Musical smorgasbord

Saturday, September 30, 2006
Stefan Mehner, left, and Art Lindman performed as "On the Rocks" at the City of Roses Music Festival in downtown Cape Girardeau Friday night. (Fred Lynch)

Tonight Les Lindy will take the stage at the City of Roses Music Festival with one of the Cape Girardeau music scene's seminal musicians -- blues-rocker Bruce Zimmerman.

On the festival's opening night, though, he was downtown with his wife Helen early to enjoy the non-rock offerings of a festival known as a rock 'n' roll event. Lindy was grooving to jazz.

"I didn't even really like jazz until a couple of years ago," said Lindy, a harmonica player with Zimmerman's band, between concentrating on the display of musicianship before him.

The night was still young -- it was only about 7 p.m. Few people were at the Convention and Visitors Bureau parking lot with the Lindys, but those who were there bobbed their heads and tapped their feet to the upbeat jazz tunes coming from the 20-piece SEMO Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Bob Conger.

Conger didn't care if the crowd was small or big. He was having fun, and even though his group didn't play rock 'n' roll, they belonged at the festival.

"Where did rock come from after all?" Conger said after the performance. "It came from jazz."

In bluesman Lindy's view, the more diverse the festival, the better. The City of Roses Music Festival organizers agree.

In the festival's 10th year, the City of Roses Music Heritage Association built on the attempt at more diversity that characterized last year's festival. The idea is not new -- in its early days the festival featured acts of many different musical persuasions. But somewhere along the way the festival gained a reputation as a rock-and-beer extravaganza.

In 2006, the festival will rely on a mix of styles like jazz, metal, classic rock, emo, hip-hop, blues, folk -- everything but country -- to try to build interest in the local music scene.

Friday night the festival was a hobo's stew of sounds. As the jazz ensemble played in the CVB parking lot, heavy metal groups like No Other and Diamond Odyssey performed next to Port Cape Girardeau, and the classic-rock cover band Blue partied at the end of Broadway.

Crowds started out sparse -- mostly just the musicians, festival volunteers and the most hard-core of local music supporters. But as the music kept coming, so did the people.

By about 8:30 p.m. the crowd was still less than 500, but organizers said the number was about typical for being so early on the festival's first night.

Organizer Mary Ramsey said the festival's first night was going "very well."

"People are loving the diversity of music here," she said at the festival's staging base, Jeremiah's, wedged between the Broadway and Themis Street stages.

That diversity included the hip-hop of Cape Girardeau's Jonathan Cunningham, known on stage as Poten-C. Cunningham never gets the chance to perform in Cape Girardeau, so he was glad to get local exposure.

He started off with a small crowd.

"I'm nervous, but there's only like 10 people here," he said as waited to climb onstage. "Just to be able to perform in Cape is good."

By 10 p.m., the height of festival activity, Ramsey was hoping for 1,500 people to have passed through the gates.

Patrick Nesbit and Kassandra Bellew, both of Cape Girardeau, were happy to see the variety the festival offered on its opening night. They moved to the thrash-metal of Diamond Odyssey, then moved down the street to check out the more mellow fare of bands like Blue.

"I just like all kinds of music," said Bellew.

Delays are bound to occur at an event like the City of Roses. The schedules were pushed back at varying intervals on all the stages. On the hard-rock/metal themed Themis Street stage, the first band started over an hour late due to the late arrival of the stage they were to play on.

Kirby Ray, another of the festival's organizers, said the problem was dealt with, and the crowds at the Themis stage seemed to take the delay with grace.

So did the bands. The delay meant East Prairie, Mo., metal group No Other started an hour early. But the band didn't get upset with the delay. They see the festival as a team effort to support local music.

"The stage crew did the best they could," said singer Justin Boswell. "If somebody messes up, we all mess up."

After all, Friday night was just the warm-up. Today will be the festival's showcase day, with the music gearing up at 10 a.m. at the CVB stage and lasting to almost midnight.

335-6611, extension 182

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