Like many jazz festivals, the Berks Jazz Fest has had to do some serious coronavirus-related pivoting. The 10-day event, usually held in early April in Reading, Pa., had already shifted its 2020 schedule to 2021, a “see you next year” move that several major festivals made. The organizers, like most of us, couldn’t have imagined in April 2020 that a year later the pandemic would still have our country in shutdown mode, at least for large public gatherings. So another pivot was in order.
According to Berks Arts executive director Meggan Kerber, “with much planning, shifting and flexibility amongst our artists and vendors,” the decision was made to move the festival from April to August 13-22, 2021. Fortunately, fans who bought tickets for shows in April 2020 will be able to use those tickets for most of the shows rescheduled to August; a few of the originally scheduled artists were unable to perform in August because of previous commitments. John Ernesto, the festival’s artistic director, explained that the move to August was “a combination of our desire to find a late summer date and the availability of our venue partners.” He said that the rescheduling was a challenge, but that “the artists, agents, and managers really worked with us to reconfirm for August.”
The revamped lineup includes performances at various venues around the city by Keiko Matsui, Kirk Whalum, Boney James, Brian Culbertson, Chris Botti, and Brian Bromberg. Among the special events are Gerald Veasley’s Midnight Jams and Unscripted at Berks, as well as the annual Chuck Loeb Memorial All-Stars Jam. The festival also includes a special concert featuring Marcus Miller, David Sanborn, and Jonathan Butler—all stars of The Smooth Jazz Cruise ’22: Back to Sea—on Saturday, Aug. 21. There’s even some blues, in the form of a concert by singer/guitarist Christone “Kingfish” Ingram on Saturday, Aug. 14, along with award-winning blues saxophonist Vanessa Collier.
Ernesto said that the festival is resting its hopes on the effective administration of the COVID-19 vaccines. “Berks Arts is committed to present and celebrate the 30th annual fest in August,” he said. “While we will continue monitoring the ever-changing, federal, state and local health and safety protocols, we are confident the intense COVID vaccination process will reduce key restrictions and allowing us to present a safe fest.”
For a complete schedule and detailed information, visit www.berksjazzfest.com.