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Jazz festival still benefiting Gresham

The recent proliferation of summer festivals in East Multnomah County has not altered the fact that Gresham's identity is still tied to Oregon's most well known jazz festival.

The summer season has become so busy in East County that it is nearly impossible to take it all in. Virtually every weekend - from Sandy to Gresham to Troutdale - an event or multiple events are occurring.

Many of these community celebrations draw more people than the Mt. Hood Jazz Festival, which was held this past weekend. But in terms of regional visibility, the jazz festival remains what it was intended to be when it was launched 25 years ago: one of the things for which Gresham is known.

For certain, the festival has experienced its high and low points. It's not quite the spectacle it was 20 years ago when it drew tens of thousands of people to the Mt. Hood Community College stadium. But the event has survived and begun to thrive again because it has stayed true to both its jazz traditions and its community roots.

A celebratory atmosphere downtown

The community's involvement was more apparent than ever this year. Because of its location - at the future site for the Gresham Center for the Arts - the festival engaged downtown Gresham merchants to an even greater degree than in the past. On Friday and Saturday nights, jazz music spilled over from the festival grounds and into the restaurants and coffeehouses downtown. The busy sidewalks gave the whole area a festive atmosphere.

At the festival itself, the music was top-notch, with Oregon native Chris Botti headlining Friday night and David Sanborn on Saturday. Ticket prices were reasonable - although festival organizers might want to consider a student discount for next year - and the crowd response was positive.

This year's festival and its related events attracted about 5,000 people, with the majority likely from out of town. That's great exposure for Gresham, especially the downtown area. And the publicity will continue with sales of the jazz festival poster, another tradition that was reintroduced this year to great praise.

It took determination to keep it going

The past few years have been difficult ones for the jazz festival, which had financial problems and also faced challenges from competing festivals and events. The Mt. Hood Jazz Festival, however, is worth preserving, and the community ought to be grateful to Gresham residents Mary McSwain, Sue O'Halloran and others who absolutely refused to allow the festival to die.

The music, ambiance and apparent audience satisfaction this year marked a turning point for the festival. It once again has a solid base to build upon, and it has a 25-year reputation to carry it forward. We hope the festival continues to contribute to Gresham's image for another 25 years. The determined efforts of this year's festival supporters are a strong indication that it can do just that.