces with them and hold a three-day festival at Marine Park and the Count Basie Theater.

The 1990 and 1991 festivals grew in popularity. The festival had the additional effect of putting the focus back on this area’s long musical history, dating back to the early 20th century. As a result, we see an important surge of growth with JSJBF in 1991. This turned out to be the cornerstone of one of the largest jazz and blues festivals on the East Coast, attracting national, regional, and local talents.  By 2006, the 20th anniversary of the festival, 150,000 people attended this internationally known event.

Stay tuned to our next installment of The Origins, to learn how Riverfest expanded to become the “JSJBF Riverfest.”