Exit Zero Jazz Festival Brings Towns Together

Did we build Cape May Convention Hall too small? Maybe. Maybe not.

Two shows of near capacity crowds Saturday night, at Lower Cape May Regional High School’s Paul Schmidtchen theater, made me wonder how we would ever fit this many people into Cape May convention hall. I couldn’t help but ask the question: what if?

The collaboration between Michael Kline’s team of the Exit Zero Jazz Festival, and the Board of Education of Lower Regional demonstrated what is possible when communities work together. Clearly the Board of Education of Lower Regional supports the arts and Cape May benefited.

Utilizing Cape May Convention Hall as Festival Central and a club venue for the resilient Betty LaVette and others proved brilliant. Reaching out across the bridge for the larger venue at Lower Regional allowed the Exit Zero Jazz Festival to raise the bar with Jazz At The Lincoln Center Orchestra and Wynton Marsalis. And everyone benefited.

For me, the how do you top this headliner Wyton Marsalis and his Orchestra seemed to love the vibe the audience was putting forth. Sherman Irby’s solos and the overall performance was by far one of the best concerts ever to come to Cape May–at least in the last twelve years.


The quartet solo at the 6:00 PM show was the jewel in the crown of the weekend. With the concert over and some folks starting to leave, Wynton once again dazzled the audience with a few more songs. Accompanied by Dan Nimmer on piano, Calos Henriquez on upright bass and Ali Jackson on drums,  Wynton made the audience of close to a thousand feel that much more intimate. You felt like he was playing for you.


The privately produced  festival is primarily volunteer supported. The people of Cape May responded, led by organizer Bernadette Matthews, and tackled the mammoth task. Jay Lustig of NJ Arts noted that “Cape May has never put on a festival quite like this festival.” With volunteers like Diane Mitchell and Suzanne Logeman opening the box office on Friday, it was all smiles.


I love the quote in the Press of Atlantic City by Issac Garfield of Philadelphia: “This is a great festival,” said Isaac Garfield, 35, of Philadelphia. “The acts that are here are amazing. I’ve been to the New Orleans Jazz Festival and this is growing into something like that. It has a great feel to it.” The article goes on to talk about the economic benefits of a festival of this magnitude.

You could not deny the energy in town walking the streets of Cape May on either Friday or Saturday night. Everyone was curious.


Instead of looking in from the sidewalk, getting inside the venues and feeling the infectious energy of Cuban style sounds that poured out. Conjunto Philadelphia and Philly Bloco energized audiences.


The diversity of the weekend was visible not just in the audience but in the variety of entertainment provided by the festival. New Orleans sent up Gal Holiday and the Honky Tonk Revue.


Her group would close out the weekend with a special vist at the Mad Batter Open Mic night on Sunday. More about that later.

For all the work and preparation leading up to the festival the results speak for them selves. Packed venues, outstanding performances, and great economic benefit for the town. As I said in the Press of Atlantic City, “During the off season you have to come up with activities that are going to bring people in, the jazz festival is the perfect example of that.”



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